AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

 

Researches in agriculture and food science constitute a very important means of attaining these development objectives. Increase in agricultural productivity would tend to improve the income of farmers, who are the most numerous underdogs of the developping world. By increasing world food supply and ensuring an efficient means of distribution, famine and hunger could be prevented. One hopes that the improving in the nutritive quality of food, especially for infants at crucial stages of growth, would not only enable poorer people to enjoy better health, but also tend to have a beneficial and long-lasting impact upon the mental and physical abilities of the new generation. In general, one would expect successful research to generally  improve the quality of life in rural and urban areas.

And recent research in agriculture and food science has indeed had staggering successes. Scientific discoveries in the fields of rice, wheat, and other crops have been hailed as miraculous. And there are more to come: for example a cross between wheat and rye to produce a new food crop called Titikele, a research project financed by IDRC. The promise is likely to be fulfilled. The green revolution is with us, and utopia looks likly to realised.

Yet even today, in large areas in the world, hundreds of thousands of people still die from famine, and still more go to sleep hungry every night. Malnutrition still takes its toll among millions of children and adults. Even those who have enough to eat in rural areas and large sections of urban areas, are still heavily weighed down with poverty. World prices of food grain, meat, animal feed, and fish soar to the sky. River and atmospheric pollution is no longer confined to the cities of the developed nations: it is spreading to the countryside everywhere in the poorer world. All these problems are not short-term, temporary, or periodic. In the long term, the outlook is even dimmer, and frighteningly so.

How can this apparent paradox be explained?

I submit that the reason behind this paradox is the fact that in the present human society, scientific progress is far more advanced than our wisdom to utilise this gain in technological knowledge. Our commercial and economic system,  skill in public administration, social organisation all lag behind and remain inadequate to cope with the complex task imposed by more advanced technology.

The rapid growth in population during the past century has outstripped the increase in food production. This is indeed a global problem; but worse still, the rate of population growth has been highest where productivity inprovement has been the lowest, in the poorest regions of the world. Family planning and birth control are necessary to ensure adequate food supply.

Secondly, the widening gap in the distribution of income and consumption between the rich and poor in this world militates against the poor respect to food consumption. The rich, in developed and developing nations alike, in New York, London, Tokyo, Singapore, or Bangkok consume more meat and better quality than ever before; consequently, the extra food grain necessary for producing more and better livestock and poultry has been obtained at the expense of the supply of food grain for the poor.

Thirdly, for complex reasons, including overgrazing in equitorial African regions, desert areas like the Sahara have expanded through long years of drought. This phenomenon, coupled with faults in the distributive system and absence of sufficient weather monitoring services, has caused serious famine in many countries in Africa and Asia.

Fourthly, wars, unrest, and banditry seriously disrupt the normal food supply distributive system and gravely deter investment and production. In the words of senior cattle officers in my own country, relatively peaceful in S.E. Asia, “We have not the heart to urge farmers to breed more livestock, knowing full well that sooner or later the cattle will be stolen and no remedy is in sight”.

Fifthly: in many poorer countries, the shortage of land and adverse land tenure system and consequent absence of improved land for cultivation caused  land productivity  to progressively deteriorate over the years. The problem of land tenure is cumulative, because more and more owner farmers are losing their land every year through indebtedness. This problem is aggravated by vagaries of weather and by instability of prices of agricultural products.

Sixthly, in many instances inertia, ignorance, and stubbornness of agricultural extension officers constitute formidable resistance to applying and disseminating of modern scientific knowledge needed in the concept of the green revolution.

Seventhly, industrial processing of agricultural products often suffers from faulty planning with respect to the supply of raw materials. Pineapple canning factories, for example, too often rely on chancy supplies of pineapple from neighbouring small farms and consequently must interrupt production when inadequate supplies are forthcoming.

There are, no doubt, other reasons for the unsatisfactory state of affairs in applying scientific knowledge for the benefit of mankind. But the major problems appear to lie in our inability to organise our social, administrative and economic system to match technological progress.

If the above analysis is correct, the problem must be tackled simultaneously at several levels; by international co-operation, national governments, and organisations within each nation.

International actions are needed to prevent war, monitor bad weather, arrest the expansion of aridity and extreme aridity, stabilis agricultural prices, and more fairly distribute food supplies between poorer and richer nations.

Governmental measures should aim at maintaining law and order within the nation, population control, iscal policy in favour of more equitable distribution of income, reform of land ownership and land tenure, better irrigation and water supplies, and better service by agricultural officers.

Within each developing country, there is large scope for actions by non-governmental organisations such as universities or private charitable movements to go out in rural areas and supplement government services. In most developing countries, there is a wide gap in communication between officials and farmers. The former are inert and usually standoffish; the latter do not have confidence in government officials. University teachers and students,[1] and private voluntary workers[2] could usefully serve as important links between officialdom and the populace in the short term, and in the long term urge the government to climb down, and the farmers to climb up, so that the twain should meet on an equal footing.

Whatever the case, national development is a multi-disciplinary process. Research planning must cover all aspects of human life and society. Agriculture and food research must go hand in hand with research in health, including family planning, education, administration, economic, fiscal, and commercial policy, and social policy. All available knowledge in agriculture and food, administrative art, medicine, and education must be integrated or at least coordinated, so that their application to a village, district, province or nation should bear the greatest benefit to man and human society.

ANNEX

At present, in Thailand three universities are jointly planning to launch a project called the Mae Klong Integrated Rural Development programme. The three universities are Kasetsart (agriculture), Mahidol (medicine) and Thammasat (social science). The geographical location of the project is the area west of Bangkok, confined by the Ta-Chin river in the East, and the Mae Klong the famous Kwae, river in the West. The total area is some one million hectares, with some two million people. In this area, are a variety of crops: rice, fruits, sugar cane, cassava, livestock breeding in the hilly parts, and sugar mills in the west.

The principal concept of the project is to help farmers to help themselves and each other in the form of cooperatives. The approach will be an intergrated interdisciplinary one: of agriculture and food, health including nutrition and family planning, education and social sciences. To gain the confidence of villagers, university teachers and students will form a number of small teams and live in the villages as ordinary citizens mixing, with the villagers. Whatever universities could do to help villagers with their own resources, they would proceed to do. But for bigger problems requiring greater resources beyond the capacities of universities, matters will be referred to the government. For this purpose,  project management will have to make good contact with government departments as well as government officials in the field.

After three to five years, the project will be evaluated and assessed. The lesson of successes and failures in this experiment might be used and generalised for application to other areas of the Kingdom. It is felt that after ten years of infrastructure development in Thailand, in which the overall rate of growth has been about 8-10% per annum on the average, the main defect of the gevernment’s developmental efforts has been that the benefit of development plans has not reached poorer people in rural areas. It is hoped that this new project will help to correct this past defect.

I. OBJECTIVES, GROWTH AND STABILITY.

II. THE INADEQUACIES OF SEPARATE FISCAL AND MONETARY MEASURES.

III. THE CO-ORDINATION OF THE POLICIES.

IV. RELATED CONSIDERATIONS OF IMPORTANCE

Paper read at the Agriculture and Food Science Symposium, Singapore.

22 February 1974.

 

[1] ...See Annex

[2] ...Such as the Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement and Thailand Rural Reconstruction Movement.