2006 Borlaug Dialogue

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2006 Borlaug Dialogue took place October 18-20, 2006 in Des Moines, Iowa, marking the 20th anniversary of the World Food Prize. The event, which was attended by over 700 people, was themed: "The Green Revolution Redux: Can We Replicate the Single Greatest Period of Food Production in All Human History?" Prior to 2006, the annual event was known as "The World Food Prize International Symposium." In 2006, it was renamed the "Dr. Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium."[1]

Speakers included:[2]

Opening Ceremony

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of The World Food Prize Foundation spoke briefly, giving an overview of the upcoming events and announcing that the event would be renamed in honor of Norman Borlaug.[3][4]

Session One: Looking Back, Looking Forward

October 19, 2006 - 8:15 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.[3]

Gordon Conway

Conway began the session with a recap of Green Revolution history. In his talk, he said:[5]

"Cereal prices came down. It meant that the poor, both the rural and the orphan poor, benefited from this reduction in price. But there were limitations. The Green Revolution tended to focus on ideal environments. There was, to begin with, a heavy reliance on synthetic pesticides. Not all the poor benefited, and it passed Africa by...
"And today we see the consequences of not having a Green Revolution that was totally successful – eight hundred million people in the world chronically undernourished, over 200 million of those in Africa; 180 million children severely underweight for their age; 400 million women who are anemic, which means they are at risk when they give birth. And you can see the areas of global food deprivation, most of Africa...
"Part of the reason for this is the low level of cereal yields in Africa. You look at China, up four to five tons on average, South Asia over two tons, and Sub-Sahara in Africa is absolutely flat at one ton per hectare."

Conway continued, discussing the slowing of growth in agricultural development in India and levels of world grain stocks. Then he said:

"There’s an intersection between hunger, poverty and economic growth. And again I’m going to say something that most of you know, but it needs to be said. Economic growth for most of Sub-Sahara in Africa is going to depend on agricultural growth. (And go back, sorry.) And that agricultural growth in turns depends on renewal environment and resources. So the economic growth in Africa is dependent on sustainable agriculture."

With that, Conway called for a Doubly Green Revolution, also the name of his book, which he defined as "something like the Green Revolution but more sustainable in the sense of being equitable and environmentally friendly. It’s essentially the same as M. S. Swaminathan has talked about in terms of the Evergreen Revolution."

He specified how to achieve this as follows:

"To do this, we need appropriate technology. So basically there are four kinds of technology we need to invest in. Traditional technologies, intermediate technologies, conventional technologies, and advance technologies. I’m just going to give some examples of these, using World Food Prize Laureates to illustrate what I mean.
"Integrated Pest Management – Hans is here in the room. Parasite of the cassava mealybug, 1995. Integrated Nutrient Management, Pedro Sanchez. Bringing together organic and inorganic material to produce high yields through green manures, reduced tillage, rotations and intercropping. A good example of one of these is in Western Kenya, the MBILI program where they’re growing two rows of maize with two rows of legumes and getting five tons of maize and a ton or more of legumes at the same time.
"And most important intermediate technologies that really work, traditionally somebody gets the water up by pulling a bucket up. What we now have are treadle pumps that work extremely well. They’re virtually foolproof, the treadle pumps that are on the market today. They’re cheap, they’re foolproof, they don’t break down. All you need to do, as he’s doing on the right, is to change the rubber washer. Great revolution.
"But the problem with many of those intermediate technologies is that they’re labor intensive, they often require high levels of skills, and they’re not necessarily available. So that’s why we really have conventional technologies, and they’ve delivered a great deal in recent years...
"And then there are the advanced platform technologies. ICT, biotechnology, nanotechnology and new materials. I could lecture on about all of those. What is important to understand is they’re now beginning to come together. We’re now beginning to get products that are fusions of ICT, nanotech and biotech.
"But it’s just the biotech I just want to dwell on for a moment. The point of biotechnology is that you can build sustainable agriculture into the sea. And this is what so many of you agronomists and plant breeders have known for years. If you can build what you want into the sea, then it has a dramatic effect. Then farmers will buy it and they will plant it.
"Two, three kinds of biotechnology – tissue culture, marker and its selection, and genetic engineering. Monty Jones, who got the prize for the New Rice for Africa, a cross between the Asian rice and the African rice, combining the best features of both, will produce three tons per hectare with very little fertilizer in quite poor conditions. And you can see it now growing all over Africa...
"Marker and its selection, the key to getting drought resistance, which I’ll talk about later, and genetic engineering. I don’t want to say much about genetic engineering except two things. First of all, note that the majority of genetically engineered crops are now in the developing countries... And we’re seeing a quiet biotechnology revolution in Africa...
"Equity in access is crucial to all of this. Having the technologies is one thing; making sure that people have access is another. One answer is the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which many of you heard about yesterday, an African institution to get technologies into Africa. But the big issue is about getting fertilizers and seed to farmers – not having fertilizers sitting in great big bags there but getting them out to farmers..."

