Should strategies benefit the difficult or the more favoured environments?
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Treitz, Werner. 1989. Should strategies benefit the difficult or the more favoured environments?. Spore 24. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Dr WERNER TREITZ Dr Wemer Treitz has been CTA's Deputy Director since 1983. Before jioning CTA he spent nearly twenty years at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) in Bonn. One of his major functions at BMZ was to head the...
Dr WERNER TREITZ Dr Wemer Treitz has been CTA's Deputy Director since 1983. Before jioning CTA he spent nearly twenty years at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) in Bonn. One of his major functions at BMZ was to head the German delegation to the CGIAR. Dr Treitz is a former member of the Board of Trustees of CIAT and 1SNAR and is the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees of IBSRAM. Solving the food problems of developing countries and helping them to attain self-sufficiency has been the aim of the international community for two or more decades. But should priority be given to food production and agricultural research in those more favoured areas which have the potential to provide food for the rapidly-growing urban populations of the Third World, or to resource-poor farmers, and farming systems which force people to leave the land for a life of possible crime, poverty, and starvation in the cities? In deciding the balance, the solutions which appear more obvious are not necessarily the right or sustainable ones; far more attention should be paid to socio-economic and socio-cultural factors. In the past 20 years many developing countries have achieved self-sufficiency, some are exporters of food commodities, and others have considerably improved their agricultural and food production. This is largely the result of the so-called 'green revolution', which is one of the most significant achievements of development assistance during the past 50 years. But these impressive advances were not universal, and many rural regions, or sectors of the population, have not benefitted equally from these achievements, especially for the subsistence farmers in the poorer countries of Africa. One of the main reasons for this is that when the first International Research Centres were created, the founders of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) were anxious to increase agricultural production in developing countries at all costs. They felt that the best way of achieving this aim was to concentrate agricultural research on crops with high potential in regions with good soils, good water supply, and good infrastructure for the procurement of fertilizers and pesticides. Now, with population growth rates indicating that in 2025 there will be 6651 million people in the developing world compared to the present 3528 million, it is understandable that many scientists and decision-makers are still urging the international community to concentrate food production and research on the areas most likely to be able to feed these vast numbers. This policy is, incidentally, also supported by those who feel that trying to obtain increased and sustainable production in more difficult environments is not the best way of protecting natural resources. But increased food production cannot be the sole criterion for research policies. Resource-poor farmers and small-farm enterprises produce the bulk of the food consumed in developing countries, and thus create incomes for a large proportion of the rural population. If farmers can no longer provide decent standards of living for themselves and their families, the exodus from these areas to the cities will have frightening consequences. These could be avoided if proper technologies were provided to improve the economic and cultural conditions in poor and neglected areas, to increase production, to enable more to be sold on local and external markets, and thus to increase their purchasing power and provide employment by generating secondary and tertiary industries. International agricultural research systems are thus pulled by two opposing philosophies. It is my view that the development of technologies for less-favoured regions and countries should be given the highest priority, and due regard should be paid to the socio-economic and socio-cultural aspects involved in designing new strategies for international agricultural research. In this context, transport and other technical problems, as well as financial aspects, also have to be taken into consideration. What use is it if surpluses are produced in one region, but because of a lack of infrastructural facilities they cannot be shipped into nearby hardship regions - as has been experienced in Africa and elsewhere? The problem is now not how to produce sufficient quantities of food, as present production would allow all human beings to be decently fed, but rather how to make international research instrumental in ensuring that agricultural commodities are produced in the right quantities and at the right quality at given locations, so that living conditions in the rural areas will improve and the depopulation of whole areas be avoided. The results of such a policy will probably not be as spectacular as the ``green revolution,, of the 1970s and '80s, but they will certainly have a profound impact on social welfare in the developing world and will allow agricultural production to be carried out on a sustainable and ecolonically sound basis.
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