Archive for September, 2009

Cotton crop comes under attack

By A.B. Arisar, Tuesday, 29 Sep, 2009

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UMERKOT: The onslaught of ‘reddening’ or ‘red-leaf-disease’ and fusarium fungal diseases on cotton coupled with acute shortage of water and irrational use of pesticides have dealt a deadly blow to the crop standing on thousands of acres in the district.

 

The red-leaf-disease or its local equivalent Garh Pani has been attacking the crop in this water starved area for the past ten years but no one has taken serious measures to find out its causes and prevent its spread.

 

Umerkot’s EDO (agriculture) Ali Haider Jarwar said that cotton had been cultivated on 22,000 hectares as against its target of 27,000 hectares in the district, but shortage of water, a rotation programme with long intervals and recent untimely rains had done it great harm.

 

He estimated the damage at 30 to 35 per cent while his subordinates believed the loss might stand at 75 per cent. Shortage of water had done more harm because the crop, which required water on the 8th day of cultivation for better germination, received water after two months interval.

 

A peasant who was spraying his crop with pesticide said that he did not know which pesticide he was using but he had applied it twice without any result.

 

Fauji, a grower, said that he and his colleagues had spent a huge amount on developing soil, getting seed, acquiring water through lift machines and using fertiliser and pesticides but failed to reap a good turnout.

 

They picked only four to six maund (40 kg) cotton in the first round, he said, adding their expenses had gone down the drain after attack of red-leaf-disease.

 

The EDO said that his department could not handle the disease because it suffered from acute shortage of staff. Of five posts of DDOs three were vacant, of 20 posts of agriculture officers 13 were vacant, of 62 posts of field assistants 30 were vacant, he said.

 

Growers and agricultural experts of the area blamed climate change, poor quality of seed, lack of organic materials, unavailability of experts and laboratory in the district for poor production of the crop.

 

The EDO said that he had to call experts from the Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam and a team headed by agriculture research officer Mohammad Qasim Memon visited Umerkot 15 days ago. It collected samples to identify causes of the red-leaf-disease, he said.

 

The agriculture extension wing is responsible for facilitating growers in increasing crop yield by assisting them in land selection, crop selection, land preparation, seed selection, sowing time, sowing methodology, balanced application of fertilisers, proper application of irrigation, weeds control, proper use of insects, pests and disease identification and management and harvest.

 

It is also responsible for introducing new and high-yield varieties of seeds resistant to pests, insects and diseases, which can grow at less water but nothing of the kind has been done in the disease-hit area. The Sindh Seed Corporation did not set up any sale point in Umerkot this year to supply healthy and high-yield seeds to growers.

 

The officials of agriculture department blamed landlords for the losses. Due to lack of education, they committed mistakes in soil levelling, selecting quality seeds bought without recommendation and consultation with agricultural experts, use of fertilisers and pesticides and organic materials, they said.

 

DDO Hussain Bux Khaskheli said that the department has set up farmers’ field schools in 2002 for integrated pest management in cotton, mangoes and chillies but they failed to bear fruit because of lack of interest by landlords.

 

The ‘red-leaf-disease’ is a mysterious cotton disorder known as bronze wilt elsewhere in the world. It first appeared in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia during the hot summers of 1995, 1996, and 1998.

 

The disease causes death of feeder roots and of phosphorus and potassium deficiency in tissues. Its common symptoms include wilting, reddening of stems and leaves and fruit shed, and a higher temperature of the leaf tissues.

 

The fusarium graminearum can cause root rot and seedling blight. It is a kind of fungus, which attacks roots and causes sudden death of the plant.

Drought-like situation for Rabi crops feared

By Ahmad Fraz Khan, Friday, 25 Sep, 2009

The current pattern of river flows resemble that of severe drought years of the 70s and 80s and the water shortage, which is currently around 35 percent, can go exceptionally high, says an Irsa official. - APP/File Photo

The current pattern of river flows resemble that of severe drought years of the 70s and 80s and the water shortage, which is currently around 35 percent, can go exceptionally high, says an Irsa official. - APP/File Photo

LAHORE: The country may face drought-like situation this Rabi (October-March) as heavy water withdrawals from dams draw down steeply without replenishment because of exceptionally low river flows.

