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Technology to Increase Food Supply John W. Mellor Growth strategies of the last two decades have done little to increase employment and participation of the poor. However, when increased employment and participa- tion of the poor in growth is achieved, it greatly increases pressure on food resources. As the poor gain employment and higher incomes, they spend a high propor- tion of additional income on foodgrains and other agricultural commodities. In India, the lowest two decile income groups spend about 60 percent of added income on foodgrains and 85 percent on agricultural commodities in total. In contrast, the income group in the top 5 percent spends only 2 percent of income increments on foodgrains. Efforts to include the poor in growth may be quickly stifled unless there is a rapid increase in food produc- tion. Without commensurate increases in supply, rising demand for food will raise food prices and thereby directly reduce incomes of the poor, and it will mobilize the polit- ically potent urban middle classes to take measures to reduce those inflationary pressures—measures that will be effective only if they reduce income and employment of the poor. l5

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TECHNICAL CHANGE TO INCREASE AGRICULTURAL YIELDS In the classical view, agriculture, dependent on a limited land area, encounters rapidly diminishing returns with additional production inputs, including labor and even fertilizer. The consequent increasing costs of pro- duction necessitate higher agricultural prices to provide incentives for increased production. But higher prices discourage labor-intensive production and economic growth. The economist Ricardo, in the early l9th century, recog- nized these forces as retardants to industrial growth and advocated food imports from the New World to relieve Britain's problem of limited land. The"new world" of the 20th century is technological change that increases yield per acre. New technologies of the Green Revolution break the diminishing returns bottleneck by developing new plants that produce much greater yields by using vastly greater quantities of inputs, such as labor and fertilizer. To overcome the diminishing returns of traditional agriculture and to support employment-oriented growth strategies, science and technology have a key role in agriculture. To play this role, complex science and tech- nology systems must be built. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY SYSTEMS FOR AGRICULTURE Three key characteristics of agriculture influence the nature of an optimal science and technology system. First, agriculture is comprised of myriad small-scale units. The individual farm cannot economically support or justify a large-scale science and technology system. An effective system usually requires a large-scale private sector (which either does not exist in low-income countries or lacks means to pay for science and technology services) or a public sector system of science and technology to aid small farmers. Most countries, including the United States, have developed large public sector research systems to service agriculture. Without such systems to reduce pro- duction costs, agriculture remains inefficient or is forced to organize in large units to the detriment of employment. Second, agriculture varies greatly under different conditions of production—i.e., physical, economic and cultural—so that the transferability of research results l6

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from high-income to low-income countries is greatly limited. Also, an intricate system of research stations is required to service a wide range of conditions within low-income countries. Wheat production has increased much more than rice under the Green Revolution. This is due substantially to the markedly greater heterogeneity of production conditions for rice in Asia, and the rice research system's inadequacy to fill this larger and more complex requirement. The close relationship between rural development pro- grams and income distribution means that areas which do not have vigorous science and technology based rural de- velopment will remain or become areas of intense and entrenched poverty. Third, because of its size, dominance as an employer, and potential for intensification through technological change, agriculture itself must provide a major portion of future employment growth in low-income countries. Technological change must be tailored to this employment need. Because of the larger labor force in low-income nations, the research effort may need to be directed, staffed, and organized differently to meet employment needs. THE TECHNOLOGICAL NEEDS The Biological Sciences The potential for improving agriculture is immense and varied. It includes plant breeding to develop appropriate new varieties with greater yield, shorter growing-seasons, and more resistance to disease and pests. With increasing concern over the environmental effects of chemical pesticides and their very high cost in the humid tropics, pressure mounts to find biological means of pest control. The peculiarities of tropical soils and the long concentration of soil research in temperate latitudes now calls for a wide-ranging agronomic research effort. Under appropriate conditions, new high-yielding varieties produce double or triple the normal yield. Manipulation of crop-growing season lengths has enabled double and triple cropping. Where the right technologies are combined under favorable conditions of sunlight, tem- peratures, water control, and fertility, vast production increases—even as much as four-to six-fold—are possible. l7

