Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bruce H. Jennings and the Green Revolution, Part 3

In this diary, I'd like to continue summarizing the book Foundations of International Agricultural Research: Science and Politics in Mexican Agriculture by Bruce H. Jennings, which is essential for anyone seeking to understand the Green Revolution.

In previous chapters, Jennings examines the Rockefeller Foundation in general and then their work in Mexican agriculture from 1940-1950. In this chapter, he takes on their work in Mexico from 1950-1960. A summary of his findings follows.

Just to provide some context, Norman Borlaug arrived in Mexico in the early 1940's. He achieved his breakthrough in wheat breeding in 1961. So the decade of 1950-1960 is after he began his work but before his wheat spread around Mexico and around the world. It was shortly after his success with wheat that the Rockefeller Foundation joined with the Ford Foundation to fund rice research in the Philippines and when countries around the world, perhaps most famously India and Pakistan, began planting his wheat.

Jennings begins this chapter saying:

A distinguishing trait of the techniques introduced by U.S. agricultural scientists to Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s was the image of neutrality...

Such a language distorted the impact that U.S. scientists had in Mexico. Landscapes in twentieth century Mexico held not just soil, plants, and farms, but people. - p. 63

He goes say that the research in Mexico was "economic and class bound" and that "This was a science in service to capitalist agriculture." (p. 63)

After noting that the scientists "clinical language of the laboratory disguised and made remote the social meaning of their tasks in farmers' fields," (p. 64) he adds:

That does not mean that Foundation scientists remained oblivious to the social context... The idea that research as constructed in the United States and reconstructed in Mexico might produce contradictory relations between private ends (e.g., capital) and public ones (e.g., food) did not seem possible. Even if particular farmers, those willing to take 'risks,' gained disproportionately in the spread of techniques, other members of society still gained by cheaper foods. - p. 64

The details provided in this chapter are nothing short of jaw-dropping, particularly if you've been to Mexico and seen peasant agriculture. (If you haven't, you can get a taste of it from my Mexico diaries, but in short, the peasant diet is corn, beans, and squash, and the three crops are grown together as a polyculture. Often there is little or nothing beyond the amount the family needs as food each year, making the family unable to sell any of the crop for income. Also, many do not buy hybrid seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, or machinery such as a tractor because they cannot afford it.)

This chapter is organized by research station and the crops grown at each. The research stations formed and then worked with producer associations called patronatos. Interestingly (well, horrifyingly), the scientists "described the common farmer as a problem" (p. 65). In one instance, Dr. Ed J. Wellhausen complains of a farmer who only planted rice on half of his land. When Wellhausen suggested he plant the entire area in rice, the farmer said he didn't need that much. Wellhausen suggested selling it. The farmer replied that would have to do a lot of work to grow the extra rice and then he would receive very little pay for it. Wellhausen saw this farmer - and those like him - as a problem because "they aren't thinking in commercial terms." (p. 66) Jennings adds:

Before MAP scientists realized this structure of research it would be necessary to defeat the community of indigenous scientists who attempted to redirect the social control of research toward the campesino. - p. 67

"Without simply taking 'orders' from the Rockefeller Foundation, MAP scientists tacitly approved the connection -- science and capitalism -- that represented the basis for their work in Mexico." (p. 65)

El Horno, Chapingo (State of Mexico): Corn
El Horno ("The Oven") was the first research station established. There, Dr. Ed J. Wellhausen and others researched corn. After collecting over 2000 strains of native corn from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, they narrowed them down to sixteen they felt "possessed superior yield characteristics" and ultimately produced six varieties for distribution to farmers during the 1940s. (p. 67)

Additionally, they convinced the Mexican government to create PRONASE, a national seed production and distribution center, in 1948. PRONASE, like MAP, promoted hybrid corn. However, most farmers could not afford hybrids because they could not afford new seed each season (p. 67). Because of this, Wellhausen et al also produced "improved varieties" (presumably open pollinated) which farmers could use seed from a past harvest and still get a good yield from it. Jennings writes:

Initial population improvements of maize by the MAP contained characteristics valued by many peasant agriculturalists, such as greater forage material (for feed) and prolificacy (greater number of ears per plant). However, even these improved populations often possessed traits that nullified their potential benefits to subsistence producers. - p. 68

As an example, Jennings cites one such variety of corn that can only grow in areas with sufficient rainfall or irrigation. By 1950, only 8 percent of corn grown in Mexico came from MAP's improved varieties and hybrids.

Even more outrageous is that MAP, under the leadership of George Harrar, did not place a great priority on corn at all (at least, not one that is proportional to corn in the Mexican diet). MAP promoted corn as a "cattle feed and industrial grain." And MAP scientists "ignored the traditional practice of intercropping maize with beans, promoting monoculture instead." (p. 68)

In 1952, Mexico swapped out President Miguel Aleman for President Rodolfo Ruiz Cortinez. Cortinez brought in a new Minister of Agriculture, Flores Munoz. Munoz "challenged the research agenda set by MAP scientists." (p. 68) Munoz called for a rapid increase in corn production, which MAP scientists did not see as so urgent. Also, Munoz placed MAP and its Office of Special Studies (OSS or OEE in Spanish - Oficina de Estudios Especiales) under his direct control, which did not make the MAP folks happy. They dismissed the warning about insufficient maize production as a myth. Noting that the years between 1953-1957 saw a 40 percent increase in corn prices and record levels of imports, Jennings says: "The major concern of MAP rested not with the public health of Mexicans, but maintaining control over research agendas." (p. 71)

It wasn't just Munoz vs. MAP, however. Another research branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, the IIA (Institute of Agricultural Investigations) criticized MAP's focus on irrigated corn in 1955, noting that irrigated corn only accounts for 5.3 percent of Mexico's corn. To pursue an increase in output, scientists would do better to focus on the 94.7 percent of corn grown in non-irrigated regions of Mexico. (p. 70) The IIA put quite a bit of research focus into creating improved varieties that were not hybrids to make them more suitable for adoption by peasants.

Harrar and Warren Weaver, unhappy with Munoz, got Dean Rusk, President of the Rockefeller Foundation at that time, to go to Mexico and visit President Cortinez about the matter. Jennings says that Rusk "secured President Cortinez' commitment to MAP autonomy." He adds: "By 1954 Dr. Harrar and associates managed to overtake Flores Munoz through the professional corps of Mexicans trained in the Office of Special Studies." (p. 71-72) In other words, so many employees in Mexico's Ministry of Agriculture had been trained by the Office of Special Studies that any action Munoz tried to take against it would be met with resistance from his own staff. Jennings says "One consequence soon to follow this victory resulted with placing greater resources at the disposal of fewer farmers." (p. 72) He backs that up with the statistic that "by 1956, the Ministry of Agriculture allocated 96 percent of its seed producing capacity for the production of hybrids." (p. 72) Even still, by 1966, only 10 percent of Mexican farmers had adopted hybrids, a low number that reviewers from the Rockefeller Foundation blamed on "lack of an effective production and distribution system for hybrid seed, and the unwillingness of many farmers to replace their seed each year, at relatively higher cost.[25]" (p. 72)

La Cal Grande, first in Guanajuato and moved to El Roque: Sorghum and Barley
In 1948, Cal Grande was established in a region called the Bajio. One of their first projects was on sorghum, which is not a food widely eaten in Mexico. Jennings notes: "in the 1950s, a large part of the budget destined for maize went toward the promotion of sorghum." (p. 72) Additionally:

The test conditions in addition to taking place in the relatively temperate climate of the Bajio also had a plentiful supply of irrigation water. Although sorghum represented a potential contribution to resource poor farmers, the MAP conditioned test materials on resource rich environments. Such experimental conditions supplied scientists with little information about the utility of these sorghum materials in either the climate or conditions under which most of Mexico's agriculturalists labored. - p. 73

The even bigger flaw with sorghum research is that it was not intended for direct human consumption. It was intended for livestock. And most Mexicans could not afford to eat animal products. Yet, in 1959, MAP relocated Cal Grande to El Roque, Guanajuato, where sorghum research could be coordinated with cattle production.

By the early 1960's, sorghum production "expanded dramatically, largely because of its application to feedlots in Mexico." (p. 74) Where sorghum cultivation went up, corn cultivation went down. For farmers, sorghum was cheaper to grow than corn. It made for a cheap feed for livestock, particularly hogs and poultry. The scientists "actively encouraged" feeding sorghum to livestock "with the assumption that this provided a cheaper and more efficient means for producing quality (i.e. high protein) foods." (p. 74) However, as late as the early 1980's, Jennings writes, chicken, pork, and eggs were barely present in the diet of average Mexicans. (That's still basically true today if you're looking at the poor in Mexico.)

Jennings says:

At the same time the Foundation expanded agricultural production in Mexico, it structured utilization according to a logic of profit, not consumption. - p. 74-75

That's likely the most important sentence in this whole chapter.

Cal Grande was also the site for barley research. Prior to MAP, barley was not a major crop or food in Mexico. Some 4 percent of barley went toward malts (probably beer), 65 percent went to livestock, and no more than 10 percent was eaten directly by humans. Despite this, MAP began working with barley in the 1950's. The "impetus" for barley research was the Mexican Association of Malters.

However, with the problems with the Ag Minister (Munoz), they stopped their barley work in 1954. Jennings says "Research on a commodity that not only had limited public benefits but received stimulus from private corporations might well jeopardize MAP's attempt to maintain autonomy with the guise of scientific objectivity." (p 75)

The barley research "sought by malting interests in Mexico" was resumed by early 1957. (p. 76) When it did, it did so in cooperation with the Mexican Association of Malters with two clear aims: malting and feed grains. While barley has some potential to grow under marginal conditions, the varieties pursued were developed for irrigated land and mechanical harvesting.

