Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Analysis of IRRI and the Green Revolution by Edmund K. Oasa, Part 7

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 seventh post about Oasa's dissertation, covering chapter 7 of the dissertation, entitled "Responding to its Critics."

Oasa begins with a summary of what has been discussed thus far: that IRRI "attempted to link a particular definition of the food problem and the nature of research resulting from it" and this was "a natural as well as historically-significant outcome of a problem defined strictly in terms of adoption and technical constraints to higher yields" (p. 376). In its work, IRRI had a "tradition of promotion, demonstration, and high pay-off." (p. 376) However, it did not want to be seen as promoting and "dominating" and it "responded by creating as best as it could an opposite impression -- that is, collaboration and cooperation." (p. 376) Part of this involved formalizing its international program to appear more collaborative. It also served to allow IRRI to continue to focus on "betting on the strong" (i.e. developing technologies most useful to resourch-rich farmers) while expressing its interest for helping resource-poor farmers by shunting that work off to other institutions. Or in the words of IRRI: "to stimulate international cooperation to develop upland, rainfed, and deep-water rice." (IRRI, "Rice Research and Training in the 70s," (Los Banos: IRRI, 1970), p. 12 and pp. 20-26.) Oasa says:

In this context, IRRI was also responding to critics of the green revolution. It also tried to be accountable to them by showing that it was not content with "betting on the strong." Recalling, IRRI's expansion in the 1970s was a response to second-generation problems. To this end, IRRI went beyond establishing collaborative relationships. It also attempted, as the period of expansion wore on, to display interest in the social consequences and dimensions of agricultural technology and food and agriculture in general. The Institute started a formal program on social consequences and hired an anthropologist. - p. 377

Great, right? But did they actually address their problems, or just make the appearance of doing so? Oasa begins with a discussion of IRRI's international programs. He says:

In the period 1974-1976, the Institute formalized the collaborative component of its international program, by way of two important decisions. First, it decided to abandon its policy of naming varieties for commercial use. Second, it established a system of five collaborative networks to bring scientists together on a regular and formal basis; each network focused on a specific research area. - p. 379

Instead of naming varieties itself, IRRI would now simply provide genetic materials to rice scientists everywhere and encouraging national programs to release IRRI varieties under names of their own choosing. (p. 380) The reason was that scientists in Asian nations "generally objected to releasing varieties not bearing local names" and also, IRRI was gaining publicity and credit for work as government officials and sometimes even farmers favored any variety named with an "IR." (p. 380) Oasa analyzes this change as follows:

Relying on the argument of national research strength simply masked the reality that the new policy was basically no different from the former policy. IRRI lines had always been sent to national programs for testing and cross breeding with local selections and vice versa as well. Encouraging the use of local designations was therefore a weak indication of a turning point in the development of national rice research capabilities. - p. 382

There was also, by this time, a basic realization that no one rice variety could work everywhere, in all conditions. A 1968 discussion among the Board of Trustees on this general topic was brought about by "the poor performance of IR8 and IR5 in cooler climates, particularly in East Pakistan [Bangladesh] and Taiwan." (p. 383)

The five international networks created were:
  • The International Rice Agro-Economic Network
  • The Industrial Extension Program (IEP)
  • International Network on Fertilizer Efficiency in Rice (INFER)
  • International Cropping Systems Network (ICSN)
  • International Rice Testing Program (IRTP)

Notably, INFER was "financially assisted" by the International Minerals and Fertilizer Corporation and the International Fertilizer Development Center, both based in the U.S. (p. 389)

Oasa identifies the last two programs listed as the most important. He says: "In the Institute's interests, ICSN was the most effective approach to contribute towards the development of sub-optimal technologies," i.e. technologies for rice farmers who didn't have access to lots of inputs and water control. (p. 390) The term "cropping systems" generally refers to looking at more than just a rice monoculture.

Even more important was IRTP. (p. 392) It "allowed IRRI to display its interest in developing non-irrigated rice technology and in encouraging national programs to develop their own local varieties. (p. 393) National programs would select seed from varieties they thought were could and send it to IRRI, who would multiply that seed and then distribute it to cooperating programs in various Asian countries. The national programs would then "evaluate and record how each rice yields and how each reacts to adverse biological factors such as diseases, drought, or cold." (IRRI, Annual Report for 1974, pp. 6-7) IRRI would then compile, analyze, and distribute the data. Then rice scientists from around the world would review the data and request seed.

