Closing the Gap between Rich and Poor

Widening Gap between Rich and Poor
Almost 30 years have passed since FFTC was established as an international organization for the extension of agricultural technologies. During these 30 years, many global issues have been discussed, and many efforts have been made to solve global problems. The eradication of poverty is recognized as one of the main global issues.
The Human Development Report of UNDP warns us of the widening income gap between rich and poor. In 1960, the ratio between the earnings of the top 20% and the bottom 20% was 30:1. By 1990 this had risen to 61:1, and by 1997 to 74:1.
FFTC, as an international organization serving the region's small-scale farmers, is deeply concerned about this issue.

New Technology Expands the Wealth Gap
The word "technology" has a pleasant sound to it, especially for scientists. It seems to promise infinite benefits for mankind. It is true that technology has contributed significantly to the economic development of the world. But we must always remember that it has a dark side. The development of new technology always expands the gap between rich and poor.
This is because technology needs strong economic power to develop it, and highly trained people who are the product of an expensive education. A shoot apex with the potential for active growth keeps growing, and accumulates the potential again for the next new growth.
This vicious circle, vicious in view of the balanced growth of the world as a whole, is the driving force which expands the wealth gap. How to slow down or compensate for this vicious circle may be the most important and urgent issue facing mankind.
More Research for Crops on Marginal Lands
To narrow the gap between rich and poor, or at least slow down the expansion of the gap, we need more study on crops for marginal lands. This is because most of the rural people living below the absolute poverty line are living in marginal lands.
Many international research institutes are working in the service of less industrialized countries. They have done a great deal to develop agricultural technologies for crops grown in marginal lands. Nevertheless, agriculture in marginal lands has made little progress over the past 20 years. This is partly becasue of the difficult of developing new technology for such areas, and partly because of the scarcity of relevant research.
In the past 20 years, the productivity of wheat, corn and rice in less industrialized countries has increased from between 1.6 times to 2.2. times. The productivity of millet, sorghum and cassava - all important crops on marginal lands - on the other hand, has increased only 1.2 times during that time.
Millet and sorghum are both important crops which come under the mandate of a major international research institute, ICRISAT. Cassava is within the mandate of CIP, another major international research center. However in comparison with the amount of research carried out world-wide on wheat, corn and rice, the amount of research into millet, sorghum and cassava is tiny. A primary need, therefore, is to strengthen research into those crops which are mainly produced on marginal lands, such as millet, sorghum, cassava, taro and cowpea.
The Importance of International Technology Transfer
Another way of narrowing the gap between rich and poor is international technology transfer. Some new technologies from industrialized countries could be adopted by poorer ones, and would be very useful. The transfer of technology through the dissemination of information is why FFTC was established, and is the whole purpose of our Center.
We carry out our activities with the help of research institutes in Asian and Pacific countries. As far as possible, we focus on mature, practical technologies rather than academic or experimental data. We are now trying to improve our collection and dissemination of mature on-farm technology, in cooperation with the region's many national and international research institutes.
Evaluation of Technology
Items of agricultural technology are location specific. They need to be evaluated and adapted before they are extended to farmers. They must meet local needs. Most of the new technology from industrialized countries is labor-saving. However, the technology most useful to less industrialized countries is resource-saving. Differences in climate and other natural conditions also affect whether technology is valid.
In short, technology must be evaluated from the viewpoint of the local society and economy, and of the natural environment. Local accessibility (including the cost of the inputs needed), the ease with which farmers use the technology, and the costs and returns, are all important.
Farmers are recommended to first try new technology on a small scale for evaluation. It is farmers who know best the characteristics of their fields. They will get the best answers on whether the new technology they tried is useful or not.
Technology for Developing Countries
As noted above, more research is needed for developing countries. Scientists from industrialized countries must join the effort. They must be aware of the circumstances of the farmers they are trying to help. Farmers on marginal lands are poor, and do not have access to costly resources. Because of their poverty, they are not usually highly educated. The unemployment rate is high, and there are always a large number of people looking for jobs.
Good technology for such areas must be resource saving and easy to practice. Labor-saving technologies, which might be very welcome to exceptionally rich farmers in developing countries, will perhaps further deprive the farmers of the chance of being employed. Development of the following kinds of technology is recommended.
Plant Breeding
Farmers are always looking for seeds of better varieties. If we can offer such seeds, we do not need to make a big effort to disseminate them to farmers. The cost of new seeds is generally low enough for even poor farmers to be able to afford. As for the breeding objective, we should focus on stability of yields rather than maximum yields. In many cases, we should not focus only on the edible parts of the plant. Non-edible parts such as stems and leaves may also be very important as livestock feed, fuel and building materials.
Using Underutilized Resources
Some people assume that in developing countries, all the available resources are already being used to the full. This is not correct. How we use resources depends on the variety and number of our experiences, and on the knowledge we get through education. In developing countries, farmers may not move far from their own village, so they may not be exposed to a large pool of new ideas. Also, traditional knowledge often impedes farmers from getting and trying new ideas.
I can quote one example from my own experience. In the Sudan savanna south of the Sahara desert, farmers do not traditionally grow any crops during the dry season, from October to June. This causes severe food shortages during the dry season. When we checked the distribution of moisture in the soil profile, we found quite a lot of moisture still left unused deep in the soil during the dry season.
At the end of one rainy season, we tried planting some lines of a deep-rooted cowpea. It grew perfectly in the dry season, using residual moisture deep in the soil. After a few months, we harvested a yield comparable with that from a crop grown in the rainy season. This is a good example of how technology can find uses for available resources left unused.
Technology Which Follows an Ecological Approach
This kind of technology is usually resource saving. Intercropping, for example, is a popular farming system in tropical areas. This system is a very reasonable one from the ecological point of view. It makes efficient use of solar radiation, soil moisture and fertilizers. Pest populations are usually lower than in monocropping. Farmers are generally good ecologists, and are willing to try this kind of new technology. By studying traditional farming systems, we might find important scientific information . We can then try to improve the traditional system, and make it more efficient.
In view of the close relationship between economic development and technical development, I am afraid the gap between rich and poor will keep growing. We must take care not to get used to the wealth gap. We should continue to feel anger, sadness and shame that it exists.