La Campana, Chihuahua: Livestock and Feed Grains

Jennings says that "it is particularly the livestock/feed complex that had most important consequences for Mexico's food production system." (p. 77) The Mexican government did not promote livestock as a high priority, but MAP did. In 1944, the Mexican & U.S. governments together created the Mexican-United States Agricultural Commission, the purpose of which was to supply food, including beef, to support the war effort. Presumably, increased production in Mexico for consumption in the United States.

A 1951 report by Dr. Herrell De Graff (a consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation's Social Science Division) also promoted increased production of livestock and feed grains. However, the report noted that this would create a competition between use of grains for human food or as livestock feed and that Mexico's poor could not afford animal products.

Despite their enthusiasm, work on livestock went slowly. A forage crop program was established in 1953, and a poultry project in 1955. At a 1956 meeting, Dr. John Pino stated concerns about the wisdom of feeding grains to livestock instead of people. Norman Borlaug expressed concerns about erosion due to overgrazing, suggesting the Foundation support forestation instead of livestock in areas prone to erosion.

By 1956, Drs. Roderic Buller and Pino were working with "one of the largest and most powerful associations of livestock producers in the country," the Livestock Union of Chihuahua. The livestock research station, La Campana, was established by 1958, with pastures and funding provided by the Livestock Union. Recall that the Cal Grande research station moved to El Roque in 1959, a move also intended to work toward feed grain/livestock production.

In 1959, Kenneth L. Turk, a consultant for the Foundation, traveled around Mexico to plan for an expanded livestock program. He met with large landholders, multinational corporations such as Ralston Purina and Carnation, and powerful associations, including the patronatos set up by MAP. Jennings says "He identified research needs of wealthy agriculturalists as the basis for determining the content and direction of research in the animal sciences in Mexico." (p. 81) Turk praised both Ralston Purina and Carnation, despite complaints about them from local farmers. Jennings says, according to Turk, "Farmers angry with these corporations represented a problem to be solved through cooperation with these corporate agribusinesses." (p. 81) The overall decision from Turk's work was "to construct an expanded livestock industry in the Bajio on a collection of large farms linked to multinational corporations." (p. 81-82)

Jennings closes this section by noting that the sum total of the work on livestock was to create a population of animals that requires pastures and feed, often competing with production of food for direct human consumption.

Ciudad Obregon, Sonora: Wheat
If you are familiar with the Mexican countryside, you probably wonder (as I have): why wheat? Mexican peasants don't eat it. Wheat was introduced by the Spanish and it is eaten by the middle and upper classes, primarily in the cities. In the early 1940's, when the wheat program was established, it very well might have had nothing to do with feeding Mexicans at all and much more with supporting the U.S. war effort. After the war, they continued work on wheat in Mexico because they found it important as a "source of pathogens." (p. 83) Specifically, says Jennings, "The ability to monitor and control pathogens in Mexico and Central America amounted to a savings of millions of dollars for wheat producers in the United States and Canada." (p. 84)

Additionally, there was an untapped market for wheat in Mexico, and along with that market there could be a market for everything from "capitalized inputs for producers to milling and baking equipment for processors." (p. 84) Initially, research focused on disease (rust) resistance.

Although traditionally wheat was grown in central Mexico, MAP located its research station in Mexico's northwest. "In addition to climatic factors favoring wheat selection for disease resistance, scientists welcomed the opportunity to expand wheat among Sonora farmers who had access to machinery, credit, and international, as well as national markets.[74]" (p. 84) There, Borlaug worked primarily with "the largest and best financed organization of private producers - the Harvester's Union of Hermosillo" (p. 84). The group also held a considerable bit of political power. In return for MAP's help, in 1954, they provided 100 hectares of land for research, which became, in 1955, the research station at Ciudad Obregon.

Borlaug also worked toward large scale cultivation, processing, and marketing of wheat, including arranging federal support for large amounts of fertilizer and commitments by the government to buy up surpluses. The wheat breeding did not just focus on yield but also on industrial needs. The wheat needed to be able to be planted and harvested mechanically, and it needed to be suitable for large scale commercial milling and baking. Borlaug sent any promising varieties to the USDA for milling and baking quality tests.

In summary, Jennings says that Rockefeller's work with agriculture served "as a means of redefining productive relations according to the interests of capitalists in both the United States and Mexico." (p. 87-88) Jennings also concludes that the scientists proved to be an incredibly effective group to challenge the government on behalf of "parochial, nationalist, and antiquated capitalist interest." (p. 88) He says:

Although political leaders of the 1940s conceived of science and technology as a means of controlling agrarian reform and guiding it toward class interests, by the 1950s scientists represented a force that on certain occasions and in specific settings directed the state towards ends largely defined by their professional, albeit capitalist-bound, interests. - . 89

(Doesn't remind you at all about modern debates over biotechnology, does it?)

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