Thursday, December 8, 2011

An Analysis of IRRI and the Green Revolution by Edmund K. Oasa, Part 8

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 eighth post about Oasa's dissertation, covering the latter half of chapter 7, in which IRRI hires an anthropologist in the late 1970's, with most interesting consequences.

In chapter 7, Oasa takes on a discussion of IRRI's hiring of an anthropologist, Grace Goodell. She was a post-doctoral fellow who "also enjoyed some of the benefits of a senior staff scientist." (p. 419) Goodell knew from the outset that her job was to prove that anthropology could "meaningfully contribute to agricultural research and technological development" or else IRRI would not hire any other social scientists after her or in addition to her. (p. 419) She was also told that "IRRI had not been very keen on having an anthropologist" on staff. (p. 420)

Oasa questions whether Goodell was hired merely as "window dressing" given her lack of experience in the region. Her dissertation was on Iran. "In the field of anthropology, this practice of hiring someone with little or no background in the desired geographical area is essentially unsound and even unheard of." (p. 420) Goodell "immediately had the impression" that she was in fact hired as window dressing and "felt pressured to play a subservient, supportive role." (p. 421) (I must also wonder about the impact of her being a girl in the late 70s in an institution full of men.) Interestingly, Oasa says:

Much of the interaction with scientists brought out the conventional notions of how anthropologists do their work. This was verified by additional requests for her to op from village to village, week to week, with a carefully structured questionnaire, to determine what farmers were doing and to suggest changes toward making the IRRI technology more profitable. From the discipline's standpoint, this was again a most unsound practice. More important, these requests showed how little IRRI knew about perceptions of peasant cultivators towards outsiders and the probable distorted nature of interaction between scientists and farmer resulting from those perceptions. - p. 423

But at last, Goodell got to do some real anthropology. For example, "she pointed out that the lack of sufficient drainage facilities is a major constraint to higher yields or, as she at one point put it, "any yields at all!" (p. 427) She found that flooding and overabundance of water was a major issue in a large number of Asian countries, and yet it was unaddressed by IRRI, who instead focused on "the alleviation of water scarcity" and promotion of irrigation. And for that matter, the problem of flooding was often actually caused by the new irrigation systems. (p. 428)

In my favorite section, Goodell spent time living in a village and then wrote to all IRRI scientist with sections of a notebook of household expenses of one of the farmers in that village.

She showed how increasingly complex farming had become for her farmer friend since he began using the new technology through the government's Masagana 99 program. In this growing complexity, "the most striking feature" of her friend's "agro-history is its utter lack of pattern." - p. 429

Here is what she wrote:

You get seventeen hundred dollars of rice from three buck's worth of Tide and DDT -- no fertilizer at all -- in one dry season (1977-1978) and the very next dry season you get barely 60% of that from $150 bucks of pure jibberish: "Azodrin 202-R, Hopsin, Komet, 14-14-14-, Hytox, Carbofuran, Brodan, Urea, and Sumacidin D.S.U. . ." Fifty times the cost of your own laundry-soap concoction brings out barely half the returns! Are you kidding????

Conscientiously, one season you spend P3,500 on the crop, while in the next season the same conscientious planning has you spent but a quarter of that . . . . In nine cropping seasons you try seven different varieties, and just when IR36 looks agronomically sound it starts splitting in the mill and yellow with tungro [a disease]! . . . Three consecutive crops see you zap from no fertilizer at all to 15 sacks and then back to none again . . . Inputs that college-graduate technicians insist are indispensable for even a poor farmer to buy, come and go in a single season without ever being heard of again: "Sulfate," "28-63," "Etropolan . . ." What's going on here??? This is "science?" - Memorandum from Grace Goodell to IRRI Scientists, September 19, 1979, p. 7.

Oasa summarizes that Goodell agreed that the average yields of the HYVs (high yielding varieties) and their "overall economic returns" were better than those of the traditional varieties, but she had a problem with the farmer's loss of control over the new yields. At one point, he was able to purchase a television, although even then he was in debt, "a condition which has plagued many other Filipino farmers since the beginning of Masagana 99." (p. 430)

Her work in the villages over two years culminated in a paper called "Communication From Farmer to Researcher," presented in 1980. Oasa says "Basically, she argued that the nature of communication between cultivator and scientist has essentially been one-way. Researchers have defined and set the parameters within which interaction takes place, thereby rendering particular kinds of information and data worthy of value and discussion." (p. 431) In no uncertain terms, she told IRRI that they needed to hear from the farmers. (p. 432)

No comments:

Post a Comment