"There are a lot of barriers you have to go through in trying to change a stagnant, traditional agriculture in a food deficit nation.
"First the technology, the scientific package. There's no magic in variety itself. No matter how good [the hybrid crop], that potential yield can't be expressed if the plant isn't fed [through] restored fertility to the soil. Or it can't express its potential if the weeds are competing with it. You know, the weeds also are having a bad time on worn out soil. But you put on the fertilizer, and they'll grow faster and take over the crop. And that variety won't mean much, no matter how good it is. And so it is with diseases and insects. That's the technological package.
"Then, how you The psychological thing. Everybody says the peasant farmer in these countries is resistant to change. That's not true. If he sees, demonstrated on his own land, that that package of technology can double, triple, quadruple [yields], like happened in India, Pakistan and later in China or in Argentina. But that has to be done in enough places. And that's the psychological barrier.
"And then the economic barrier. The inputs that have to be available the fertilizer, the improved seed of the varieties that you've developed eventually, weed killers. At that time, there weren't any weed killers that were usable. But of course, all of these things have come out now including the selective weed killers with the biotech resistance gene in the soybeans and corn so that you can apply it to the crop after it's emerged and still not destroy it but you've destroyed the weeds. We didn't have those at that time. And so the economic barrier we have to get across. And that includes also changes in policy on the availability of that right kind of fertilizer at the right time at the village level, six weeks before planting. And then credit. Remember that the third world, developing nations are not farmers like the USA. They're small. They're five to eight to ten acres. They have no cash to buy fertilizer. So, there has to be credit to buy it before planting and pay for it at harvest.
"And then invariably, every place I've worked, you've got the problem of what the political people say. The ceiling price on food, on basic food grains because they say, 'We've so many poor people, we have to keep the price for grain low.' Generally 30, 40 like in India and Pakistan 40 percent lower than the world's price. And they expect their farmers to compete with the American, the Canadian, the Australian farmers, or British farmers, German, French at 40 percent less price. Importing the fertilizer. And so, the fourth is the political barrier. At the right time, you've got to get the political decision-makers to change those things: the availability of inputs, the credit and the price. And to start a real campaign to get enthusiasm built into it from the political decision-makers. And always in this turmoil there are those who are trying to destroy the program for their own personal interests inside of the bureaucracy. The personal interests of some individuals and I've seen it happen in many countries."
Starting the Asian Program. "The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations sat together and they said, 'Something's got to be done about this rice situation with the population problem in Asia.' And so, they had started this small program patterned largely on the way the wheat program was organized in Mexico I made a trip in early '60 the last trip for the Rockefeller Foundation across North Africa and the Middle East, across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya was still in the fold (that was before Qaddafi) through Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan (which had practical no university, it was just getting started), Pakistan and India. And I wrote a report. And I said, 'I think maybe some of these Mexican wheats and the technology that permits them to express their personality might be useful. But the first thing that's lacking are trained people. With the exception of India and Egypt, you don't enough trained people to go into an emergency program to cope with the food shortage that's building.' And I said, 'In Egypt and India, the well-trained people have come back from graduate schools in the U.S. or England or Canada or Australia, and mostly they've put on their white coats and stayed in the laboratories doing something that's a continuation of their doctoral thesis, not out there in the mud and dust in the farmer's fields.' I wrote two reports and told them some of this stuff might fit."
Proving the Technology. "In '63, India invited me back to look at their program in detail. They had called a field day when they knew I was coming. The minister of agriculture was there. Lots of Mexican dwarf wheats. The weeds were nearly as high as the wheat. The whole nursery was miserable. Here were these two guys that had been trained with me standing behind. They couldn't open their mouths. And we went through this. This guy would say, 'You see, the Mexican wheats don't fit here. Look how good the tall Pakistan wheats are.' Which was true. We moved down through these 30 or 40 people, and this harangue was going on. And I was getting more and more irritated.
"Finally, I said, 'Look, these Mexican wheats need proper crop management practices starting with decent seed bed preparation which assures a good stand of plants. Secondly, fertilizer. And you say you fertilize, But all of the fertilizer, or most of it, is in those weeds not in the wheat plant. All of these pieces and the irrigation has to be put together.'