The Indus River System Authority (Irsa), which is meeting in Islamabad on Friday (today) to firm up its Rabi forecast, is expected to announce around 35 per cent shortage. Some Irsa officials, however, fear that the situation could be much worse than that.

‘The current pattern of river flows resemble that of severe drought years of the 70s and 80s and the water shortage, which is currently around 35 per cent, can go exceptionally high,’ says an Irsa official.

‘Currently, Irsa is making the seven-year high releases from both dams as it has to save standing rice crop which is at a flowering stage and the cotton crop at the picking stage. But these heaviest releases are going to cost it heavily two months down the line when dams’ level will be very low and river flows will drop due to winter season,’ he said.

According to the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) report, Irsa on Thursday faced a water deficit of 70,800 cusecs, which was met through withdrawals from dams. It received 136,800 cusecs and released 207,600 cusecs to meet irrigational needs of the country.

‘The current withdrawals are heaviest since 2002,’ says chief meteorologist Hazrat Mir. On Thursday, Irsa released 45,000 cusecs from Mangla dam and 130,000 cusecs from Tarbela dam. Last year, the releases were 40,000 cusecs and 115,000 cusecs, respectively.

‘Though it is too early to predict the river pattern in the winter right now, the Met office is expecting good rains this winter. In El nino year, which 2009 is, there are normally good rains in the winter and one should keep the fingers crossed,’ he said.

Chaudhry Hamid Malhi of the Punjab Water Council, who is also a rice grower, said: ‘The heavy withdrawals are justified because there have been no rains during September so far. The problem is not with heavy releases which are normal during this part of the year but with reduced river flows.

‘The dams are not being replenished because of substantial reduction in river flows. Irsa and the provincial irrigation departments are trying to save the standing crops rather than saving water for the Rabi which is yet to start. And it does make sense to save the already sown crop rather than saving water for crops which have not been sown yet,’ he said, ‘but the Rabi would be a difficult season this year as shown by dams and rivers situation.’

An official of the Punjab Irrigation Department said the Tarbela dam had been dropping at a rate of almost one feet a day and Mangla by half a feet daily since the start of September. The Tarbela dam, which stood at 1,548 feet on Sept 1, had come down to 1,511 feet by Sept 24. Similarly, the Mangla dam had come down to 1,188 feet from 1,202 feet since the month began, he said.

Both the dams had caused 2.5 million acre feet water hole. ‘One can only hope the Mother Nature comes to the country’s rescue through heavy rains, otherwise Rabi crops, especially wheat, may face tremendous pressure,’ he concluded.

Financing small farmers

By Rauf Nizamani (DAWN REVIEW)

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THE majority of the country’s cultivators – 84 per cent small farmers – remains underserved by banks. Till recently, big land owners, who represent only four per cent of the rural households, got 42 per cent of institutional credit whereas subsistence farmers, who constitute 69 per cent of rural households, got only 23 per cent of bank loans.

One of the main reasons for this disparity is the inability of small farmers to provide collateral to banks. As small farmers are scattered all over the country, the cost of administration of credit and lending risks for banks are also high.

 

Bureaucratic red tape and ignorance of official procedures also deprives the farmers of their land title necessary for getting institutional credit.

According to a report more than 250,000 small farmers in Sindh were denied access to bank credit over the last five years mainly because the provincial board of revenue failed to issue title of the land in the name of their owners. No passbook was given to them. A number of instances were also reported where the passbooks proved to be fake even after verification by revenue department.

The international experience on providing cheap credit to rural poor has also not been very encouraging. Only five per cent of poor farmers in Africa and 15 per cent in Asia have access to such credit. Surveys carried out in Pakistan show that the poorest farmers have obtained less than six per cent of their credit from institutional sources.

