At DFID we believe the people of the developing countries need and deserve technologies that will help them achieve the kind of lives and livelihoods that we take for granted. The technologies have to be effective, affordable and accessible to poor people who most need them. Moreover, they must not produce undesirable consequences.
It is not a new set of challenges. Much has been achieved over the past 50 years. The Green Revolution has helped Asia escape famine. We have got rid of smallpox and the devastating disease of cattle known as rinderpest. We are close to ridding the planet of polio.
But today there is a new sense of urgency. Poverty, while going down in Asia and Latin America, is on the increase in Sub-Saharan Africa, as is hunger. Infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis cause millions of deaths a year. Poor people do not have access to water, trees and other natural resources and suffer the effects of environmental degradation. And looming over all of us is the threat of climate change.
At the heart of these problems are challenging research questions. Over the period of the new research strategy we are significantly increasing our central research budget to £220 million a year. It will make us the one of the biggest funders of development science in the world.
Through the future challenges component of the research programme I believe we need to determine how best we, and others, can help produce the technologies needed for countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Many countries are seriously off-track and, while this is partly due to poor governance and economic policies, in many cases they do not have the necessary technologies or the systems to ensure they are delivered. Often the technologies – new seeds, vaccines, drugs, energy systems – needed are global public goods that require urgent investment and increasingly effective engagement with those working on new and emerging areas of scientific discovery.
Investment in such research will help to prepare us to deal with future challenges and opportunities. It will mean setting aside resources to tackle fast emerging issues but also future ‘unknowns’ – those issues that could take us by surprise in years to come.
This is a complex area of work and we will initially examine two themes: looking “beyond aid” to find out what makes development processes more likely to succeed; and how to make sure developing countries can make the most of new and emerging technology (NET) (such as biotechnology, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and nanotechnology). We will also look to invest in “blue skies” research where this has a clear link to poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals.