CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES
Robert D. Havener, president of the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development, focused his presentation on formal efforts to assist agricultural development over the past 25 years that have been funded by the U.S. government, U.S.-supported intergovernmental agencies, U.S. universities, and large philanthropic foundations. He reminded his audience that the agricultural sciences have significantly affected socioeconomic development in the Third World during the past quarter century. They have, for example, increased the productivity of farmers, increased incomes in agriculture, spurred national economic development, and enhanced the socioeconomic status of millions of people around the world.
After pointing out that formal U.S. government development assistance programs had their origins in the United Nations and its specialized agencies in 1945-1946, in the post World War II Marshall Plan, and in the Point IV Program promulgated by President Harry S. Truman in 1949, Havener explained that during the 1950s and early 1960s the U.S. Agency for International Development and its predecessors established American-style extension systems throughout the developing world. It quickly became apparent, however, that U.S. technology was simply not immediately useful to many tropical and semitropical developing nations.
"Adaptation was necessary, requiring an indigenous research capacity - a realization that came slowly and unevenly, and is not comprehended by many nonagriculturalists to this day." By the early 1970s, USAID had turned to more focused extension initiatives, especially geographically targeted rural development and agricultural projects.
Early in the 1950s, U.S. foreign assistance agencies contracted with a number of U.S. agricultural colleges to help establish comparable institutions throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.... These activities. . . later contributed heavily to research work in those countries.
Establishment of CIMMYT and IRRI
Other significant developments were occurring at the same time, resulting in the establishment of the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) in Mexico and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines.
The Rockefeller Foundation has had a long history of development assistance, beginning in the early 1940s when it sent a small team of prominent agricultural scientists to Mexico to determine how that country might increase its agricultural production. The many subsequent programs undertaken by the Foundation have emphasized research on basic indigenous food crops and livestock, and on training promising young scientists. In 1959 Dr. Norman Borlaug became head of Rockefeller's International Wheat Improvement Project, which merged with a comparable corn improvement program in 1963 to form the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement. CIMMYT was then upgraded significantly in 1966.
Although rice was not the centerpiece of any of the Rockefeller country programs in the 1950s, staff travel to the rice-growing countries, visits to scientific and educational institutions, and talks with government officials by Foundation officials confirmed that an international rice research center was badly needed in Asia. IRRI was not established until 1960, however, when in an unprecedented move the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations joined forces to sponsor the institute. USAID began to support IRRI in 1966 with a three-year grant for research on farm and equipment power requirements in Asia.
Although it had been recognized from the outset that the U.S. foreign assistance program must have a sound research component, it was not until 1964 that a conference on rural international development concluded that USAID should give greater support to the research component of its own programs and within its contracts with U.S. agricultural universities. There were constraints, however. One was a congressionally imposed lid on how much could be spent on all types of research (which continued until the mid-1970s), and another was the prohibition of support for research on commodities in which surpluses were appearing - such as wheat and rice.
Change in Attitude
Fortunately, this attitude toward research on food crops began to change in 1966 with the initiation of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Hunger." In recognition of the Administration's new emphasis on the need to help developing countries balance agricultural productivity with population growth, USAID issued an order in 1968 that liberalized the commodity focus, making it possible to support a broader range of research activities. Among these activities was the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement.
Since 1966, observed Havener, CIMMYT has developed the world's largest wheat and corn improvement program. In fact, "the success of IRRI and CIMMYT in developing new varieties of rice and wheat . . . is frequently cited as proof of the efficacy of agricultural science in contributing to development."
The new wheat varieties also had a major impact on American farmers, both through direct use and through use in breeding programs. For example, Orville Vogel, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist stationed at Washington State University, first recognized the worth of Norin 10 (not suitable for direct use) in a breeding program. It was crossed with Brevor to produce the variety Gaines, which was quickly adopted in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1960s. By 1968 the U.S. wheat industry began to see the increased release of varieties developed from hybridization in the United States and, to a lesser degree, the release of selections from crosses originally made by CIMMYT. Varieties developed in Mexico were also being introduced. In 1984, Havener explained, an estimated 60 percent of the total land cultivated with wheat in the United States was sown in semi dwarf or short varieties that had their origins in developing countries.
Somewhat later IRRI achieved similar results in improving rice varieties, and today modern varieties of wheat and rice compose half of the total plantings in the developing world. Each year the new varieties yield about 50 million more tons than the old varieties could have produced, or enough additional grain to provide a cereal diet for perhaps a billion people.
But this does not mean that the past levels of concentration on and financial contribution to agricultural research and economic development are no longer needed. Even though the 1960s predictions of famine in 1975 were proven wrong - thanks to the dedicated accomplishments of agricultural scientists - it must be recognized, Havener warned, that despite the great initial yield breakthroughs attributed to the high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, progress since that time in increasing potential yield has been relatively slow.
What agricultural science has accomplished through genetic improvement in recent years is to increase -wheat and rice plant resistance to diseases and pests, make possible their adaptation to a wider range of soil, climate, and other environmental conditions, and thus increase the range of usefulness of different varieties.
There is now relatively little underutilized technology waiting to be transferred to developing country farmers, and there are no apparent major breakthroughs just over the horizon. "This is no time to rest on our research oars," stressed Havener. 'Maize, sorghum, and millet varieties that would be substantial improvements over what exists will take time to develop. Biotechnology's promise is somewhat uncertain, but it is clear that time will be required before that promise is at hand."
A faster, not a slower rate of technological change will be needed in the future to enable developing countries to keep food production growing at an adequate enough rate to stay close to meeting consumption needs and to provide the basis for economic growth.
In concluding, Havener gave two compelling reasons for the United States to increase, not decrease, its international collaboration in agricultural research. First, varieties that incorporate desirable characteristics are often identifiable only through collaborative research, and the genes for further improvement often exist only in Third World plant populations. For example, Kenya is the genetic source of modern resistance to rust in U.S. wheat varieties, while Peru is the genetic source of golden nematode resistance in U.S. potatoes.
A second reason to increase international collaboration is that countries may be willing to give us access to valuable native varieties only if they are identified through research that is also beneficial to those countries. Developing countries well recognize that they are the origin of most commercial crops and that the industrial nations have reaped the greatest benefit from their genetic reservoirs. Understandably then, developing countries wish to control the export of their genetic material. "If they are to give up something valuable, they want to get something valuable in return," said Havener.
In closing his presentation Havener called for an increased emphasis on sustainable agricultural production, warned against agronomic practices that abuse fragile lands, resulting in erosion and environmental degradation, and suggested giving higher priority to agroforestry. These areas, too' are subjects for agricultural research.
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]