However, even though testing was happening all over, it was usually under similar "optimal conditions" (water control, high inputs) as were used at IRRI. (p. 396) In 1978, a rainfed nursery was established to test varieties without irrigation. (p. 396) Oasa points out that "The performance of IR selections in the IRTP suggested that the Institute was incapable and/or unwilling to enter in low pay-off technologies." (p. 401) A senior scientist in the plant breeding department "said that IR lines simply did not fare well in the IRTP trials, meaning that IRRI did not have promising lines for less-than-optimal conditions or lines that were of medium maturity." (p. 401) Thus these networks allowed IRRI to "pursue alternative technological choices" by shunting the work in developing them to scientists in the various countries it collaborated with. (p. 401)

Next, Oasa delves into IRRI's look at the "socio-economic environment surrounding the new technology." (p. 406) Here, he looks back at the Constraints to Higher Yields project as "by far the most important activity in the Institute's socio-economic research program." (p. 406) That alone shows that IRRI wasn't prepared to do all that much in examining socio-economic factors beyond just simply looking at "the problem of low adoption rates" of its varieties and "low yields" even when the varieties were adopted. (p. 406-407)

Recall again that IRRI received a new director, Nyle C. Brady, in 1973. When Brady arrived at IRRI, he actually argued against "in-depth studies of social problems" from the get-go. (p. 407) His reason was that doing so would require a different mix of scientist than those currently on staff and would also require a look at location-specific political situations.

Still in 1976, the Department of Agricultural Economics held a conference called "Economic Consequences of New Rice Technology: A View from IRRI." (p. 408) By this time, there was already quite a bit of criticism of the Green Revolution that IRRI felt it must respond to. But it did so by digging its heels in the ground, so it seems, from its statement that "The purpose of this conference is to put together the empirical findings of IRRI research on the economic consequences of the new rice technology and to promote positive discussion on this controversial issue using the IRRI research findings as background materials." (Department of Agricultural Economics, IRRI, "Economic Consequences of New Rice Technology: A View from IRRI (A Proposal for Conference)," 1976, mimeo., Los Banos, IRRI, p. 1.)

Oasa provides another quote that: "As early as 19970, discussion within the Board of Trustees centered around the idea of bringing a couple of the green revolution's critics to IRRI to tell them that "they have no real proof that the big boys [read large farmers] have been shoving out the small boys [read small farmers and landless laborers]." (Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive and Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees of the International Rice Research Institute, August 19, 1970.) (p. 409) The economists put this in more diplomatic terms, saying that "data do not support the hypothesis that small farmers have generally lagged behind largely in the use of new technologies that would increase their yields, income, and employment." (Department of Agricultural Economics, IRRI, "Consequences of New Technology," n.d., mimeo., Los Banos, IRRI, p. 5.)

In fact, in the early and mid-1970s, IRRI scientists argued that the high yielding rice actually "has an effect of promoting more equal distribution" of wealth.36 Oasa says that this view underwent considerable change towards the end of the 1970s, beginning with two projects by Yujiro Hayami, "Anatomy of Rice Village Economy" and "Dynamics of Agrarian Change." The first examined a study of income and expenditures of 11 households based on a year's worth of records. The second studied the interaction between technological change, demographic trends, and government policies. (Department of Agricultural Economics, IRRI, "Consequences of the New Rice Technology," paper presented at the IRRI Internal Annual Review, January 25, 1978, Los Banos, IRRI, pp. 2-4) (p. 410-411)

In 1978, findings were published in IRRI's Internal Annual Review saying "If present trends continue, farm size will decline further, landless laborers will continue to increase in numbers relative to farmers. Real wages will decline and the value of tenancy rights will rise widening the income gap between farmers and landless workers." (Department of Agricultural Economics, IRRI, "Consequences of the New Rice Technology," paper presented at the IRRI Internal Annual Review, January 25, 1978, Los Banos, IRRI, p. 6) However, it doesn't seem that IRRI necessarily found this to be a problem, as it advocated solving it with more technological (and not political) solutions. (p. 411)

IRRI held a non-"IRRI-type" workshop in March of that year which brought together 29 participants from anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, and demography. (p. 412) Like the "Changes" workshop so many years before, it allowed for a variety of different viewpoints. One major theme was the economic polarization taking place, and another was the loss of control over their own destinies experienced by the poorest class. (p. 413-414) There was even "an allusion to rebellion and revolt." (p. 414) Unfortunately, it appears that the outcome of this workshop within IRRI was roughly nothing. (p. 417) As Oasa puts it "from the long-range planning committee's report, IRRI was most likely to stay fixed in a technological straightjacket." (p. 418)

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