Friday, March 18, 2011

Bruce H. Jennings and the Green Revolution, Part 2

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.

Following the chapter in which Jennings examines the Rockefeller Foundation in general, he takes on their early work in Mexico. A summary of his findings follows.

Perhaps the first person to suggest what would later become the Green Revolution was Dr. J.A. Ferrell, an officer at the Rockefeller Foundation. Rockefeller began working on public health in Mexico in 1913, and Ferrell thought that something ought to be done for economic development there. In 1936, he spoke to a former minister of agriculture about the possibility of a cooperative venture in agriculture between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican government. When the former minister said this was a good idea that President Cardenas would likely approve of, Ferrell wrote Rockefeller Foundation president Raymond Fosdick.

As noted before, Cardenas appropriated Standard Oil in 1940. I believe that Ferrell's suggestion made its way to the ears of Henry A. Wallace, who was at that time Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture. He would soon be elected Vice President (under Roosevelt) and his first job after the election - prior to taking office - was going to Mexico for the inauguration of Mexican President Avila Camacho.

Jennings notes that "the Rockefeller Foundation did not always act as a means of supporting Rockefeller business interests," but "there may well have been some motivation on the part of the Trustees to pursue work in Mexico that supported a political machine, Camacho's, which would favor an outcome amenable to U.S. interests, including those affecting the Rockefeller investments." (p. 47) He goes on to say:

But this did not represent the totality of Foundation interests in Mexico. The problematic concern with Mexico, specifically in terms of agricultural development, was the absence of a means of capitalizing operations int he countryside... The objectives were... to create a situation in which agriculture pursued an agenda of capitalist development. p. 47

Jennings then turns to discussing Henry A. Wallace, who "liked to think of himself as the 'father of industrialized agriculture.' (p. 47)

While Wallace appeared to understand that agricultural policies necessary of industrialized production often resulted in greater hardships faced by certain farmers and labor, he treated this as an acceptable consequence. - p. 47

There is MUCH more to say here about Wallace, and I highly recommend reading Will Allen's War on Bugs to gain an understanding of the overall scope of what led to industrial ag in the U.S. and the role farm journals played in that. Wallace published a farm journal and founded the company Pioneer Hi-Bred, the first company to sell hybrid corn, and also the company that was successful in popularizing it.

After Wallace returned from Mexico, he met with Ferrell and Fosdick on February 3, 1941 and made the proposal that led to the Green Revolution. According to him, Mexico needed "greater agricultural production." (p. 48) This meeting resulted in what the Rockefeller Foundation called the Mexican Agricultural Program, or MAP.

Rockefeller acted quickly after the meeting with Wallace, sending a team of scientists on a scouting mission to Mexico: Dr. E.C. Stakman, professor of plant protection at University of Minnesota; Dr. Richard Bradfield, professor of soils and agronomy at Cornell University; and Dr. Paul Mangelsdorf, professor of plant genetics and breeding at Harvard University. (The three later wrote a book about the Green Revolution, which is, along with the Jennings book, one of the best sources of information about the subject.)

Stakman, Bradfield, and Mangelsdorf spent July to December 1941 in Mexico, traveling all over the country. They recommended:

1. Breeding improved varieties of maize, wheat and beans;
2. Developing improved agronomic-production-management practices;
3. Improving weed control;
4. Improving animal production;
5. Training a corps of Mexican scientists.
- p. 49

Jennings continues:

The observations by Stakman, Bradfield, and Mangelsdorf of Mexican agriculture demonstrated their fundamental belief in the importance of scientific agriculture. These scientists described "genetics and plant breeding, plant protection, soil science, livestock management, and general farm management" as the means of improving the five areas of technical assistance [called for in Rockefeller's plans for Mexico]. p. 49

Furthermore, the team recommended a top-down approach. This was at odds with the recommendations of Dr. Carl Sauer, a professor of geography at University of California at Berkeley who was very familiar with Mexico. Rockefeller Foundation consulted Sauer, who recommended a more bottom up approach that involved building on the peasants' knowledge of agriculture. Sauer also worried that pushing high-yielding hybrids on Mexico would ruin their genetic resources for maize. He said that "Mexican agriculture cannot be pointed toward standardization on a few commercial types without upsetting native economy and culture hopelessly." and "Unless the Americans understand that, they'd better keep out of this country entirely." (p. 51)

In concluding his remarks on agriculture, Sauer reminded the officers of the Foundation that plants such as maize had a much more varied use in Mexico than was true of the same plant in the United States. As a result of these differences, Sauer cautioned against applying the agricultural sciences to recreate the history of U.S. commercial agriculture in Mexico. - p. 51

As Jennings put it, "In spite of the severity of Sauer's observations, the Foundation set the stage for the management of science according to the logic of commercial production." (p. 51)

Later, Sauer also argued that the Foundation's work on wheat, barley, and alfalfa were misplaced. Wheat and barley cultivation in Mexico had been promoted by the Spanish, even though the crops were "ill-suited to the ecology and economy of Mexican villages." (p. 52) Sauer thought that the Mexicans would benefit far more from work on legumes.

Internal Rockefeller studies also concurred with Sauer, finding that the Mexican diet, based on locally grown foods, was "fundamentally sound" and that there was no need to substantially change it. (p. 53) In general, they called for more food, but not different food.

In other words, there were plenty of contemporary critiques to the Mexican Agricultural Program... but the leaders at Rockefeller basically ignored them. Mangelsdorf, for example, dismisses Sauer's critiques as follows:

If the program does not succeed, it will not only have represented a colossal waste of money, but will probably have done the Mexicans more harm than good. If it does 'succeed,' it will mean the disappearance of many ancient Mexicans varieties of corn and other crops and perhaps the destruction of many picturesque folk ways, which are of great interest to the anthropologist. In other words, to both Anderson and Sauer, Mexico is a kind of glorified ant hill which they are in the process of studying. They resent any effort to 'improve' the ants. They much prefer to study them as they now are.[28] - p. 53

28. Paul Mangelsdorf, memorandum to Warren Weaver (Tarrytown: Rockefeller Foundation Archives, July 26, 1949.)

By 1949, Dr. John S. Dickey, one of the Foundation's trustees was aware that if the program's work changed agriculture in Mexico too significantly, it would greatly increase the inequality between the rich and the poor and could become a basis for political instability. He predicted "political problems not now even dimly perceived by many Mexicans.[31]" (p. 56) (I believe you would spell those 'political problems' Z-A-P-A-T-I-S-T-A-S.) Dickey wasn't so much concerned at the prospect of future political unrest, he just wanted to get Rockefeller out of the picture before it happened. Dickey wanted Rockefeller to be judged only on "the validity of scientific experiments" and he didn't want any unrest in Mexico to jeopardize plans to expand the Green Revolution in other parts of the world. (p. 57)

Jennings ends the chapter with a few more important points. First:

During the 1940s the Mexican Agricultural Program proceeded toward the goal of increased productivity without any further consideration about the social consequences of this enterprise. The anticipation of negative consequences only signaled to the Foundation officers that it might be necessary to work more strenuously to limit notions of responsibility within the scientific community. - p. 57-58

And second, he notes Warren Weaver's admission that "the promise of increased food remained subsidiary to the Foundation's interest in a larger experiment in social engineering." (p. 58)

No comments:

Post a Comment