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March 22, 2000





- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Dr. Norman Borlaug recently delivered a
lecture in South East Asia  and I reproduce below a part of his
talk (introduction and the section dealing with biotechnology). 
I thank Dr. Chris Dowswell 
<cdowswell@cgiar.org> for
forwarding this to me.  I will soon place the complete text on
the http://www.agbioworld.org site.

- Prakash




Norman E. Borlaug 1/ and Christopher Dowswell-2/


It is a pleasure to visit southeast Asia again, to participate
with scientists and national policy makers in discussions about the
prospects and future of biotechnology in Thailand and the
Philippines. The majority of agricultural scientists-myself
included-anticipate great benefits from biotechnology in the coming
decades to help meet our future food and fiber needs. Indeed, the
commercial adoption by farmers of transgenic crops has been one of
the most rapid cases of technology diffusion in the history of
agriculture.  Between 1996 and 1999, the area planted
commercially to transgenic crops has increased from 1.7 to 39.9
million hectares (James, 1999).

I am now in my 56th year of continuous involvement in agricultural
research and production in the low-income, food-deficit developing
countries. I have worked with many colleagues, political leaders, and
farmers to transform lower-yielding food production systems into
higher-yielding ones.

Great progress has been achieved in Asian agriculture since the early
1960s (FAOSTAT, 1998). Between 1961 and 1998, cereal production in
Developing Asia has increased more than three-fold, due largely to
the widespread adoption during the 1960s and 1970s of high-yielding
rice and wheat production technology (and later in maize and other
crops). The core technological components were management-responsive
varieties, fertilizers, and irrigation.

Poverty Still Haunts Asia

Despite the successes of smallholder Asian farmers in applying
Green Revolution technologies to triple cereal production since 1961,
the battle to ensure food security for hundreds of million miserably
poor Asian people is far from won, especially in South Asia. Of the
roughly 1.3 billion people in this sub-region, 500 million live on
less than US$ 1 per day, 400 million are illiterate adults, 264
million lack access to health services, 230 million to safe drinking
water, and 80 million children under 4 are malnourished
(Eliminating World Poverty. UK White Paper, 1997). 
Mushrooming populations and inadequate poverty intervention programs
have eaten up many of the gains of the Green Revolution.

These statistics point out two key problems of feeding the world's
people. The first is the complex task of producing sufficient
quantities of the desired foods to satisfy needs, and to accomplish
this Herculean feat in environmentally and economically sustainable
ways. The second task, equally or even more daunting, is to
distribute food equitably. Poverty is the main impediment to
equitable food distribution, which, in turn, is made more severe by
rapid population growth.

Future Food Demand

IFPRI's 2020 projections indicate that Asian cereal demand (for
food and feed) will increase considerably, both because of expected
population growth and rising incomes (Rosegrant, et. al.,

Most Asian societies today are still primarily rural, with more than
half their labor forces engaged in agriculture. But the region is
urbanizing rapidly, at roughly twice the rate of national population
growth. In a number of countries non-farm employment (rural and
urban) already exceeds agricultural employment. By the year 2020 most
Asian countries are likely to have more people living in urban
centers than in rural areas.

Higher incomes and urbanization are leading to major changes in
dietary patterns. While per capita rice consumption is declining
wheat consumption is increasing in most Asian countries, an
indication of rising incomes and westernization of diets (Pingali and
Rosegrant, 1998).  Per capita consumption of fish, poultry and
meat products is on the rise., and this expanding poultry and
livestock demand will, in turn, require growing quantities of high
quality feeds to supply its needs.

The migration of rural Asians to urban areas will affect farm
production in several ways. First, with an out-migration of labor,
more farm activities will have to be mechanized to replace
labor-intensive practices of an earlier day. Second, large urban
populations, generally close to the sea, are likely to increasingly
buy food from the lowest-price producer, which for certain crops may
very well mean importing from abroad. Domestic producers, therefore,
will have to compete-in price and quality-with these imported

(text cut here)

Standing up to the Anti-Science

Science and technology are under growing attack in the affluent
nations where misinformed environmentalists claim that the consumer
is being poisoned out of existence by the current high-yielding
systems of agricultural production. While I contend this isn't so, I
often ask myself how it is that so many supposedly
"educated" people are so illiterate about science? There
seems to be a growing fear of science, per se, as the pace of
technological change increases.  The breaking of the atom and
the prospects of a nuclear holocaust added to people's fear, and
drove a bigger wedge between the scientist and the layman. The world
was becoming increasingly unnatural, and science, technology and
industry were seen as the culprits. Rachel Carson's Silent
, published in 1962, reported that poisons were everywhere,
killing the birds first and then humans-struck a very sensitive

Of course, this perception was not totally unfounded.  By the
mid 20th century air and water quality had been seriously damaged
through wasteful industrial production systems that pushed effluents
often literally into "our own backyards." Over the past 30
years, we all owe a debt of gratitude to environmental movement in
the industrialized nations, which has led to legislation to improved
air and water quality, protect wildlife, control the disposal of
toxic wastes, protect the soils, and reduce the loss of

Yet, in almost every environmental category far more progress is
being made than most in the media are willing to admit--at least in
the industrialized world. Why? I believe that it's because
"apocalypse sells." Sadly, all too many scientists, many
who should and do know better, have jumped on the environmental
bandwagon in search of research funds.