The rural poor in South Asia predominantly consist of small owner and tenant cultivators with operational holdings of less than five acres and landless. Despite diversity, it is possible to define three broad categories of small cultivators in the region: near landless, marginal farmers and small farmers. Among the characteristics peculiar to these small farmers are a high proportion of land devoted to food crops, a low proportion of output marketed, a more diverse crop portfolio, a greater aversion to risk and an acute scarcity of cash. Thus one may say that these small farms are labour intensive and cash saving.

If encouraged, small farms can help raise the much needed agricultural production. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and yield per acre. The smaller they are, the greater is the yield.This was first pointed by the Nobel Award winner economist Amartya Sen and has since been confirmed by dozens of studies.

A recent study on farming in Turkey found that farms of less than one hectare are 20 times as productive as farms of more than 10 hectares. Sen’s observations have been confirmed in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Java, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay.

Cash-strapped small farmers borrow mostly from informal lenders on exorbitant rate of interest. This increases their dependence on big land lords and money lenders. To solve this problem, many approaches have been used in different countries to finance small farmers on easy terms.

With the success stories of the innovative lending techniques like group-based lending (Grameen model), self-help groups (Indian model), solidarity group (Latin American model), community-based organisation (village banking) and other approaches, there is a paradigm shift in lending methodologies to small farmers/borrowers. The Grameen of Bangladesh, Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), Thailand, and Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) have evolved the most successful agri/rural sustainable financial institution models.

In Pakistan too, efforts have been made to meet the financial needs of small farmers through non-traditional banking channels. The cooperatives and the cooperative banks were one such step. But they did not give the desired results. As large farmers and bank officials collude to provide credit to the non-eligible group.

Recently the SBP, in consultation with other stakeholders, developed a financing scheme based on group-based lending methodology. The scheme is to finance smallscale agricultural activities like livestock, dairy, poultry, fisheries, horticulture etc. It is developed to benefit farmers who do not have any tangible security to offer to banks as collateral. The banks can finance individuals through small farmers group.

Various NGOs are active and facilitating small farmers especially in Punjab. The growth of microfinance institutions has also provided some help to rural poor and small farmers. The share of the bank credit obtained by small farmers has increased considerably as the governor of central bank recently stated that the major chunk of farm credit was obtained by small farmers (subsistence holding) and their share in farm credit increased from 59 per cent to 63 per cent.

The rural credit policy may be well intentioned but may flounder in practice if it tends to ignore the distribution of economic and political power in rural areas. Therefore, the results would only show how this aspect has been taken care of in new policies. 

FACTBOX-Pakistan’s sugar and wheat crises

Post Source: News Alibaba17 Sep 2009

Rising food prices, particularly for sugar and wheat flour, present one of the toughest challenges for Pakistan’s 18-month-old civilian government, along with crippling power shortages. Many analysts say that influential businessmen and politicians are responsible for the rising prices, which are fuelling public anger. The government and industry officials blame smuggling to Afghanistan.

Following are some facts about the food crisis in Pakistan:

SUGAR CRISIS

* Domestic sugar prices have been rising sharply in recent weeks and the government has tried to deflect criticism and boost supplies by importing sugar and cracking down on hoarders and millers whom it accuses of holding back stocks. But many Pakistanis believe the millers are protected by powerful political interests.

* The Lahore High Court took up the public interest issue and ordered traders to ensure a retail price of 40 rupees/kg (50 U.S. cents), compared with a market price of 46 rupees and a peak of 55 rupees last month. The Supreme Court is deliberating over an appeal by millers and traders.

* Stung by criticism over the price rises, the government last week set up a ministerial committee to assess the situation and come up with recommendations within 10 days.

IMPORTING SUGAR

* Output fell to an estimated 3.2 million tonnes of refined sugar in the 2008/09 crop compared with 4.7 million tones the previous year, partly because farmers switched to other crops.

