Daniel Hillel is a Research Fellow with the International

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Daniel Hillel is a Research Fellow with the International Powered By Docstoc
					                                               F     or over a decade now, we have been
                                                      battered again and again by a seem-
                                                 ingly endless succession of inescapable
                                                 problems and crises which has shattered
                                                 our former complacency                 and our faith in
                                                 an orderly civilized              world and in the
                                                 attainment of a full life for all the world’s
                                                 people.       Among          the problems           which
                                                threaten to overwhelm                 the international
                                                order are the population                 explosion,       the
                                                 pollution       and degradation            of our envi-
                                                 ronment, famine, civil strife and terror,
                                                 proliferation       of nuclear weapons, youth
                                                disaffection,        energy shortages, inflation,
                                                the apparent failure of democratic                     lead-
                                                ershipand         of international        institutions.
                                                 Long indeed isthe listofourwoes!
                                                    Isthere hope for mankind?
                                                    Only two decades ago, we all would
                                                have answered with a ringing affirmation
                                                of mankind’s           positive destiny. After all,
                                                faith in the essential goodness of man
                                                and the efficacy of progress had been a
                                                fundamental           tenet of our culture                for
                                                many generations.               Yes, there are prob-
                                                lems, we would have readily acknow-
                                                ledged, but we can solve them all in time
                                               through        education,          research,       technol-
                                               ogy, legal and social reform, planning,
                                               organized          institutional       action, and the
                                               eventual          attainment          of international
                                               goodwill and understanding.
                                                    For centuries, it seems, ever since the
                                               onset of the the industrial revolution,                   the
                                               concept of progress had been the guid-
                                               ing principle of Western civilization.                      By
                                               the very nature of human history, we
                                               thought,        every generation             must some-
                                               how improve upon the preceding                           one.
                                               Almost by definition,             history is a journey
                                               of progress,           in the cowse              of which
                                               mankind          rises higher, qualitatively                as
                                              well asquantitatively.
                                                    Now, suddenly, we are not so sure. A
     Daniel Hillel is a Research Fellow        host of crises negates our hopes. we are
     with the International    Food Policy     plunged into a malaise, an anxiety, an
     Research institute in Washington. HE      uneasiness. It seems that our journey has
     emphasizes that the views expressed      taken        us to some fateful                  boundary,
     here are his own, and do nof neces-       beyond          which         lies uncharted             and
     sarily reflect those of the Institute.   dangerous ground, a hostile terra incog-
                                               nita. Few of us can muster the optimism
                                              to look on today’s crisis as a temporary
                                              setback,         a momentary              pause in our
                                               headlong voyage, merely a waystation                        in
                                              which we might gather new energy in
                                              our continuing                quest to attain ever
                                              greater heights and view wider horizons.
                                                   The pessimists who seem to dominate
                                              the intellectual           community           predict the
                                              decline of our civilization,                 and, as was
                                              the fate of Rome, expect                         us to be
                                              plunged into another dark age. Before
                                              our very eyes, they have transformed the
                                              prevailing         perception        of history from a
                                              bright promise to an unavoidable                       disas-
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COMMENTARY                                                                                                        by Daniel    Hillel



ter. “We’ve seen the best of the game,”                            already doomed. Both views are simplis-                     surface of the earth’s resources, which
said novelist C.P. Snow, while historian                          tic at best. At worst, they are cop-outs,                    are potentially          enormous.           Pollution       is
Arnold Toynbee predicted                    that the de-           ruses used to cover up an otherwise                         not irreversible,        and is in fact controlla-
veloped countries will soon find them-                             inexcusable       tendency to evade the real                ble once it is recognized                and the will is
selves in a state of permanent                    siege, in        problems of the day.                                        mustered to do the job. And while we
which even the material conditions                          of         Especially     dangerous        are those who           cannot expect the rich nations to give up
life will become increasingly                austere.             find it fashionable        to spread despair and             their wealth or the poor nations to wrest
    In the face of this profoundly               pessimis-        thus lull us into a state of resignation and                 it away by force, we can expect a greater
tic perception of reality, the first victim is                     inactivity.      They say that the green                    measure of cooperation                  and concerted
likely     to be the moral and spiritual                           revolution,      which     only five years ago              international         action       to increase          food
equilibrium         of our society. In times of                    seemed to be such a success, has failed.                    production      and alleviate hunger.
