Feeding The Forgotten Poor,
Perspectives of an Agriculturist
During President Kalam’s visit to ICRISAT (The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics), Hyderabad, on December 13, 2002, I met Dr. William Dar, the Director-General. I was hooked to the tall and sagacious scientist, a Filipino, and the way he explained to the audience, the plight of smallholder farmers and the larger question of food security of the poor. We later became good friends and I even visited the Philippines four times, with his help. Ten years later, in 2012, when Dr. William Dar decided to write his memoir, I was his natural choice.
It was my third biographical project after ‘Wings of Fire’ and ‘A Doctor’s Story of Life & Death’. William Dar was born in a perennially waterlogged village in Northern Luzon in the Philippines. He grew up in a community of hardworking and frugal people doing farming and fishing. The youngest of the six children, William Dar would sit on his carabao (local name for water buffalo) and gaze at the empty sky. The plot was similar to the childhood of Dr. Kalam and Dr. Kakarla Subbarao. The point I was trying to figure out was, where comes the turning point in these simple, ordinary, ‘nothing special’ lives?
Dr. William Dar gave me an answer from the Filipino Renaissance man, Jose Rizal (1861-1896), whom he considered his personal idol. “It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without being a part of the edifice. I see myself as but a bricklayer working alongside so many others,
We invited Dr. Kalam to write the foreword for the book, wherein he wrote, “As a tribute, let me say that Dr. William Dar speaks from experience. He knows and understands both, the difficulties and honor of smallholder farmers. He knows what the poor want and hope for. He is both, a son of the soil and a visionary on major global issues.”
William Dar, in this book, presents his Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) principle. He writes, “We realized that in the past we had conceptualized our role as providing technologies that would raise production for poor farmers, and that was the end of it. We had not considered how that would change the farmer and what the next step might be. Would a 10 per cent yield increase in a staple crop really change a farmer’s life significantly? We didn’t ask. Our job was finished. The poor were a little better off, but still poor. They were frozen in place. Development was static, not dynamic. Sustainable development is a journey with no return. If we mistakenly fix smallholders in a place, we will be making poverty permanent. Nobody should want that kind of ‘sustainability’.”
We wrote another book together, ‘Greening the Grey’ (Rajpal Publishing, 2014). These two books also brought me in contact with the legendary M.S. Swaminathan, father of the Indian Green Revolution, who declared, “Where hunger rules, peace can’t prevail.”