Conway then spoke about the climate crisis, saying "We need drought-tolerate varieties and breeds, resilient cropping and farming systems, and drought-resilient livelihoods. And of course we need better water management. That’s the big challenge for the next 50 years."

M.S. Swaminathan

Conway was followed by M.S. Swaminathan. He first recapped the history of the Green Revolution in India and then spoke about how he thought an Evergreen Revolution, or a Doubly Green Revolution, could be achieved. He favors what he calls "green agriculture," saying:[6]

"Green agriculture, which is now becoming very popular in China, the difference between organic farming and green agriculture is, in this case you use integrated pest management, integrated nutrient supply, scientific water management – all methods by which the production potential of the soil is not reduced. And also you can use any variety, whether it is molecular breeding or Mendelian breeding, whichever is most appropriate. Because in organic farming, many of you know, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement precludes the use of any genetically modified crop in the organic farming. It’s completely out of bounds. But in green agriculture, you select the best variety, use the best possible techniques of environmentally benign techniques like IPM, INS and so on."

He named what he feels are threats to an Evergreen Revolution: invasive species, abiotic stresses, biotic stresses, market factors (unfair trade), climate change, and constraints in the exchange of genetic resources. He expanded on the latter, saying that intellectual property rights and diminishing support for public research are problems.

He then said:

"Now, how do we overcome this problem? This is where I think we have to have what I call anticipator research. I think there are two terms now in research which are very important. Anticipator research, which will be largely laboratory-based, high-tech research, and participator research, with farmers in the field level. They both are important – farmer participator research as well as scientific anticipator research.
"Give you one example. We had tsunami in Asia, 26 of December 2004. One thing local communities observed is that where there was very heavy mangrove plantations, or casuarina, or some other what they call bioshields, then the effect of tsunami was somewhat reduced because it acted as a speed breaker – it acted as a speed breaker. Now people are taking interest in replanting mangroves and are reclaiming the old mangrove areas. But what bio-technologists in my laboratory have done is to map the mangrove genome, identify the genes responsible for seawater tolerance, and then transfer it to rice, to the mustard and many other crops. This particular super-oxide dismutase gene, very powerful in terms of conferring resistance to salinity tolerance."

He then said, "And so the way ahead, in my view, is our ability to achieve a paradigm shift from a Green to an Evergreen Revolution and our ability to face the challenges of global warming and sea level raise will depend upon our ability to harmonize organic farming and the new genetics."

Ismail Serageldin

Ismail Serageldin spoke next. He said, in part:

"Food security and production is simply a short statement. We know that production is a necessary but not sufficient condition for food security. But that doesn’t mean, therefore, that it’s unimportant. When people say Amartya Sen showed that the distribution was important, Amartya Sen never said that production was not important, and in fact he’d be the first to say that, with less production we have higher prices and less access. So that is extremely important.
"And we need to focus on the small holder farmer. So to respond to the production challenge, we have to increase the area under cultivation or increase the yields. And for a variety of reasons, we have very limited choices except to increase the yields; and to do so, we would need to increase the biological yields, improve the nutrient content, intensify agriculture, and manage natural resources sustainably. And here the role of science comes in, from the Green Revolution to the Doubly Green Revolution or the Evergreen Revolution. What they’re talking about, of course, is more diversified genetic material, less reliance on chemicals, more reliance on integrated pest management and integrated soil water and nutrient management."

He then called on the audience to always think "pro-poor, pro-women and pro-environment," and to him, that meant embracing GMOs. He said:

"And that means that we must harness the genetic imperative and get over some hang-ups which generally have no scientific foundation. But regretfully, many of the NGOs who are now attacking the new biology have no scientific foundation for these attacks. It is, in fact, a way of combining traditional wisdom and modern science; and of course different regions will need to address different problems, but all will require the best of science – but the best of science focused on the problems of the poor."