stress and adversity,                 some relatively             They say the world has no more arable                            The history of mankind                   has always
prosperous         individuals        or nations, feel-            land to bring into production.               They say       been a race between the acquisition                         of
ing threatened,           may be tempted to seek                  the climate is changing for the worse.                       new knowledge             and the threat of disas-
advantage         by setting themselves                 apart      And they say pollution             is an inevitable         ter. The form of the disaster looming over
and aloof from the remainder                      of man-          consequence         of population         growth and        mankind has changed repeatedly,                       like a
kind. There are plenty of smug and                                 is spreading inexorably.            Moreover,      they     many-headed           dragon. Once it was pesti-
self-righteous             ways        by which            to      say that food production            will necessarily        lence, then famine, then environmental
rationalize         such an attitude.               I have         decline, as increasing scarcity of energy                   degradation,        and once again famine and
recently       heard a presumably                    serious      will drive the cost of feltilizers,                  pes-    new outbreaks             of disease. Mankind’s
academician,           speaking         before a large            ticides, tillage and pumped water out of                     problems can never be solved once and
audience in a major university, make the                          the reach of many marginal farmers. The                      for all. We must continue to search and
stanling      statement:          “If those people,”               problem seems so overwhelming                  that we      research to acquire the knowledge                        and
obviously        referring to those developing                     instinctively      recoil from its very enor-               then take the necessary action to solve
countries,       “insist on producing               endless        mity.                                                       the problems             which        arise anew           or
rna~~es of human protein, we ought to                                 The most prestigious and influential                of   exacerbate       from time to time. By recog-
simply leave them to wallow                        in their        the doom criers have based their projec-                    nizing and solving the problems                        early
own misery.”           I note regretfully         that this       tions on the computer              model contrived           enough we can head off the threat of
cruel       statement           was      greeted        with       by the high-sounding            “Club of Rome.”             disaster. This belief was a commonly
applause.                                                         The assumptions upon which this model                        held article of faith during the first half of
    Can rich first class passengers (to use a                      was based are exceedingly               questionable        this century, but is seldom heard today in
currently      popular metaphor), on a train                       and in fact predetermine                  the results.      respectable forums. I submit that there is
rushing toward              doomsday,         with more             Notwithstanding         the fact that various              much to be said for it even now.
and more third class passengers clamber-                           scholars have refuted this model (in the                        One.of      the real reasons for today’s
ing aboard and hanging on the doors, go                            process, demolishing            it in excruciating          shortages of food is the failure of the
on eating and drinking while obliviousto                           detail), it seems to have gained currency                   world community,              including the produc-
those knocking on their windows!                        And,        in numerous        publications,        in the mass        ing and consuming                   nations      alike, to
even if the first class passengers could                           media, and even in the schools.                       Its   prepare for the eventuality               of occasional
close their shutters and survive physi-                            dismal      and forlorn        conclusions         have     crop failure resulting from drought or
cally, what about their moral survival?                            almost      become        part of conventional              other vagaries of nature. The world has
    Foremost among mankind’s                        present        wisdom,       quoted      and v-quoted            again     neglected       the wisdom              of Joseph the
woes is the population-food                 crisis. Popu-          and again.                                                   Provider, who had the foresight to store
lation seems to be growing uncontroila-                               More and more, we see and hear                           the surplus production               of good years so
bly, especially           in the under-developed                  reference to Reverend Thomas Malthus,                        as to tide the economy of ancient Egypt
nations of South Asia, South America,                             who, in his Essay on Population                     pub-     over the bad years, thus moderating the
and Africa. We are told by statisticians                          lished in 1798 first advanced the thesis                     xxi of sharp fluctuations               which we have
that within a century these nations could                         that population          growth will inevitably              witnessed in o~rown               generation.
