Friday, November 4, 2011

An Analysis of IRRI and the Green Revolution by Edmund K. Oasa, Part 1

A friend pointed me to the PhD dissertation of Edmund Kazuso Oasa (The International Rice Research Institute and the Green Revolution: A Case Study on the Politics of Agricultural Research, University of Hawaii, 1981.), a 500+ page monster that is incredibly valuable in understanding the Green Revolution in Asia, and specifically in the Philippines.

Oasa begins, noting "the dominance of modern science as we know it today and its ideological role in legitimating and therefore contributing towards reproducing the social status quo." (p. 6-7) Thus, he is examining how science and technology are used as seemingly impartial tools that in fact benefit the already powerful. He calls this approach "betting on the strong." (p. 26) That is, the new technologies require buying inputs or going into debt, making them more available to the already wealthy. Also:

Scientists developed the new varieties specifically for areas with adequate irrigation facilities, which, in general, the more wealthy farmers have command of. In view of their advantageous position, these farmers were the early adopters of the new package and, upon accruing benefits, were able to get a head start thereby widening the gap between themselves and the less-endowed segments of the population. (p. 26)

And even when the poor farmers adopted the new seeds and associated chemicals, there was a different between adopting the technology and benefiting from it. (p. 27)

In one longer excerpt of a piece by Vernon W. Ruttan and Hans P. Binswanger ("Induced Innovation and the Green Revolution" in Induced Innovation: Technology, Institutions and Development, 1978), he notes that the Green Revolution likely "weakened the potential for revolutionary change in political and economic institutions in rural areas in many countries in Asia and in other parts of the developing world. In spite of the widening income differentials, the gains of productivity growth, in those areas where the seed-fertilizer technology has been most effective, have been sufficiently diffused to preserve the vested interests of most classes in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary pattern of development. (p. 28-29)

An interesting example he cites that goes hand in hand with the increase in landless labor in the Philippines comes from Indonesia. Historically, anyone who wanted to help with the harvest did so and was paid with a portion of the harvest. However, a new harvesting arrangement called tebasan spread after the green revolution technologies spread in West and Central Java.

Within the old system, then, the landlord was concerned about the welfare of his tenants and laborers. Under tebasan, however, the farmer sold his crop to a middleman a week before the harvest. The buyer, in tern, hired a number of villagers to harvest the crop and then sold it for the farmer. (p. 31)

This new system "substantially reduced" labor needs by requiring that the harvest was done with the sickle instead of a lighter tool called the ani-ani. Additionally, women and the elderly were now less able to help with the harvest because of the requirement to use the heavier tool.

From this first section of the dissertation, Oasa claims that the Green Revolution has succeeded in increasing yields and speeding the increase of total rice production in countries with high adoption rates but failed to relieve hunger and poverty. (p. 39) He finds that this was first exposed by critics of the Green Revolution and later admitted to by the institutions of the Green Revolution, who then turned their attention toward aiding the poorest farmers.

In fact, however, as early as 1973 in Nairobi, [Robert] McNamera expressed the World Bank's concerns. Since then, the literature on Third World and international development in general has progressed along a basic theme that falls under a variety of titles such as "redistribution with growth," "growth with justice," "development for the small farmer," and more recently, "a basic needs strategy for developing countries," among many others. The neglect of the small farmer, the literature acclaims, can no longer continue, otherwise, the "rich will get richer and the poor poorer." (p. 39-40)

But more technological fixes bolstered by accompanying reforms in credit availability, etc, are not enough in Oasa's view. He cites a 1977 review of the Green Revolution by Andrew Pearse ("Technology and Peasant Production: Reflections on a Global Study," Development and Change Vol 8, 1977, p. 139), saying:

Pearse argued that what has made living conditions for large numbers of peasant farmers even more precarious and unsetttling are the terms according to which farmers adopt the new agricultural technology. Pearse referred to these as "terms of incorporation" into a market economy. The terms are often unfair and exploitative. (p. 43)

What, then, are these terms? For most Third World cultivators, Pearse said, the green revolution has "replaced self-sustaining local production/consumption systems," incorporating farmers into a situation of reliance upon outside institutions. (p. 44)

Oasa concludes that the technology itself is not the question. "Instead, the material context in which technology is introduced and reaffirms becomes even more problematic than the technology itself." (p. 44)

Oasa then goes into a passage in which he describes how the power dynamic between tenants and landlords changed under colonialism, upon the introduction of a central state that gave the landlord legitimacy, which meant the landlord no longer needed legitimacy in the eyes of the tenants since the state was there to enforce it. Additionally, colonial powers were extracting taxes in the form of cash, imposing a market economy upon peasants who previously practiced subsistence agriculture. He compares this to the socioeconomic changes of the green revolution, which similarly allowed the erosion of traditional relationships of reciprocity (albeit unequal) between landlords and tenants and which forced the small farmers into a cash economy in order to pay for loans and expensive farm inputs.

Oasa ends the section, saying:

[IRRI's] historical agendas include political and economic interests in restoring and promoting social stability for a corporate, monopoly capitalism first in the United States and then abroad in the Third World. The agendas, in turn, entailed a specific scientific research tradition that neutralized the social context surrounding technology and consequently constituted particular research values and interests. (p. 51-52)

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