Book #3: Exploit Science. See Options, Not Obstacles

clip_image00217 February 2010, American Chronicle
PATANCHERU (INDIA) - Who is science that man should be mindful of him? Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, science is an extension of man, and so it must serve him, even as scientists must be mindful of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, 5 groups of needs in all: physiological needs (like food and water), safety, belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization needs (like morality & creativity) (Wikipedia). Not the first time I read Maslow, but this is the first time I noticed that creativity is a need. I am a writer and I certainly can´t do without it!

I submit that McLuhan and Maslow are as much as you can get immediately from the title of my new book, just off the press:

Exploiting The Power Of Science, Transforming The Semi-Arid Tropics (January 2010, Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, India: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, 168 pages). This is my 3rd book in 3 years on ICRISAT; its title by itself suggests the creativity of the science theorized, practiced and led by Director General and Team Captain of ICRISAT William Dar.

What´s the book all about, really? The subject was roses, in a way, for roses symbolize one central thought - love for someone, especially the female of species; and yet there is enough variation in roses - would you believe 6,500 kinds of roses? ( - to suggest that there are thousands of ways to express love. In like manner, I believe there is one central thought to what ICRISAT does - serve the poor farm families in the semi-arid tropics - and it tries to discover a great many ways to serve the people. And if you yourself haven´t found already, in my new book you will see ICRISAT has found some other ways.

For a great undertaking, you start with a great idea. With Dar as new Team Captain, ICRISAT did that in 2000: Science with a human face. You exploit science to serve the people. Then you come up with another great idea. ICRISAT did just that in 2001: Grey to Green Revolution. You apply science to turn the impoverished soils into rich lands. Then you combine those two great ideas. ICRISAT did just that also in 2001:

A Grey to Green Revolution via Science with a Human Face.

Institute-wide, ICRISAT adopted that, where the first part is the corporate Vision and the second part is the Mission (Grey To Green Revolution: ICRISAT Annual Report 2001). The Vision is your dream; the Mission is how you propose to make that dream come true. Translated, it means:

From poor soils to rich crops through science with people in mind.

Smart! In contrast, from 1972 to 1999, ICRISAT have had problems with its corporate Vision and Mission - I suppose they were not clearly going somewhere because they were not clear where they were going. Then, from 2000, when William Dar became Director General and Team Captain, the problem became: How do you exploit science with people at the back of your head? For many have tried, and many have fallen short of their own Vision.

Now then, how well do I think the renewed ICRISAT measures up to its own Vision and Mission today? Having now researched for and written 3 books on ICRISAT - the 1st out in December 2007, Team ICRISAT Champions The Poor, all of 128 pages, and the 2nd out in January 2009, The SMART Revolution, all of 154 pages - I gladly give ICRISAT a rating of 90%, Very Good; it needs 10% more inspiration to reach the zenith, Excellence. They can do it; Team ICRISAT has been rated Outstanding twice by the World Bank, in 2006 and 2007.

Through the years, from 2001, led by Director General William Dar, Team ICRISAT has accomplished much, that much my book shows. All the chapters being published as individual essays at different dates by the American Chronicle throughout last year, I wrote the stories as events unfolded inside and outside ICRISAT. The chapter titles below are as they were originally published at American Chronicle.

#1. The Beans Revolution. Jack And The New Hen That Lays Golden Eggs
This is about ICPH 2671, the ICRISAT pigeonpea (or pigeon pea); the new seeds can yield 3-4 tons of peas to a hectare, which is at least 2 times more than the old seeds planted in farmers´ fields. We are talking here of field experience in that part of the semi-arid tropics called India. A pot of golden eggs at the end of the rainbow.

#2. Designer Crops. My Intel Core i7 Sanger Sequencing In Manila
This is about the ICRISAT sweet sorghum, the Institute´s choice as biofuel crop, preferred source for ethanol. It is an intelligent choice, the Chinese will tell you: (a) The grains produce as much ethanol per bushel as corn and yet the crop needs 1/3 less water; (b) The crop grows well on marginal soils; (c) It can be ratooned, so there is no disturbance of the soil after every harvest, preventing soil erosion as well as conserving soil water. I say, "Now you know why I have sweet dreams."

#3. The Beans Revolution, 2. Waging Wars With Women
This is about my idea of an ICRISAT-led Beans Revolution being led by women, based on the success of Grameen Bank and ICRISAT with women, a revolution of understanding. I understand. I say, "No, I´m not talking of equal rights, only equal opportunities."

#4. New Coffee In Kenya. In Emali, Women Show Who´s The Better Half
This is about the Emali, Kenya story of ICRISAT, where women have proven to be the better half of the species, where the females have turned out to be more enterprising than the males. I say, "Whom the gods wish to employ, first they make female." Women farmers there have been so successful they have made the ICRISAT pigeonpea as valuable as Kenyan coffee. The women know better.