attain a population            of 30 billion or more,             outstrip food supply. Since Malthus has.                         I would not be so confident about the
unlessfamineorwaror(at                    best) stringent         been dead, and quite wrong, for over a                       potentialities      for solving the world’s food
family regulation            reduce these numbers.                century and a half, it is rather amazing                      problem if I had not witnessed and taken
Meanwhile,           food seems to be running                     that his view of man’s fate should gain                       part in the development               of agriculture       in
short. There are reports that fish catches                        such popularity         and become the truistic              the State of Israel. In the year 1946, a UN
are declining. Western man continues to                           mainstay ofcurrentopinion.                                   commission was appointed to deliberate
feed grain to cattle while                     people       in        There      is, however,          an alternative          over the fate of the country, and in the
drought-stricken             areas of the underde-                proposition,       which draws quite a diffe-                course of its inquiries               it received “ex-
veloped world clamour for a bit of that                           rent picture of the future, and yet /s at                     pert” testimony purporting                to prove that
grain fortheirchildren.                                            least as plausible. It is that the earth can                the country’s          productive         potential       had
    Increasingly,        the answers searched for                 support a population           considerably        grea-     already been reached and that there was
become          regional         rather     than       local,     ter than today’s, Population              growth is in        no more arable land nor water to permit
global rather than national.                   And there          any case slowing down (prosperity being                      any substantial           increase in production
are no easy answers. Beware of those                              the most universal             and proven           con-      (and hence in population).                 When Israel
who will tell you that science                           and      traceptive).     The current shortages are not               was established              two years later, its
technology         will soon solve it all. And                    the inevitable       result of any fundamental                population     was about three-quarters                 of a
bewareofthosewhotell                   youth&there           is   scarcity      of resources,        merely of poor             million,     and it was barely                   able to
no solution and that swme nations are                              management.         We’ve only scratched the                 produce       half its food              requirements.
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Now, one generation              later, the popula-            was quickly abandoned                     in favor of more           of the potential.         There is, of course, a
tion of Israel is almost five times as great,                  highly controlled            methods of application                  significant     mutually         causative     correla-
and its agriculture           is now producing,                such as sprinkling.                  Ultimately,       an in-        tion between         a country’s          productivity
either     directly      or indirectly          (i.e. by       geniously       simple method was devised,                           and its educational           level, notwithstand-
exporting       and earning), the entire food                  called trickle irrigation,                by which water             ing the abundance            or paucity of natural
 requirements        of this vastly greater popu-               is provided           to crops (including                large      resources.      Some of the most richly
 lation. In other words, agricultural                  pro-    trees) drop-by-drop,                  in the manner of               endowed         countries         are among           the
duction       in this one country            has been          spoon-feeding              babies,         at a precisely            poore51, and vice versa.
 multiplied       tenfold within        less than 30            measured               rate        to       answer         the           The crucial        problem        of increasing
years. This is indeed                 a remarkable             climatically-imposed                   demand         and to         food production          lies not in the Malthu-
achievement.                                                   prevent salinization               while maintaining            a    sian realm (namely, the existence of an
     To be sure, it was not an easy task. It                   nearly optimal condition of soil moisture                            inherent limitation on the rate of produc-
would not have been easy even if the                           continuously.              Fertliration          techniques          tion increase), nor in the neo-Malthusian
country did not have to contend simul-                         had to be tested for each crop and soil,                             realm (limited          resources),        but in the
taneously        with     a multitude          of other        including      the technique of injecting the                        human realm. Here, again, it is not in the
problems          with     competing          demands          nutrients       into the water                 supply.       lm-     population      growth per se (though ences-
 upon its manpower           and other resources.              proved strains of animal and plants were                             sive population            growth      can certainly
 Nor were the physical              conditions         par-    imported        whenever              suitable,      or bred         exacerbate      the problem -that              much is
ticularly      favourable.       Perched between                locally.     Methods             of weed          and pest          obvious), but, ultimately,           in the ability of
sea and desert, the country is subject to                      control specific to the country’s                      condi-        each nation to muster its collective                 will
shifting climatic          patterns with a high                tions were developed,                  with due attention            and mobilize its resources tocarryout                  an
 incidence        of drought.        Moreover,          the    to the hazard of environmental                      damage.          effective     program        of agricultural         and
 land had been ravaged by erosion for                          Other      innovations              related to climate               general economic            development,        as well