* While the government awaits the committee’s recommendations, it continues to import sugar to meet possible shortages in coming months.

* The state-owned Trading Corporation of Pakistan this week issued a tender to import 25,000 tonnes of white sugar. In a tender that closed on Aug. 29, Pakistan bought 75,000 tonnes.

* The new tender came after the government approved this month the import of 100,000 tonnes of sugar. It is not known when the rest of the sugar would be imported.

* Including the latest purchase of 75,000 tonnes, Pakistan has bought 200,000 tonnes of sugar this year.

BIGGER SUGARSHORTFALL LOOMS *

The government is preparing for an even bigger shortfall with the next crop expected at about 3 million tonnes, significantly below domestic needs.

* It has already approved the import of 300,000 tonnes of raw sugar that will be refined along with the new crop, the crushing of which is due to start in late November. But traders and millers say the government will have to import more.

 THE WHEAT CRISIS

* Pakistan is Asia’s third-largest wheat producer and is expecting a crop of about 24 million tonnes this year, 2 million tonnes above the domestic requirement.

* In order to help exporters, the government this week removed a 35 percent duty on exports of wheat products.

* Despite the bumper crop, poor people queue for hours outside state-run discount shops, where a 20-kg bag of relatively low quality flour costs 200 rupees ($2.4). Prices in the market are more than double that.

* According to some government officials, there is sufficient wheat available in storage to meet demand as well as for exports, but the inability of the government to bring it to the market had led to the crisis.

* As with sugar, the situation has raised suspicion of misconduct by influential politicians and businessmen in the industry, seeking to gain from holding back supplies.

Going gaga over grain

Post Source: DAWN, Thursday, 17 Sep, 2009

By Michael Kugelman

Land deals could mean not just compromised small-holder livelihood but also widespread displacement. - File photo

Land deals could mean not just compromised small-holder livelihood but also widespread displacement. - File photo

Last May, while Pakistan’s military was waging its offensive in Swat, Islamabad officials were simultaneously launching another offensive in the Gulf: a charm offensive to secure investment in Pakistani farmland.

Appearing at ‘farmland road shows’ across the region, the investment ministry representatives depicted Pakistan’s soil as the perfect solution to the Gulf nations’ food insecurity.

Such efforts have paid off for Islamabad (and according to media reports, more shows have been staged in recent days). Pakistan’s farmland is an increasingly popular target for wealthy, food-importing nations who, because of the volatility of world food markets, are taking food security matters into their own hands. These states (and also private investors) aim to buy or lease farmland overseas, grow their own crops and export them back home.

Given their lack of transparency, the details surrounding these investments are sketchy and the facts elusive. In Pakistan, uncertainty reigns over the exact amount of land made available to investors, the quantum of land sold or leased so far, and who is in fact doing the investing.

Still, even without these details, there is strong evidence to suggest that the race for Pakistan’s farmland — if not halted prematurely by farmers’ opposition or investor change-of-hearts — could trigger droves of land deals, acute resource shortages and even political strife.

Islamabad has established an extraordinarily welcoming investment environment that financiers will find hard to resist. The government’s Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) policy — spelled out on the Board of Investment’s website — effectively legalises foreign land acquisitions. It permits state land to be purchased outright or leased for 50 years, and allows investors to determine the size of their acquisitions (with no upper ceiling). These features apply to a broad range of agriculture from crops, fruits and vegetables to forestry and livestock farming.

Land investors flock to countries with strong legal protections. Cambodia’s government has reportedly established a national land concession authorising public land to be allocated to foreigners — and the country is now experiencing what the BBC describes as an ‘epidemic of land-grabbing’. Conversely, in India, foreign companies are banned from owning farmland — and considerably fewer investors have come calling.

Pakistan, like Cambodia, provides the legal cover farmland investors look for. However, the CAF goes beyond legal protections. It also offers generous financial incentives such as 100 per cent foreign equity; exemptions on land transfer duties; and customs-duty-free, sales-tax-free agricultural machinery imports.

