Friday, December 9, 2011

An Analysis of IRRI and the Green Revolution by Edmund K. Oasa, Part 9

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 ninth and last post about Oasa's dissertation, covering the conclusion.

Here's Oasa's not-very-surprising big finish:

To what extent is IRRI willing and/or able to embark on an alternative research path? I will argue that the Institute will be unable and, consequently, unwilling to alter the direction and approach to research. It it were to do so, it would need to abandon the historical foundations of its existence. p. 441

He wrote that in 1981, remember, so thirty years have lapsed, giving IRRI plenty of time to stray from its initial course if it were so inclined.

Oasa continues, saying that:

By defining the food problem in tersm of supplies and low productivity, the International Rice Research Institute continued a series of projects that the Rockefeller Foundation started in areas of health, medicine, and education... These projects... had as its goals the restoration and maintenance of social stability for American democracy and the expansion of corporate, monopoly capitalism. - p. 442

The Foundation harnessed modern science to respond to an unstable social order. Just as science and its products (technologies) became means of social production... they also came to perform an ideological function by legitimizing the dominant and yet tumultuous international socio-economic system...

Defining the food problem as a supply shortage was consistent with this tradition set in motion decades earlier. It rendered problematic technical aspects of food and agriculture while neutralizing their social and political dimensions. As in earlier Rockefeller projects, the move into Third World agriculture was a technological project. Improving the productivity of technology, IRRI's founding fathers believed, would solve "the problem of revolutionary Asia." - p. 442-443

Over the course of many pages, Oasa makes the case that, with this as its history, the old dog of IRRI was nowhere near gaining the ability to learn new tricks. He says:

This background exposes a tension permeating the international agricultural research system. IRRI and CGIAR/TAC [Technical Advisory Committee] reports express a willingness to pay more attention to the poor and down-trodden, but at the same moment, cling on to a basis[sic] tenet of the dominant research philosophy -- namely, the interest in claiming political neutrality. - p. 451

In other words, they might look into a technology or two that would be applicable or helpful to the poor, but for god sakes, they are not going to rock the boat politically to tip the balance of power in a way that will meaningfully improve the lives of the poor. CGIAR's Technical Advisory Committee had announced that "international centers will be increasingly called upon to investigate more difficult research areas" such as developing technology for "less favorable, marginal conditions." (p. 454) Oasa notes "the Institute may appear willing to develop an alternative technological package; but it is not willing to question its own approach to research." (p. 456) "The Institute's expressed interest in sub-optimal technology amounts to nothing more than an attempt to appear accountable in the face of what needs to be done." (p. 456-457)

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