Serageldin then moved into the body of his speech: the Ten Commandments for Global Agriculture

  • 1. Reform policies and markets.
  • 2. Focus on small holder farmers.
  • 3. Husband natural resources.
  • 4. Raise agricultural productivity.
  • 5. Improve nutritional content. (i.e. fortification via genetic engineering, as in Golden Rice)
  • 6. Address short-term vulnerability.
  • 7. Not to forget the gender dimension and to empower women.
  • 8. Reach out to the ultra-poor.
  • 9. Support science.
  • 10. Translate rhetoric into action.

In his third commandment, he called for increased yields, because higher yields will allow farmers to produce enough food to feed the world on less land. He said:

"And something that the environmental people do not remind themselves enough of, is that were it not for the Green Revolution, the first Green Revolution, we would have had to bring under cultivation another 300 million hectares of land, which is more than the total land under cultivation in Canada, U.S. and Brazil combined. An enormous transformation would have taken place were it not for the Green Revolution."

He addressed water, saying "We need to expand our water use, recycle, reuse. Wastewater reuse is increasingly becoming a possibility." He also called for reduced pesticide use.

In his fourth point, he said:

"We need to raise agricultural productive, not just production, because productivity would be the key to allow the small holder farmer to make some means of earning income. And to do this, therefore, their productivity must rise faster than the price declines to generate surpluses for them... And therefore future challenges mean less water, less land, less labor, less chemicals to produce more food for an increasing population that will at least have two billion more people on the planet.
"Transgenic crops and biotechnology must be harnessed. The new technologies must be harnessed. And as was pointed out, increasingly developing countries present a larger percentage of the total amount under cultivation."

While discussing GMOs, he advocated for the creation of C4 Rice.

Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman

Roger Thurow, a Senior Writer at The Wall Street Journal and Scott Kilman gave a joint presentation titled "From Food Production to Hunger Reduction: In Search of the Missing Link," in which Thurow presented and Kilman answered questions. In his talk, Thurow said:

"We stand here as observers of the original Green Revolution and the Green Revolution that is yet to come. With our reporting and writing, as was said, we can cast a spotlight on you all. We amplify your accomplishments, your ambitions and your dreams, and also your frustrations and disappointments. Most crucial, we can extend your reach to form the broad constituency that will be necessary to achieve a second Green Revolution. As we look back, we can stir outrage that the Green Revolution wasn’t carried over to Africa and it slowed down in other parts of the world.
"How dare we have brought hunger with us into the 21st century. You showed the world, you showed all of us, the way to boost food production and end hunger. But the world didn’t follow through. We got busy and distracted with other things, by the pursuit of other holy grails. The same generation that has given us the Internet, an amazing communications technology and capability, has failed to feed all of its people. How preposterous that the roll call of the hungry is rising again at the same time that food production is greater than ever before.

As we look forward, we can proclaim the promise and the hope of the coming second Green Revolution."

Thurow added, "Unlike the daunting challenges that face us on other fronts – eliminating AIDS, finding a vaccine for malaria, curing cancer – when it comes to boosting agriculture production, the scientific breakthroughs have already been achieved. We know what to do and how to do it. Now we only need the will, both popular and political, and the moral imperative to do it. So here is our role. We and other journalists can help create this constituency by uniting the momentum that we now see building behind a second Green Revolution."

Thurow then spoke about the 2003 famine in Ethiopia. According to him, fertilizer and hybrid seeds to produce bumper crops are not enough. Markets must not fail farmers, U.S. food aid should not undercut the ability of farmers to sell their crops, and farmers should have access to irrigation.