When scientists align themselves with anti-science political
movements, like the anti-biotechnology crowd, what are we to think?
When scientists lend their names to unscientific propositions, what
are we to think? Is it any wonder that science is losing its
constituency? We must be on guard against politically opportunistic,
pseudo-scientists like T.D. Lysenko, whose bizarre ideas and vicious
persecution of anyone who disagreed with him, contributed greatly to
the collapse of the former USSR.

I often ask the critics of modern agricultural technology what the
world would have been like without the technological advances that
have occurred? For those whose main concern is protecting the
"environment," let's look at the positive impact that the
application of science-based technology has had on the land.

Had Asia's 1961 average cereal yields (930 kg/ha) still prevailed
today, nearly 600 million ha of additional land-of the same
quality-would have been needed to equal the 1997 cereal harvest
(milled rice adjusted) (Figure 1). Obviously, such a surplus of land
was not available in populous Asia. Moreover, even if it were
available, think of soil erosion, loss of forests and grasslands,
wildlife species that would have ensured had we tried to produce
these larger harvests with the low-input technology!

In his writings, Professor Robert Paarlberg, who teaches at Wellesley
College and Harvard University in the United States, has sounded the
alarm about the consequences of the debilitating debate between
agriculturalists and environmentalists over what constitutes
so-called "sustainable agriculture" in the Third World.
This debate has confused--if not paralyzed--many in the international
donor community who, afraid of antagonizing powerful environmental
lobbying groups, have turned away from supporting science-based
agricultural modernization projects still needed in much of
smallholder Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. This
deadlock must be broken. We cannot lose sight of the enormous job
before us to feed 10-11 billion people, manyŠindeed probably mostŠof
whom will begin life in abject poverty. Only through dynamic
agricultural development will there be any hope to alleviate poverty
and improve human health and productivity.

Farmers need to be motivated to adopt many of the desired
improvements in input use efficiency (irrigation water, fertilizers,
crop protection chemicals). This will require a two-pronged-strategy,
in which reductions in subsidies are linked to aggressive and
effective extension education programs to increase the efficiency of
input use. Many agricultural research and extension organizations
need to be decentralized, more strongly farmer-oriented, and more
closely linked within the technology-generation and dissemination
process. Universal primary education in rural areas-for both boys and
girls-is imperative and must be given the highest priority. Ways must
also be found to improve access to information by less-educated
farmers-because of equity reasons and also to facilitate accelerated
adoption of the newer knowledge-intensive technologies.

Closing Comments

Thirty years ago, in my acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace
Prize, I said that the Green Revolution had won a temporary success
in man's war against hunger, which if fully implemented, could
provide sufficient food for humankind through the end of the 20th
century. But I warned that unless the frightening power of human
reproduction was curbed, the success of the Green Revolution would
only be ephemeral.

I now say that the world has the technology-either available or well
advanced in the research pipeline-to feed a population of 10 billion
people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and
ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology?

Extreme environmental elitists seem to be doing everything they can
to stop scientific progress in its tracks.  Small,
well-financed, vociferous, and anti-science groups are threatening
the development and application of new technology, whether it is
developed from biotechnology or more conventional methods of
agricultural science.

I agree fully with a petition written by Professor C.S. Prakash of
Tuskegee University, and now signed by several thousand scientists
worldwide, in support of agricultural biotechnology, which states
that "no food products, whether produced with recombinant DNA
techniques or more traditional methods, are totally without risk. The
risks posed by foods are a function of the biological characteristics
of those foods and the specific genes that have been used, not of the
processes employed in their development."

While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt elitist and
positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called
"natural" methods, the one billion chronically
undernourished people of the low-income, food-deficit nations
cannot.  It is access to new technology that will be the
salvation of the poor, and not, as some would have us believe,
maintaining them wedded to outdated, low-yielding, and more costly
production technology.

Most certainly, agricultural scientists and leaders have a moral
obligation to warn the political, educational, and religious leaders
about the magnitude and seriousness of the arable land, food and
population problems that lie ahead, even with breakthroughs in
biotechnology. If we fail to do so, we will be negligent in our duty
and inadvertently may be contributing to the pending chaos of
incalculable millions of deaths by starvation. But we must also speak
to policy makers-unequivocally and convincingly-that global food
insecurity will not disappear without new technology; to ignore this
reality will make future solutions all the more difficult to

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