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Bangladesh, which suffers intense population pressure, has half the population per cultivated hectare as Taiwan, and yet Taiwan supports a much higher per capita food con- sumption and income from agriculture. The difference lies largely in the adaptation of science and technology to the respective conditions. The Mechanical Sciences Biological breakthroughs create a demand for sharply increased research in the mechanical sciences. Increased marketable outputs and inputs such as fertilizer to farmers need to be transported. They require improved roads, and rural development being a nationwide process, the road requirements are massive. New ways to reduce building costs, improving low-load capacity roads, and doing both efficiently, must be found. Similarly, in- creasing demand for rural electrification creates demand for low-cost transmission. As food storage requirements rise, particularly in rural areas, the scope for devising low-cost, efficient, small-scale storage increases. The yield increases from new seed varieties in- crease labor requirements for harvesting and threshing, and justify more intensive weeding, seed bed preparation, and insect control—all likely to produce seasonal labor bottlenecks, even in regions of large total labor surplus. New seed varieties increase the returns to water and justify new irrigation systems. Change to double and triple cropping greatly exacerbates these tendencies to create labor bottlenecks. The high cost and limited availability of capital demand that such mechanization be low-cost. The general labor surplus requires that mechanization be keyed specifically to periods of labor shortage. Engineering research must be appropriate to these specific local needs, and it will inevitably in- clude systems to raise water, provide insect protection, improve threshing and tillage, and so forth. Finally, vast increases in the use of such purchased inputs as fertilizer—a necessary part of the Green Revolution—mean that these must be produced in large quantity without increasing the relative cost. Currently the optimal means of producing these inputs are highly capital intensive. Can engineering research develop lower cost production methods, including smaller scale, less complex plants, more suited to the conditions of low- income countries? l8

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THE ORGANIZATIONAL NEEDS Increasing food supplies through technological change requires (l) complex interrelated systems of research, education, input supply, and marketing, and (2) an insti- tutional base for recognizing and handling important issues of prices, land use, and resource allocations. Since agriculture requires an accelerated rate of growth over time, a system is needed that constantly generates new technology and implements it, not just a "once and for all time" boost in production to a new plateau. A blueprint for a complex system is not enough. The scarcity of trained manpower requires a careful setting of priorities phasing the building of the system to max- imize short-run returns, as well as building the various sub-systems for the long run. BUILDING A RESEARCH SYSTEM THAT WORKS The research system is most fundamental, and in developing countries especially, it must come to terms with particularly severe problems of communication be- tween user and scientist, variability in conditions, and interactions of social and growth policy. Small-scale production units have an immense advan- tage in tapping entrepreneurial sources not appropriate to large units or government bureaucracies. Small entre- preneurs often have substantial business acumen, but little formal education, and this can result in a commu- nications problem between the research establishment and the productive user. Communication is crucial to the success of research in agriculture and industry; most important is a channel that takes problem-definition from the user to the researcher and provides feedback from the initial research efforts. In agricultural research this feedback occurs by close contact between research institu- tions and extension organizations. In Japan and Taiwan, farmer organizations have been predominantly used in this context. The common complaint in low-income countries is that agricultural research is irrelevant to local needs, that foreign-trained researchers work on problems irrelevant to local conditions. The problem is basically one of communication and clientele, and the institutional l9

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structure is the key to this problem. The foreign- trained researcher may well have a clientele in foreign journals, an orientation to international conferences, and he may work under an incentive system that encourages cultivation of an international clientele. What is needed are incentives that make the researcher service a domestic-productivity-oriented clientele, and that com- pensate him as he benefits those users. The variability in agricultural conditions requires a widely dispersed system of research. Individual re- search stations serving specific adaptive needs must be tied to sources of more basic research. The one requires many small stations, the latter large integrated units. The solution lies in coordination between central stations and field stations, a complex institution building problem. Small-scale industries based on natural or agricul- tural raw materials, such as gems, forest products, fibres, vegetables and fruits probably require similar research support. Without such support the ability of small-scale firms to compete against large-scale firms as well as in foreign markets will be lessened. This, in turn, will hurt the efforts to move to higher employment strategies of growth. The impact of science and technology on social pol- icy is particularly great in agriculture because of the large absolute number of people and the very large pro- portion of total population in this sector. A technology which changes income distribution between laboring classes in rural areas and peasant farming classes, or between small and large farms, has major impact on the social objectives of society. Hence, society must be very much concerned with the nature of the technologies being cre- ated and their impact—i.e., the choice of technology and the way it is applied. It should also determine the institutional organization of science and technology that largely determines the options. The choice between work- ing on yield increases through biologically-oriented innovations as opposed to labor-saving and mechanically- oriented innovations is a simplistic example because some mechanical innovations can break seasonal labor bottle- necks that, in turn, may allow major yield increases. The problem is even more complicated when we deal with regional allocation of science and technology re- sources. For example, to what extent should one take a particularly high risk on the rate of return from re- search resources by allocating them to backward sub-regions that seem to have poor development prospects but where 20