#5. India Is ICRISAT. Thinking Outside The Box Of Science
This is about ICRISAT thinking out of the box of science and partnering with all of India, where the Institute´s headquarters are, and accomplishing much more in the last 10 years than the Institute had accomplished in the 27 years before 2000. William Dar says, "ICRISAT works over a vast geographical area, a broad research agenda, and with a dizzying array of partners." Frank Hilario says, "Variety is the spice of life, of science, of writing."

#6. Power In Numbers. Science With Human Faces
This is about how ICRISAT has made the concept of the consortium as a Good Work! idea quite successful. The Institute has been promoting the consortium model in places other than India, where it is based. I say, "ICRISAT has marvelously tapped the power in consortia to create science with human faces."

#7. The Drylands. Crops Under Stress, Scientists Under Pressure
This is about the National Dryland Agriculture Conference held in the Philippines in April 2008 initiated by ICRISAT and sponsored by the Department of Agriculture. I offer here the technologies of ICRISAT that need not be reinvented by the proposed dryland center of the Philippines, those that have something to do with controlled fertilizing, controlled irrigation, erosion control, drought control, cropping systems, watershed models, and credit schemes. Subsequently, the Dryland Institute idea seemed to have ended where it began. I say, "The man with the hoe waits for the man of science."

#8. Sweet Revolution 2009. SSI Gives Birth To Neo-Agriculture
This is about what I call Sweet Revolution 2009, about ICRISAT teaming with the World Wide Fund to come up with what I consider the best sugarcane agriculture thereabouts with their Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative: You decrease the costs, you increase the yields. Costs here include seedlings (setts), water, fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide; yields refer to those of the plant crop and the ratoon crop.

#9. Rescue By Indian Women. When Drought Persists, Consult Your Doctor
This is about ICRISAT´s 4-pronged science-based strategy not only to decrease the effects of drought on crops but more so to increase the harvests from crops: (1) change crop, (2) choose season- and soil-adapted crops, (3) conserve the soil, and (4) teach communities to help themselves. For their success story with a knowledge center contributed to by doctors of philosophy in the sciences, I say, "The women of Adarsha, may their tribe increase!"

#10. Reinventing Plows. In Zimbabwe, Farmers Are Not Always Right
This is about how in Zimbabwe, ICRISAT has helped farmers cultivate crops at minimum costs and harvest at maximum returns. I refer to 2 minimum tillage techniques used: planting basins and ripper system. I say, "Saving agriculture is not reinventing conservation agriculture; it is only calling for a paradigm shift in thinking about Climate Change globally and acting on agriculture locally."

#11. Climate Change Agriculture In China. A Watershed In Collaboration
This is about Climate Change agriculture in China and a watershed in collaboration - the Center for Excellence in Dryland Agriculture, CEDA. CEDA is a collaboration, as it were, of crops, cultivators, centers, and countries. Why this kind of collaboration? Climate Change is no respecter of peoples.
#12. Adapting To Climate Change. ICRISAT Policy Recommendations For The Developing World
This is about ICRISAT´s technical and policy recommendations for the developing world in affirmative action against Climate Change. I say, "The bottom line is to ensure that they develop resilient ecosystems, resilient crops, resilient livestock and resilient communities."

#13. Sweet BBC? Growing Crops, Raising Hell
This is about the BBC interviewing William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT. The BBC went to India as part of its efforts to gather information to enlighten the world about the worries on biofuel production. Sweet sorghum is ICRISAT´s choice; the chapter tells you how sweet it is.

#14. Drylands Dar. The Man With A Thousand Shifts
This is about William Dar, the Captain of Team ICRISAT, who is from the Philippines. His masterful, creative, not to mention moral leadership of the Institute partly comes from having made so many paradigm shifts in his life. #1 paradigm shift was from teaching growing boys and girls to growing crops; #10 paradigm shift was from non-team to Team ICRISAT. I say, "May his tribe increase!"

#15. Perfect Storm. Will UN Stir Up Political Will?
This is about Climate Change and the need for the United Nations to exercise political will. It reports that in the Buenos Aires science discussions in September 2009, the UN was advised to set up a Climate Change Advisory. It also portrays what William Dar likes to call "The Perfect Storm" - the whirling-swirling chaos of climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, food crisis, energy crisis, and population explosion. We need more imagination to combat Climate Change. I quote Albert Einstein: "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination."

#16. Servant-Leader William Dar. Can´t Follow, Can´t Lead
This is about the 2009 Outstanding UPLB Alumnus Award that William Dar received from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, where he obtained his PhD in Horticulture. It also describes how years ago he and I first met (it wasn´t like love at first sight), and how he has turned out to be a great dreamer and a great doer.