Legal protection and financial incentives — what more could a foreign land investor in Pakistan want? Security, of course, and Islamabad purports to have this covered as well, through the formation of a 100,000-strong security unit. Pakistan’s government is so serious about concluding land deals that it has offered to deploy a force almost a fifth the size of the army to protect investors’ new holdings.

A rash of foreign land acquisitions in Pakistan would deepen the country’s resource crisis. Pakistan already suffers widespread water shortages, and could be water-scarce by 2020. However, supplies could dry up much sooner if enormous quantities of water are siphoned off to support large-scale, water-intensive agricultural production schemes.

To understand the scale of Pakistan’s water shortages, take a look at Aquastat, the FAO’s water statistics database. Of all the nations most often associated with relinquishing farmland, only one — Kenya — has less water availability per capita than Pakistan’s 1400 cubic metres. In fact, of the nearly 200 countries listed in the database, only 35 have less water than Pakistan — many of them the parched countries of the Gulf that are seeking the water-laden farmland they lack at home.

Indeed, quests for overseas farmland are water hunts as much as they are land hunts. Yet investors are seemingly so seduced by Islamabad’s legal and financial inducements that they disregard the fact that Pakistan’s water supply can barely sustain its own farming, much less that of immense foreign agribusiness projects.

Pakistan’s water and energy shortages could also limit the possible benefits accruing from the deals, including better technology, more employment and higher crop yields. With limited energy to operate upgraded farm machinery, and limited water to irrigate cropland, farming job prospects could suffer and talk of increased yields could become irrelevant.

Land deals could mean not just compromised small-holder livelihoods but also widespread displacement. Not surprisingly, critics argue that big land acquisitions could spark violent responses and mass political unrest. Such predictions may be premature — other than in Madagascar, opposition has been relatively localised — but they are not far-fetched in Pakistan.

Here’s why. According to the World Food Programme, 77 million Pakistanis are already food-insecure, and many of them live in the country’s most volatile areas. Foreign land holdings could cause a flare-up of this food vulnerability powder keg at the worst possible time. During the height of last year’s global food crisis, Pakistan imposed export bans to keep domestic food prices down.

According to a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the UAE — which hopes to grow rice and wheat in Pakistan — then requested blanket exemptions from these bans.

Islamabad eventually relaxed export restrictions on Basmati rice. So a politically explosive scenario — such as the UAE trucking rice out of a drought-stricken or war-ravaged Pakistan and exporting it back to the Gulf while hungry locals look on — is not at all unrealistic. Throw that investment-protecting security force into the mix, and things could get really ugly.

Furthermore, there are long-standing rifts between Pakistan’s rural poor and its wealthy, landholding elite. Scores of huge land acquisitions — particularly if they displace poor labourers — would exacerbate these class-based cleavages.

Ominously, the Taliban’s actions in Swat reveal a new ability to exploit class divisions by pitting landless farmers against their landlords. Militants may well use farmland acquisitions as a pretext for fomenting a fresh class revolt in Punjab, the fertile, populous province coveted by the Taliban and reportedly ground zero for the farms race in Pakistan. Such a thought is enough to make one wonder if those farmland road shows are really worth the effort.

The writer is programme associate with the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC.

michael.kugelman@wilsoncenter.org

The business of land

Post Source: The News, Thursday, September 17, 2009
By Kamila Hyat

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

So far in 2009, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 50 million acres of farmland has been sold or negotiated for sale or lease. More deals are due to be finalised within months.

The trend is reported by analysts to be accelerating rapidly, with rich countries buying up arable land in poor nations to ensure their own food security. The food crisis of 2008, when unexpectedly large resources had to be used to acquire food, is a factor in triggering what some believe is the largest land grab since the colonial era. There are also apprehensions that it could have a similar impact, depriving impoverished people of control over their own resources and potentially expanding hunger in nations which themselves lack food security.