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social problems are particularly serious? Such problems also occur in the development of a research structure to service the small-scale industrial sector. Decisions must be made about which products to emphasize, about the location of stations, and about the labor intensity of particular units. Agriculture also illustrates the complexity of the problem of setting research objectives. Where social and economic conditions have determined the research thrust, in isolation from technical scientific considerations, the result has often been an insoluble problem definition. What is necessary is the interaction between the social objectives and physical realities—an exercise in the art of the possible. Public Sector Organization Organization of a science and technology system largely in the public sector raises difficult problems of setting and enforcing priorities. The public sector objectives are likely to be diverse, the political pro- cess may inhibit an explicit statement of objectives, and the bureaucratic procedures may make it difficult to allocate resources consistent with unstated objectives. This raises questions about the extent to which research should be organized in institutions largely autonomous of political processes so that objectives may be dealt with more explicitly, while risking less contact with and responsiveness to societal needs. In science and technology systems the key allocative decisions are: personnel and incentives. These are im- portant to the total size and effectiveness of the research effort. Particularly in ex-colonial, low-income countries, the administrative and salary structures in the public sector often favor a stable administration and the generalist administrator. Change may be needed to give emphasis to technically trained persons for research through a shift in relative salaries and prestige. Such change is difficult to achieve. The problem is exacer- bated in mixed economies, where the private sector is likely to adjust more rapidly by drawing on the best technical manpower to the detriment of work best done in the public sector. This has been particularly detrimental to agriculture, small industries, and public welfare programs. 2l

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Integrated Interdisciplinary Approach Applied problems in agriculture have been solved best by integrated research and institutions that cut across disciplinary lines. For example, crop yields re- duced by apparent disease or insect pests may really be due to a trace element deficiency dealt with by agronomy, rather than entomology, plant pathology, or plant breed- ing. Unless the problem is examined by persons from several fields, the optimal solution may not be found. Coordination across several fields may be more difficult in public research institutions because of close relationships with academic institutions and strong ties to disciplinary organizations. The problem is how to maintain a strong tie with the efficiency-increasing logic and methodology of the academic discipline and also develop a capacity to constantly regroup along problem- oriented lines in the face of constantly changing prob- lems. The closer the tie with the clientele, the greater the pressure to find productive patterns of institutional organization. Integration of Basic and Applied Research It is not clear how and at what level basic research needs to be integrated to applied research. Nor is it clear the extent to which the return to such integration occurs by increasing the efficiency of research through the direct utilization of basic research or by providing greater upward mobility of research staff to potential national and international institutions. It seems that national research systems have all too often erred on the side of inadequate support in basic science. Effi- ciency can be increased by selective applications of basic theory and sophisticated methodology. Much of the criticism of basic research is, in fact, based on exam- ples of poorly defined and irrelevant applied research. In general, research results have been sparse where research is done in highly applied stations with little integration within a larger system and when it is con- ducted entirely by people with only applied training. 22

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Interregional and International Research Grids The need for complex mixes of disciplines—and of basic and applied science—poses problems of scale in small countries that necessitate integration into a larger research system. In recent years international research systems in agriculture have been created that provide a prototype for other research systems. These international institutes provide: (a) major centers for interdisciplinary interaction to which less fully staffed stations can relate; (b) the communication and institu- tional base for developing a core of basic research; (c) a quality level that sets a desirable standard of problem definition; (d) an apex to integrate country re- search stations. Through these institutes complex problems have come to the attention of the international agricultural research system. Initially, support funds came largely from private U.S. foundations; recently, international and bilateral aid agencies have played a growing role; in the future low-income nations themselves may provide financial as well as intellectual support. Nevertheless, it is still not clear how they will be financed in the long term. This question relates to the role of these institutes, whether they should exist as separate operations to provide complete solutions or as part of a total research complex fully integrated with national systems. FUTURE NEEDS There are clearly visible potentials for increasing food production that can provide breathing room for a pattern of economic and political development, which in turn can bring birth rates and population growth under control. To realize these potentials there must be a major reallocation of resources toward rural development and the building of a complex institutional structure with an international research system as a key component. The American science and technology establishment can play a major role. Integrating this research estab- lishment into the international system can contribute directly to knowledge, strengthen the institutions of the international research system, and orient American research more toward certain aspects of food production problems 23

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faced by poor countries. Financial assistance to the international system can be massive and effective if given with the backing of U.S. knowledge and experience in building such systems. A flow of American researchers and technicians to field stations in low-income countries can significantly add to the volume of research output as well as assist institutional development and the training of people in developing countries for productive effort. 24