"We were to leave the next morning on the plane to Karachi at 10:00 o'clock. As we walked toward the guest house, these two students, ex-students of mine, they came up and said, 'We have something we want to show you tomorrow before your flight.'
"I said, 'OK, what time?'
"They said, 'At daylight.'
"And so, I had my boots and clothes on. [He taps on the table.] Tap on the window. I went out. It was just getting daylight. We walked to the most remote corner of the experiment station. And there were four beautiful plots, about the width of this room and maybe twice as long, of the best four new dwarf Mexican varieties that were commercial in Mexico. They said, 'There they are. You see how they fit!'
"And I said, 'Why didn't you plant the nursery like that?'
"They said, 'They wouldn't let us.'
"I left for Mexico. I wrote a letter. I didn't have a secretary that understood English. And I wrote a longhand rough draft. There were all kinds of misspelled words. And I had one thing in there I wrote this to Dr. Cummings of the Rockefeller and I said, 'I don't have a decent secretary on staff here. You clean this up and send it to them.'
"And I had in there, 'Too much chasing of academic butterflies going on.' All kinds of comments like this. 'Not enough down to earth research in agricultural science.' It turns out that he corrected a little of the misspellings and sent it out. And this changed everything."
Overcoming Psychology. "We flew in a few hundred pounds of seedto India. By 1965, they decided to important 250 tons of seed, of the Mexican dwarfs into those two countries. And Wellhausen, my boss, was on leave, and he said, 'You've got to stay in the office.' They placed the order too late to ship it out of Guaymas Port in Mexico. So we had to ship from Los Angeles to catch the last freighter that would get it in time to Pakistan and India for planting in the middle of October. And then everything went wrong. I thought I had the border fixed so that these 35 big trucks and we didn't have much money for this operation were held up at the Mexican border for two days. And I had to pay them to hold the freighter. Then, we were held up for another day on the American side. Pure bureaucracy. Finally, my Mexican colleague that was supervising this, he called and he said, 'They're on their way to the Los Angeles port.' But they didn't get very far. It was the day of the Watts riot. The National Guard was out there. Stopped it. We had to because Watts was on the route to the port from Mexico. Finally, it loaded. I went home to bed. I hadn't slept for two nights, on the telephone. I woke up, whatever it was, 18, 20 hours later, turned on the radio, and the war is on between Pakistan and India. Seed on the same freighter. It was transshipped to Singapore which meant that it arrived six weeks too late for planting. There wasn't time to check the germination like we ordinarily would have done to calibrate how much seed to plant. We planted I was in Pakistan, and I saw it was miserable. And so I had decided to double the seeding rate We did a lot of praying and put on more fertilizer and handled the water. And by the time, shortly before Christmas, I left. I had visited both Pakistan and India, and I could see this beautiful harvest and the enthusiasm of farmers "everywhere!"
"Frosty Hill, the vice president of the Ford Foundation, he used to say, 'They may be illiterate, but they can figure. They can figure whether it's going to help their families or not. And they aren't afraid to change if they see that the margins of change are not 10 percent which our farmers would jump at but if you're at the starvation edge, that 10 percent difference might be the difference of rain this year or temperature. And they can't risk that. But if it's double, 50 percent, double, triple, they're ready if the government gives them the tools with which to work.' And that's the story of what happened."
Changing Economic Rules. "Traveling with Swaminathum, the top young scientist, we got a call the last day when were in Ludhiana University in the Punjab to stop at the Escort tractor factory for lunch. We drove into the factory. There were probably 300 small tractors unsold. Mr. Nanda, the president, said, 'Maybe Dr. Borlaug would like to say a few words. He's been traveling and seen all the wheat region the last month.'