Sudan is one example of this. Despite being one of the least food secure nations in the world, it has sold or leased some of the largest tracts of land. Severe resource shortages are obviously a factor in this. South Korea has acquired 700,000 hectares in the country and five other countries have bought large holdings where they will grow food crops or raise livestock to ensure adequate supplies for their own people. The millions of hungry people in Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even Ethiopia may find that, as a result of these deals which often involve land with the best water supplies or access to roads and ports, they may have even less food available to them than before. The people of Pakistan may face exactly the same situation.

Talk of an agreement to lease land to Gulf countries has been heard since 2007, when the idea was first floated as a means to raise revenue – even if it meant a depletion of the increasingly meagre cupboard of valuables Pakistan has left to sell. Protests voiced at the time seem to have led to the deal being put on the back burner, though low key talks apparently continued. The PPP government – eager to put the interests of the Saudis ahead of those of the people who voted it to power — has moved ahead with the deal, with talks on in earnest with the Saudis to lease out 500,000 acres of land which with help the desert kingdom, heavily reliant on food imports, to secure food security for itself. The Saudis have already bought or leased land for similar purposes in Africa and have reportedly abandoned projects aimed at providing enough water to grow wheat and other crops at home, preferring the cheaper option of simply growing them elsewhere.

At the farmlands, to be acquired in all four provinces in Pakistan, special security forces would be deployed around the lands – which would be converted by high-tech agricultural inputs into waving seas of food – to ‘protect’ them and also to prevent local people from reaching the abundance in their midst. Presumably, these people, many of whom struggle to acquire a single meal a day, would watch helplessly as food grown on land which should, by right, feed them is whisked away. The verses of Iqbal about people rising up to burn land which does nothing to silence their pangs of hunger come to mind. Since the days of Iqbal, hunger has not abated. It may instead have expanded. In its most recent Global Hunger Index, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute ranked Pakistan as a nation where levels of hunger were ‘alarming’. Findings which confirm the hunger everywhere in our nation are, sadly, seldom seen as ‘newsworthy’ by the media.

It is not yet known if land which was already under cultivation will be handed over to the Saudis, though this is possible in a country which bears so heavy a burden of population and where there are so many landless farmers. Pakistan has already stated that it plans to lease still more land to Middle Eastern countries. The UAE and Qatar are both stated to be in the queue to acquire agricultural estates.

The land lease deal, supporters hold, would introduce modern farming technologies to Pakistan, increase investment thus offering the economy a badly needed boost and lead to an increase in employment as Pakistani staff is hired. It would also help cement ties between Islamabad and Riyadh, adding to the solid alliance between the two nations. Saudi Arabia has after all baled Pakistan out from difficult situations more than once. These arguments cannot be dismissed entirely. Indeed the fact that they do exist is one explanation as to why the new trend has taken off so swiftly across the globe, catching almost everyone by surprise. But the intensive agricultural practices that will take place on these lands will also deplete them, leaving behind a poorer soil. Rich nations can of course move on and simply buy ‘new’ lands elsewhere. Countries like Pakistan may be left with vast tracts of land infested with chemicals and with available water supplies reduced to them as the acquifer is sucked to supply the foreign farms. Will this, in time, mean more hunger? More starvation? More ecological and human devastation? These are the questions that must be asked and answered.

But these are not the only questions. The possession of lands owned by other governments and corporations within any country will have an inevitable impact on its sovereignty. If there is any doubt about this, the example of the US-based United Fruit Company in Latin America – involved since the 1800s in the ruthless exploitation of labour, the decimation of forests, bribery to safeguard it own interests and political interference at various levels – should illustrate how this works. Anger directed against the corporation simmers on; some hold it responsible for rampant corruption and instable governments. In the case of the Saudis, it is also worth keeping in mind that for all the expression of love and affection, relationships at the tier of the people have quite often been troubled. Hunting parties and other groups from the Middle East have in the past been accused by local people of arrogance, uncouth behaviour and harassment. They may be no truth behind such accusations, but they do suggest some of the problems that could arise in a situation where a large number of people from outside are brought into a particular area.

