The IRRI: A Force for Modernization
IT IS AN example of the strange paradox of our times that we are here gathered to celebrate an event which symbolizes international cooperation and the sincere efforts of man to unite to meet his common enemies — ignorance, disease, hunger — while man is equally engaged in liquidating and eliminating his species in other parts of the world. I say symbolic of this paradox of our times because while indeed war, destruction and death now monopolize the headlines, perhaps in some later day of a more enlightened generation, greater media space will be allocated to the work of men like those who are with IRRI, the men of the type of Dr. Chandler and the researchers, the experts who have brought about a new kind of war and a new kind of revolution the impact of which is felt and will be felt for many years to come throughout the world.
We are here to underscore the role of the International Rice Research Institute not only in the Asian community but throughout the world, a community which is composed of — and I refer to the Asian community — of two billion rice eaters who today join us in thankful commemoration of the founding one decade ago of this world-famous institution.
The story of the development by IRRI of the so-called IR8, now known the world over as the “miracle rice”, is too well known to bear retelling here. It is enough to say that with its discovery, the food-population equation in this part of the world was radically altered and it gave new hope to the billions of hungry and malnourished people in Asia and elsewhere. This is particularly significant in the context of the predictions made by demographers and economists sometime ago, and even up to now, that unless food production would be increased tremendously there would be a famine in the world. Some demographers even predicted 1975, others 1980 and the decades to come. The IRRI through science and technology assured the world food not only for today but also for tomorrow.
I am proud to say that no nation in the world has embraced the high yielding varieties developed by IRRI more enthusiastically than the Philippines. Fully sixty per cent of our rice paddies are now planted to high yielding varieties. When you travel back from Los Baños this afternoon to Manila, examine the fields you pass. As far as you can see, there is nothing but short, stiff-strawed, and non-lodging varieties.
Rice is the Philippines’ most important crop. We have 3 million hectares of rice. While much of this area is not irrigated and is dependent on rainful for water, nevertheless, since 1966, when IR8 was developed, the national average, yield of rice in the Philippines increased by 30 per cent. By 1968, this country had attained self-sufficiency in rice and except for the last 2 years when our rice fields were decimated by typhoons and tungro, we have maintained a respectable level of rice production.
This increase underlines the scientific revolution that is taking place in agriculture. What we fondly call “miracle rice” is, as we all know, not so much a miracle as a promise. It is a promise that comes true when farmers begin to use modem agricultural methods and inputs — fertilizer, weed and insect control, straight row planting, and so forth. The high-yielding variety is the key element, however. It provides a rich pay-off for the farmer who is willing to try new methods.
Because the “miracle rice” requires new techniques, our farmers were forced to change their ways. They have had to use new materials and techniques. Their surplus production introduced them to the complexities of a market economy. And this is where government had to participate actively. The farmers were thus drawn into the mainstream of modern economic life; their awareness of things around them was completely altered. Having acquired surplus incomes, their eyes were suddenly opened to a new world, a new world of opportunity, a new world for personal fulfillment. On the other hand, the industrialized sectors discovered in the countryside a new market for their products.
However, the miracle seeds have by no means ended the fight against higher prices and periodic shortages. The “rice revolution”, as we have sadly discovered in our country, is a continuing struggle both of production and marketing. The Philippine experience may be instructive to all Asian countries, who face the same problems and the same challenges. After achieving self-sufficiency in 1968, we became complacent about production problems; we focused our attention largely on problems of marketing, transport, storage and processing. We now realize that while we have to reckon with these later problems, we must devote equal attention to food production.
While bringing hope to Asia’s hungry people, the rice revolution of course also poses new problems in terms of the relationship between the rich countries and the poor countries. As pointed out by Lester Brown in his book Seed of Change, the new high-yielding varieties of rice promise to alter eventually the global pattern of agriculture because they tend to re-direct production advantage in favor of the tropical-subtropical region. Thus, the recent production increases in the tropical region have resulted in deep cutbacks in United States agricultural production, especially of wheat. A crisis in the world grain market is imminent because the food production breakthrough is occurring just as Europe and Japan are pursuing highly protectionist agricultural policies. The stage is now set for a major confrontation between the rich and poor countries over how to rationalize world agricultural trade.
These will be very difficult issues to settle. But I think, however, that approached in the proper spirit, we can meet these challenges. The IRRI example sets the tone. It is an international undertaking, where people from many countries have gathered to meet a common problem. It is this spirit of cooperation that will in the end bring comfort as well as solutions to the grave problems of this “global village” — the world.
It is fortunate for the rice farmer and the world that the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation had the vision and the initiative to establish the International Rice Research Institute. The men of these institutions, such as Drs. George Harrar and Forrest Hill, who steered these institutions into these paths deserve special mention for their foresight. They should be honored for their vision.
It is also gratifying to hear of the widening base of financial support for IRRI. The governments of the United States, Great Britain, and Australia have made or are about to make major contributions to the Institute. The newly established Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, of which the Philippines is a member, I understand, is about to underwrite the coming financial needs of IRRI.
The continued and increased support of IRRI by these organizations and governments is well-justified. In spite of the dramatic gains that have been made in the 10 years since IRRI began its work, hunger is not uncommon and famine is still an ever-present threat for millions of Asians.
The populations of the nations of Asia are growing rapidly. The population of the Philippines will double in the next 25 years. To feed the millions yet unborn, much work remains to be done. I look forward to the next decade of the International Rice Research Institute. I am confident that it will be as exciting, as fulfilling, as rewarding, and as successful, as IRRI’s first ten years.
I would like to pay special tribute in closing to the men who guided IRRI since its founding. The reputation of the Institute and its scientists today is a tribute to the imagination, the foresight, and the unflagging energy of Dr. George Harrar, Dr. Forrest Hill and Dr. Robert Chandler. Drs. Harrar and Chandler will retire this year as President of the Rockefeller Foundation and of the IRRI, respectively. The Philippines — indeed the whole world — will miss them.
I come on this occasion on my own behalf and on behalf of the Filipino people to extend to them gratitude for their sacrifice in coming here to Asia, for their deserved success in the experiments and researches in IRRI.
I cannot express and articulate this gratitude of the Filipino people except with what we, the Filipinos, say to all friends: Mabuhay sa inyong dalawa.
For all this, allow me then to salute the IRRI for setting the example in technological and scientific excellence, humanitarianism and international cooperation.
And I close with the hope that where the politicians, statesmen and the world leaders have failed, you the scientists, researchers and friends will succeed in binding men together into one single family.
Source: National Library