#17. Farmer Green Bill Gates. Listen, You Capitalist Laggards!
This is about how ICRISAT farming systems meet the criteria of Bill Gates concerning his idea of creative capitalism in the field of science: farmer-guided, locally adapted, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable. I say, "He is thinking like millions of the rich aren´t thinking."

#18. Small Is Big. Have Fertilizer, Will Drink Coke
This is about the ICRISAT fertilizer technique called micro-dosing: You fertilize much less, you harvest much more. You measure out the fertilizer on a beer bottle cap. It is true, and it is good.

#19. Climate Citizens. FAO´s Hunger And Paradigm Shifts
This is about the UN calling for a Fight against Hunger amidst Climate Change. I argue that the experience of ICRISAT shows there needs be changes in the climates of water management, fertilizer application, credit control, science at work, and empowerment of people. That´s how to fight hunger. I say, "No Sir, hunger is not the problem; rather, hunger is the symptom."

#20. ICRISAT Can Do It! Reduce $10 Billion Pest Losses
This is about how the $10-billion world losses in crop production due to pests can be solved with innovative techniques other than pesticides.

#21. Public Science Center. Climate Change ICRISAT And Public-Private Partners
This is about ICRISAT as a world-class climate-change institution that is both proactive and reactive. The Institute is now enhancing its public-private partnership even more by setting up additional facilities at its Agri-Science Park. ICRISAT is setting up what I call a "Public Science Center" and of which I say, "as a whole describes quite succinctly what it is all about: that it is open to the public for collaborative work, that science is the way around here, that it is a dedicated place."

#22. Designer Crop. SSI Sugarcane And Copenhagen Calls
This is about the prospects of Copenhagen in December 2009 and my proposal that the Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative of ICRISAT-World Wide Fund be considered a designer crop for sugar-producing countries. This chapter also contains what I call "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Farmers." The SSI sugarcane technology was developed in India; I dare say, "What´s good for India is good for the world."

#23. Agriculture Calling Copenhagen
This is about the call on Copenhagen in December of 2009 by international scientists and leaders to include agriculture and food security in the agenda, so that smallholder farmers can be part of the solution.

#24. Creative CGIAR. Rich Out For The Poor - Bill Gates
This is about the challenge of Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged tens of millions of dollars to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, calling for a reform within the Group, calling on the CGIAR to "lead the (CGIAR) centers back to their comparative advantage and empower them to deliver high-quality research and technological innovations," for the poor. I say, "This is the Climate Change I´d like to see enveloping the whole creative CGIAR."

#25. How I Write. Team ICRISAT Award In My Mind.
This is about how I write. About difficult technical terms, I say, "I almost always find my unease the beginning of my creativity." I go to the Internet and pick people´s brains. It is also about why I think Team ICRISAT deserves a world-class award such as the World Food Prize (non-sectarian) and the Right Livelihood Award (non-ideological). I say, "The text is mine; the triumph is Team ICRISAT´s. May their tribe increase!"

Overall, in the book what I understand ICRISAT has been doing is like this: You look at factors affecting not as obstructions to a solution to a problem, but as stepping stones to that solution. You come up with options for action and not simply play like a broken record, spinning around on a single solution, which becomes an obstacle in itself. You exploit science for those options. I believe that´s what ICRISAT has been doing all those years since January 2000. In the next 5 years, I expect to write of many, many more options.

My book was commissioned by ICRISAT. So, how do you write about the institution that funds the publication of what you write? With honesty, as with a macro lens of a camera; and with extended contemplation, as with a wide-angle view of the same camera. In other words: Act local, think global. It is easy to write about the accomplishments, but not the disappointments. I now have 3 books or 450 pages in print to show you that a journalist can look at imperfections and write about them with circumspection, as well as view processes and write about the system, not to mention recognize parts and write about the whole. After all, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

For my 3 ICRISAT books, what I have been doing to understand science, which requires critical thinking, to be able to write science for the people, which requires creative thinking, is to think vertically and laterally, one to understand beyond the technical jargon, the other to communicate science to non-scientists. Vertical thinking is critical thinking; in the end you have to be logical, sequential, linear, or hierarchical. Lateral thinking is creative thinking: You explore the horizon and think of The Big Pictures. The Big Picture is international ICRISAT, where come the approaches & achievements in science for the semi-arid tropics; The Bigger Picture is wide & collaborative India, where comes much support to the Institute and where it is based; The Biggest Picture is Creative Capitalism that should be visiting on the millions of poor farm families in the drylands of Asia and Africa, even as The Perfect Storm looms in the horizon.

Got the pictures?

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