It is unfortunate that even as deals that involve land which should belong to the people of Pakistan are struck, there has been so little public debate about the plan. We need to be informed of what is planned. Protests need too to be mobilized. In the prevailing political environment of Pakistan, the people who stand to lose the most have almost no spokesmen. It is up to civil society groups to fill this gap. The global land sales and leases have caused disquiet at many forums. But so far they have not triggered an outcry on the scale that would have been expected – raising fears of a further tilting of the odds against the poor people of the world in the years to come.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Norman Borlaug (1914-2009): Nobel Winner and Father of Pakistan’s ‘Green Revolution’

Post Source: Pakistaniat. com September 14, 2009

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By Adil Najam

Norman Borlaug, winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and father of the ‘Green Revolution‘, including in Pakistan, died in Texas at age 95. Few in Pakistan have ever heard his name, but no one has had a deeper impact, for good as well as bad, on agriculture in Pakistan as we know it today than Dr. Norman Borlaug.

In reporting Dr. Borlaug’s death, Dallas News writes:

The Nobel committee honored Dr. Borlaug in 1970 for his contributions to high-yield crop varieties and bringing agricultural innovations to the developing world. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives. “More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world,” Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Dr. Borlaug. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.”

The Los Angeles Times adds:

Borlaug was one of only five people in history to score the trifecta of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal — placing him in the company of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel. He was also named by Time magazine in 1999 as one of the 100 most influential minds of the 20th century.

Despite all this, he has been amongst the least well known winners of the Nobel Peace Prize ever, even in his native USA. But given the totally transformative impact that the green revolution had on agrarian Pakistan it is even more sad that so few Pakistanis even know who he was or just how and how much he effected their lives.

To understand just how important he was in shaping agriculture in Pakistan – no, it was not Ayub Khan, it was Norman Borlaug who shaped it – a reading Gregg Easterbrook’s 1997 profile of Norman Borlaug is instructive. It is recommended that you read the full profile, but here are some specially telling excerpts:

He received the Nobel in 1970, primarily for his work in reversing the food shortages that haunted India and Pakistan in the 1960s. Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that throughout the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa, global food production has expanded faster than the human population, averting the mass starvations that were widely predicted… The form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.

Entering college as the Depression began, Borlaug worked for a time in the Northeastern Forestry Service, often with men from the Civilian Conservation Corps, occasionally dropping out of school to earn money to finish his degree in forest management. He passed the civil-service exam and was accepted into the Forest Service, but the job fell through. He then began to pursue a graduate degree in plant pathology. During his studies he did a research project on the movement of spores of rust, a class of fungus that plagues many crops… He decided that his life’s work would be to spread the benefits of high-yield farming to the many nations where crop failures as awful as those in the Dust Bowl were regular facts of life.

In 1943 the Rockefeller Foundation established the precursor to CIMMYT to assist the poor farmers of Mexico, doing so at the behest of the former Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace, of the Pioneer Hi-Bred seed company family, who had been unable to extract any money from Congress for agricultural aid to Mexico. Soon Borlaug was in Mexico as the director of the wheat program — a job for which there was little competition, backwater Mexico in the 1940s not being an eagerly sought-after posting. Except for brief intervals, he has lived in the developing world since. The program’s initial goal was to teach Mexican farmers new farming ideas, but Borlaug soon had the institution seeking agricultural innovations. One was “shuttle breeding,” a technique for speeding up the movement of disease immunity between strains of crops. Borlaug also developed cereals that were insensitive to the number of hours of light in a day, and could therefore be grown in many climates.

