Saturday, December 3, 2011

An Analysis of IRRI and the Green Revolution by Edmund K. Oasa, Part 3

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.

This is the third post about Oasa's dissertation. This post covers the founding and staffing of IRRI.

In this third section, we begin on page 150 in which Robert F. Chandler (of the Rockefeller Foundation) goes to Tokyo in November 1958 after being asked to do so by J. George Harrar (a senior Rockefeller Foundation official) one month before. He was instructed "to investigate in a careful and diplomatic fashion the atmosphere and opportunities . . . in connection with rice improvement" and to make sure that the Philippines would provide the land, labor, and certain facilities for IRRI "along with the usual arrangements for taking care of foreign personnel who might be sent to the Philippines."

When Chandler arrived and met with L.B. Uichanco, the dean of the College (University of the Philippines, Los Banos College of Agriculture, UPCA), Uichanco offered him at least 40 ha of good rice land with the possibility of purchasing another adjacent 40 hectares if funds were available. (p. 151) Chandler also got immediate buy in from UPCA President Sinco, Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Juan de G. Rodriguez and Assistant Secretary Armando M. Dalisay. The Secretary and Assistant Secretary then began to work with Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia as well as other government agencies to lay the groundwork for IRRI.

In April 1959, Harrar wrote to Secretary Rodriguez to request a meeting in June. The meeting resulted in a number of agreements, including an agreement for the eventual take-over of IRRI by Philippine nationals. That September, Rodriguez spoke to other cabinet members about IRRI, calling it a "blessing," a "pride," and an "honor" that such an institution would be founded in the Philippines. (p. 153) A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Foundations and the Secretary on December 9, 1959 and on March 8, 1960, IRRI's Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission of the Philippines (p. 153-154).

Oasa quotes these articles of incorporation as saying that IRRI was "to conduct basic research on the rice plant, on all phases of rice production, management, distribution, and utilization with a view of attaining nutritive and economic advantage or benefit for the people of Asia and other major rice-growing areas through improvement in the quality and quantity of rice." (emphasis added by Oasa)

By 1960, UPCA purchased the additional 40 hectares it had mentioned and provided land for all professional and residential buildings as well. All of this land was leased to IRRI for one piso a year. (p. 154) Menwhile, the foundations agreed that Ford would pay to construct the plant and Rockefeller would pay the operating costs.

Next, they began to staff IRRI, first by appointing Chandler as its director. (p. 154) Dr. Sterling Wortman, who had been a corn breeder at the Rockefeller program in Mexico, and Peter Jennings, who was then working at the Rockefeller Foundation project in Colombia, began searching for scientists. "The initial team consisted of individuals with degrees in agricultural economics, agricultural engineering, soil chemistry, agronomy, microbiology, biochemistry, plant physiology, plant pathology, entomology, plant breeding and genetics. There were also individuals in the areas of statistics and communication." (p. 155) Chandler and his staff viewed these disciplines as "indispensable" but Oasa points out that that "should be read as 'indispensable to plant breeding.'" (p. 157)

There was a worry that scientist from the United States and other wealthy nations would not want to work in the Philippines. IRRI decided to attract them both with the "noble" purpose of the work as well as with excellent salaries and fringe benefits, as well as excellent lab equipment and staff. The scientists arrived between 1960 and 1963. The formal organization of IRRI took place on April 13-14, 1960, with the inaugural meeting of its board of trustees, chaired by Harrar. (p. 158) Inauguration of IRRI itself took place on February 7, 1962. (p. 158)

After denoting these historical details and dates, Oasa discusses the mission of IRRI in greater depth:

IRRI's Articles of Incorporation specifically referred to the "economic advantage or benefit for the people of Asia." This meant that the food problem was immediately linked to the problem of societal development and, at the same time, was reduced to the problem of existing traditional varieties of the rice plant; that is, by identifying "isolable technical problems," the Foundation felt that it, in cooperation with national elites, could solve the food problem. In final analysis, the problem was reduced to the isolable task of improving the productivity of the rice plant.

But, such a dramatic reduction also reflected and reaffirmed a very fundamental interest in preserving a given social order that has been historically plagued with unrest. If we recall "Notes on Indian Agriculture," Harrar, Weaver, and Mangelsdorf apprised the Foundation of India's culture and tradition that needed to be "overcome" if an agricultural research project were to be started. We can interpret their observations in two ways. One is that an underdeveloped country's culture and tradition (read social context) had to change. The introduction of modern science and technology could help this process by increasing productivity and total output to the extent of making agriculture a commercial and profitable [sic] for the Asian rice farmer. A second interpretation is that the Foundation had to leave the social context intact in trying to solve "isolable technical problems" of food production.

However different these interpretations are, they, nevertheless, infer the notion of "givenness" or "status quot." Extant social structures and institutions were not to be tampered with through human, political action and participation. And if any changes or benefits were to be derived, they would come about through the formulas of the agricultural sciences producing technology capable of increasing the yield per hectare of rice. Only then would social stability be achieved, exhibited by the adoption of the Western democratic tradition and the free play of market forces. - p. 159-160

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