"And here's all the press. And I figured, 'This is the time.' And so, I said, 'Yes, I would.' And I told them about the enthusiasm, the wonderful results. 'Everywhere you stop, in a few minutes there's 200 people around pulling at your sleeve and pointing down here to come and see their plot.' And I said, 'Mr. Nanda' (the president) 'if the Indian government makes three decisions now, all of those tractors out there will disappear in a week, and you won't be able to catch up with orders for years to come. Those points are The seed is here. Subramaniam had brought it in. It's in the ground. The harvest of the seed that's necessary will do the job. What we need now is fertilizer, fertilizer, fertilizer, imported in the short term, factories built in the long term. Credit, credit, credit for these small farmers to buy the fertilizer at time of planting and pay for it at harvest. And a fair price at harvest announced before planting, that it will reflect the international market. You've got to get the ceiling off that price which is 40 percent less than the world price. This is what you expect your farmers, with all of their handicaps, to compete with Canadian, U.S. and Australian farmers.' And I sat down, or started to. And I said, 'I wish I were a member of the Lok Sabha [the Indian House of the People or parliament] and I would stand up every 15 minutes and scream, "fertilizer, fertilizer, fertilizer, credit, credit, credit, fair price, fair price, fair price."'
"So, [M. S.] Swaminathan and I were supposed to go at 6:00 o'clock the next afternoon. And just as I was leaving the minister's office, the day of the discussion, he said, 'You tell Shok Meta, deputy prime minister, just as bluntly as you tell me things of importance in policy when we're alone in my office. He needs to hear them now, on those three points.'
"And so, when we were waiting to go in, I told [M. S.] Swaminathan, 'I'm going follow minister Subramaniam's suggestion. I'm going to be blunt. You better not get into this issue. I may get thrown out of the country. But if I do, you and Andersen can carry on this thing. I think that there's enough inertia, enough momentum that nobody can stop it if we get the fertilizer, credit and fair price.'
"So we went in, and after the courtesies of a minute or two I said, 'This disasters of your party last month, you lost virtually all of your [power]. You've got that much margin left in the parliament. Unless this changes, and changes soon, on fertilizer, credit and pricing, you won't sit in that chair a year from now. They'll throw you out. Those grass roots are on fire. I don't know if there's 400,000 of those little farmers or whether there's a million. They know what's possible now. It's up to you.'
"Of course, he exploded. And we both talked until we ran out of breath. I left. Ten days later I got the clippings out of the next morning's paper from the main Indian papers, from both Ford and another one from Rockefeller. They said, 'As of last night at midnight, India's policy on fertilizer will change, at least until the end of the year.' There had been negotiations for establishing new fertilizer plants, but anything that hadn't been signed by the 31st of March, at midnight I didn't know this would be cancelled. But it said, 'This has been extended until the end of the year.' They have never been changed.
"Everything changed. How much that had to do with it will never be known. But here at Texas A&M;, I suppose it was 1984, when there was an international conference on water and irrigation, Subramaniam, the minister who had been defeated, was a speaker. And he said, from the podium he said, 'The best hour of Borlaug's life, the most productive, was that hour talking to minister Subramaniam [he means Shok Meta, deputy prime minister].'
The Legacy. "This tremendous change in food production that took place in India and Pakistan I'll use the case of wheat, but it happened on rice and several crops, but the first one was on wheat. The average production from 1960 to '65 was 11-million metric tons.
Question: "In India, OK."
"In the year 2000, it was 75-million tons. Nearly five fold [actually nearly seven fold]. Pakistan went from 3½-million to 20-million. Turkey doubled, 2½ times the production. It started taking off in a lot of countries. Egypt was good before, but it became much better after these new young trained people came into power.
"The so-called Green Revolution was this tremendous change. The new rices came in. If you make a breakthrough on one crop, the research people have to get to work on other ones, too. That little farmer sees if that fertilizer works on wheat, it's going to work on rice, too, his second crop. Or on corn.
"China came into the picture, indirectly, by way of Pakistan. When I was, I guess in 1965, and had just arrived in Pakistan. I was going down the hall. The secretary of agriculture (not the minister) he was trained in forestry originally like I was, so, we had, a kind of soul brothers he said, 'I'm glad you arrived before I left. I'm leaving this afternoon for China.' He said, 'You see that box I've got under my arm?'
"'Yeah, what's in it?'
"He said, 'Lots of little samples of Mexican wheat.'"