Borlaug’s leading research achievement was to hasten the perfection of dwarf spring wheat. Though it is conventionally assumed that farmers want a tall, impressive-looking harvest, in fact shrinking wheat and other crops has often proved beneficial. Bred for short stalks, plants expend less energy on growing inedible column sections and more on growing valuable grain. Stout, short-stalked wheat also neatly supports its kernels, whereas tall-stalked wheat may bend over at maturity, complicating reaping. Nature has favored genes for tall stalks, because in nature plants must compete for access to sunlight. In high-yield agriculture equally short-stalked plants will receive equal sunlight. As Borlaug labored to perfect his wheat, researchers were seeking dwarf strains of rice at the International Rice Research Institute, in the Philippines, another of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations’ creations, and at China’s Hunan Rice Research Institute.

Once the Rockefeller’s Mexican program was producing high-yield dwarf wheat for Mexico, Borlaug began to argue that India and other nations should switch to cereal crops. The proposition was controversial then and remains so today, some environmental commentators asserting that farmers in the developing world should grow indigenous crops (lentils in India, cassava in Africa) rather than the grains favored in the West. Borlaug’s argument was simply that since no one had yet perfected high-yield strains of indigenous plants (high-yield cassava has only recently been available), CIMMYT wheat would produce the most food calories for the developing world. Borlaug particularly favored wheat because it grows in nearly all environments and requires relatively little pesticide, having an innate resistance to insects…

In 1963 the Rockefeller Foundation and the government of Mexico established CIMMYT, as an outgrowth of their original program, and sent Borlaug to Pakistan and India, which were then descending into famine. He failed in his initial efforts to persuade the parastatal seed and grain monopolies that those countries had established after independence to switch to high-yield crop strains.

Despite the institutional resistance Borlaug stayed in Pakistan and India, tirelessly repeating himself. By 1965 famine on the subcontinent was so bad that governments made a commitment to dwarf wheat. Borlaug arranged for a convoy of thirty-five trucks to carry high-yield seeds from CIMMYT to a Los Angeles dock for shipment. The convoy was held up by the Mexican police, blocked by U.S. border agents attempting to enforce a ban on seed importation, and then stopped by the National Guard when the Watts riot prevented access to the L.A. harbor. Finally the seed ship sailed. Borlaug says, “I went to bed thinking the problem was at last solved, and woke up to the news that war had broken out between India and Pakistan.”

Nevertheless, Borlaug and many local scientists who were his former trainees in Mexico planted the first crop of dwarf wheat on the subcontinent, sometimes working within sight of artillery flashes. Sowed late, that crop germinated poorly, yet yields still rose 70 percent... Owing to wartime emergency, Borlaug was given the go-ahead to circumvent the parastatals. “Within a few hours of that decision I had all the seed contracts signed and a much larger planting effort in place,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for the war, I might never have been given true freedom to test these ideas.” The next harvest “was beautiful, a 98 percent improvement.” By 1968 Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production. India required only a few years longer.

Of course, the green revolution – and Normal Borlaug – are not without controversy. Many, including myself, have argued that the architects of the green revolution were so fixated on yields that they underestimated its social and ecological consequences. In recent years, there have also been concerns about Dr. Borlaug’s unconditional advocacy of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There is much that can and should be debated about the impacts of the green revolution. But what is beyond debate is that Pakistan agriculture post-Norman Borlaug was a radically different reality than Pakistan agriculture pre-Norman Borlaug.

Of course, there were many in the Pakistan agriculture establishment who took it from there and without whom things would never have moved on, but Borlaug’s impact was pivotal – as had been the impact of the late Roger Revelle on Pakistan’s irrigation system. This is not to take away credit from all the others, but it is to give credit due to him.

Legitimate debates on the green revolution notwithstanding – and for those of us who work on these issues, these debates must continue – no one can doubt Dr. Borlaug’s deep commitment and single-minded efforts for eradicating world hunger and the phenomenal impact of the green revolution across the globe, but especially in South Asia. In the years since its creation, few people have changed the lives of as many Pakistanis as deeply as he did and are as unknown by those they impacted as Dr. Norman Borlaug.