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close this bookQuiet Revolutionaries - A Look at the Campaign by Agricultural Scientists to Fight Hunger (World Bank)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe people behind this essay
View the documentForeword
View the documentA costly mistake
View the documentA tiny but effective wasp
View the documentMoving to Benin
View the documentMite against Mite
View the documentGood works and deals
View the documentOrganizing the CGIAR
View the documentThe second-generation centers
View the documentThe question of quarantine
View the documentManaging a gene bank
View the documentRights to intellectual property
View the documentA new kind of bread
View the documentA taste of honey
View the documentStarch and alcohol

Good works and deals

Cali has a bad international reputation. It used to be overshadowed by that other Colombian city, Medellin, with its own mafia and infamous druglord Pablo Escobar Gaviria making the headlines. But rivals, known as the Cali Cartel, have eclipsed even Medellin's notoriety. They are now the most powerful criminal organize in the world, says the US. Drug Enforcement Administration with a lock on the global cocaine market.

A prosperous-looking city, Cali is in the middle of a building boom, aided, everyone who lives there presumes, by the cm came profits. It used to have a large expatriate population but, because of kidnap and revenge threats, that has now declined However, CIAT'S staff are quick to insist that the work goes on virtually undisturbed by the local politics and the rank climate of illegality. People keep their heads down and don't ask a lot of questions.

But they do worry about the image. Such good work goes on inside these laboratories; such sinister deals go on a few kilometers away in the suburbs of Cali. Tom Hargrove, an affable American who planted improved rice seed in Viet Nam's Mekong Delta during the war there and who now nuns the information section at CIAT, even wonders if he should change the dateline on his press releases. At the moment, the dateline reads, "Cali, Colombia" But CIAT is set about eighteen kilometers away in the midst of lush sugarcane fields near the village of Palmira Would a Palmira dateline, Hargrove wondered puckishly, maybe get a better response?

Many Wise Men

ClAT was created in 1967 because of the success of the first two international centers the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines (IRRI) ), begun in 1960, and the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement in Mexico (CIMMYT), started in 1966. All three centers were the products of the wise men at the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations (men such as George Harrar, Sterling Wortman, Forre Hill, Lowell Hardin, and David Bell). They had the foresight to accept the idea that applying biological science to peasant- agriculture was an efficient source of growth, and they built strong institutions.

The result, in the late 1960s, was the "green revolution" with its record-breaking harvests of rice and wheat, under the inspired leadership of Nobel Prize-winner Norman Borlaug, Edward Welhausen, and Robert Chandler, some of the Grand Old Men of agricultural science. Instead of the fearful famines that were predicted—with Malthus wringing his hands from on high and saying triumphantly, "I told you so"—Asia in particular had sufficient food and even food surpluses.

This was a hard act to follow. But it had to be followed People couldn't just give themselves a pat on the back and say the job's done. The world's population grows by about 100 million each year, and the population of some of the world's poorest countries will double within the next decade. Then there is global warming also to worry about, and the loss of the ozone layer and creeping deserts. Although the world theoretically produces enough food for everyone, it's obvious by just fuming on the television or reading a newspaper that famine is still a deadly reality in some lands. Up to a billion people, by some estimates, are still hungry.

True, hunger can be caused by drought like the one that seared through parts of Africa in 1992, by war like the vicious power struggles that raged in Somalia and Liberia, by floods, and by poor policy decisions that fail to stabilize food prices or fail to solve trade wars. Nevertheless, yields of the major food crops must double over the next 30 years, it's estimated, or malnutrition, even starvation, will be widespread.

The well-fed peoples of the world peruse their newspapers and read about discussions on tariffs and trade and all the talk of excess about buffer mountains, winelakes, and European farmers who wantonly destroy their fruit crops to make a political point They are lulled into wondering whet all the fuss is about. Simply put, the battle for food security in some parts of the globe has to be fought over and over again.

The agricultural scientists those quiet revolutionaries- can't be expected to solve all these problems, but they have to keep on taring to come up with answers. They did it gloriously with the green revolution (and it has now become dear that their work has helped everyone in the countries involved, not just rich farmers, as early critics claimed), while the list of quieter and less publicized revolutions that came after is long and impressive; In fact, these scientists' achievements are, as far as the general public is concerned, one of the most closely guarded secrets of the twentieth century.