centuries as the once-terraced                  hillsides      control (e.g. the use of plastic covers and                          as in the ability of the entire family of
had been overgrazed.                  (It has been             greenhouse culture) as well as to harvest-                           nations to cooperate               in this common
estimated that a mantle of soil one yard                       ing and storing produce.                        Nothing,       in    goal. We come finally                   to the most
deep has been washed into the sea by                           fact, could beoverlooked.                                             important     question:        is the international
the resulting          accelerated        erosion).       In       In the course of its agricultural                        de-     community         ready to stop squandering
fact, only about             25 percent           of the       velopment,           Israel was aided greatly by                     the most precious             of all resources -
country’s        approximately          two       million      the extraordinary            diligence and ambition                   human      effort     ~       in the futile          and
 hectares are in any way arable,                        the    of its new farmers - men and women                                   vainglorious       pursuit of military           power,
remaining soils being either too shallow,                      who had no background                       in farming and           and begin applying to education,                  popu-
too steep, too stony, too saline, or too                        hence, unbound by traditional                      methods,          lation     control,           agricultural          and
parched to permit cultivation.              Yet the job        were ever willing                to tty new ways. In                 economic        development           that which          is
was done, and that is sufficient proof that                    many cases, these self-educated                      farmers,         now wasted on the means of war? (It
 it can be done               elsewhere,          though       particularly           on the collective                farms,        seems totally       incredible        that the total
perhaps not in the same mannerorto                      the    conducted             their      own         research       and      global annual investment in agricultural
same degree.                                                   forged ahead of the scientists in finding                             research and development                  amounts to
     But how was it done? The answer may                        new and betterways.                                                  less than one percent of the total spent
seem deceptively            simple: through trial                  Israel’s achievement                   can be dupli-              on armament).
and error (and at times it seemed there                        cated, and even surpassed. A case in                                      As an agricultural         and environmental
were more errors than trials), search and                       point is the agriculture               of the Arab sector           scientist, I am convinced               that we have
research,          in a persistent,           and still        of Palestine, which, taking advantage of                             the essential knowledge               and capability
continuing,          quest     for better           ways.      the Israeli experience,                   advanced        even       to fructify barren lands and feed all of
Methods had to be devised to cultivate                         faster to close what seemed like a gap of                            humanity even allowing               for the inevita-
each soil type specifically,                  including        centuries within a single decade. Other                              ble portion        of expectable            population
 loose sands and iii-drained             clays, and to         countries have made equally remarkable                               growth.      Yet not enough               is done at
determine         which     crops and cropping                 progress.       An outstanding                  example         is    present, and not enough will be done
sequences are optimal.               After exploring           Japan, which,             although          located in the            until a new spirit of collaboration              rather
every      possible      source of water,               the    very northern fringe of the rice growing                             than strife begins to pervade this global
country was able to utilize more than 90                       belt, and would therefore be considered                              village. It is here that my basic optimism
 percent of its renewable            water supplies,           a priori to be marginal,                      actually     pro-      occasionally        falters.      Perhaps we are
 including streams, springs, underground                       duces an average rice yield five times                               destined     to witness and suffer harder
aquifers, and lakes:‘One of the first laws                     greater than that of Bangladesh                        where         times     before      the necessary            attitude
 passed by the new state was a com-                            conditions        of soil and climate are nearly                     evolves     and the necessary                action       is
 prehensive water law, strictly regulating                     optimal for rice. Bangladesh itself, once                            taken. Perhaps the new approach                      will
the pumping of water from each well so                          it solves         its internal             problems        and      arise only out of even more dire adver-
as to prevent the progressive lowering of                      organizes        for action, can undoubtedly                         sity. But it will, as it must.
the water table along the coast and the                        surpass the Japanese                      achievement.           I        When the problems loom too formid-
 resulting hazard of seawater intrusion.                       have had some peRinent experience                              in    able to solve in our own lifetime, I am
     With water so precious, a painstaking                      Burma, among other places, where grain                              reminded of the ancient adage: “It is not
effort had to be invested into increasing                      yield of six or more tons to the hectare                             for you alone to complete the task, but
water use efficiency             in irrigation.        The     were shown to be possible in a region                                neither are you free to evade it.”                      0
 age-old      practice     of flooding         over the        where only shifting cultivation                    had been
 land or impounding              water in furrows              practiced, yielding no more than a tenth
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