Session Two: Agricultural and International Development

Keynote Luncheon: Josette Sheeran

Session Three: Public and Private Sector Partnerships

Rajiv Shah

Rajiv Shah used his presentation to introduce the Gates Foundation and its new efforts on Global Agriculture.[7] He began with some background about the foundation. To date, the Foundation had spent about $11 billion. He said, "we do try to focus on things that take a longer period of time and involve a higher level of risk." He went on, saying:

"I would say the second big experience has been that of the critical role of partnerships. Secretary Sheeran spoke about partnerships and public/private partnerships. We’ve certainly been involved in a number of them. But it is certainly clear to us as a grant-making foundation with no operating capacity and very limited expertise and staff outside of Seattle, Washington, that we need to work through partnerships to be effective. And one of the things that we have tried to do is focus most of our initiatives and most of our major programs around a handful of small, focus partnerships.
"The third has been an observation about how we’ve learned about our own giving and the effectiveness of our giving and the effectiveness of our strategies. And it has been one that really is about learning through doing. We try to do as much research and homework as we possibly can prior to making investments. But we do find that it isn’t until you actually empower your partners to go out and try to create change that you can learn about what are the core constraints, both on a scientific and technological side and also in countries in terms of creating access to the types of technologies that we invest in the development of."

Then Shah spoke specifically about agriculture. The foundation had started looking into agriculture about a year before.He said:

"We looked at the history, the tremendous history, that has been led by Dr. Borlaug and Gordon Conway and so many of the other folks here today, in order to try and learn some lessons about what’s worked and what hasn’t in the past. One lesson we learned was around science and technology and the power of science and technology to be the tip of the arrow in terms of creating change.
"I think the other part of that lesson has also been that the tip alone is not going to be sufficient to create change. And one of the things we’ve really tried to think hard about is – how do you do all the things along the full-value chain in order to make sure that farmers have access to markets, that policy environments are appropriate and conducive to growth and poverty reduction."

Shah described the Gates Foundation strategy as one that focuses on four primary initiatives:

  • Data, policy and advocacy
  • Market access
  • Input utilization and "allowing farmers to have access to locally adapted inputs"
  • "The power of science and technology to improve the types of technologies that farmers need to be effective to increase productivity, to increase yields, and to reduce their exposure to risk"

He went on, noting that the foundation is prioritizing Sub-Saharan Africa in its global agriculture work "although we will over time expand to make investments in other parts of the world."

Shah then spoke briefly about the Promoting Access to Markets initiatives, outlining four areas of their strategy:

  • "Both demand and supply side strategies are going to be necessary to help large numbers of smallholder farmers access improved markets"
  • "Farmers need access to relevant information and local exchanges. We’ve all seen the SMS text messaging that gives you farm pricing data and gives you market pricing data in certain environments, and certainly there’s a real role for technology, and the trend for improved access to information technology can be leveraged in a significant way."
  • "Linking smallholder farmers to different types of markets" for example, school lunch programs, and linking farmers "to international markets through fair trade initiatives and through labeling and processing initiatives."
  • "There are probably significant differences across contexts. So as we’re looking at making grants in this area, we’re trying to understand much more specifically, what are the strategies that might work in very specific parts of Africa or very specific parts of South Asia and not expecting that they will work everywhere."

Shah then transitioned into describing the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which was brand new at the time:

"Tthat’s an initiative that focuses on trying to develop and improve the utilization of new input technologies. And right now we’re starting with the Seed Systems initiative, so we’ll be funding through that initiative, and I’ll talk about this in a little more detail. Crop breeding activities at national research centers – we’ll be funding some breeding activities at the CG centers as they pertain to African crop improvement.
"But importantly, we’re not stopping with investments in research and development. I think one of our early observations is that we really do have to learn much more about, and invest very deeply in, the development of effective distribution channels to reach smallholder farmers in often very difficult to reach and sometimes very remote areas. So we’re making investments in seed companies and training agro-dealers to create a private sector system for seed distribution. And we are exploring, although we have not identified direct investments, we’re exploring strategies for supporting public sector distribution through governments and through partnerships.
"This program is called PASS, the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems, and it really does include these components. The first is the breeding component. We hope to help fund the development of a hundred improved crop varieties in five years. We’ll have a component that funds training efforts, since it’s so critically important that Africa has the core human resource capacity to continue to develop improved scientific and technological products. And we’ll be funding mostly African-based training programs that will train 50 PhD students and 170 master’s degree students over the course of the next five to seven years, as well.
"I mentioned we’ll be investing in improved seed production and distribution systems. In all honesty, while we have a little more progress in this area in terms of investing in the private sector side of the seed distribution, the seed companies and the agro-dealer training initiatives, we’re still exploring exactly how we’ll make the investments on the public sector side.

And then finally we’ll invest in policy change and policy development and monitoring and evaluating impact. On that last point, we hope to launch a household survey, basically, that will study specific markets that we call “barometer countries.” We hope over time this initiative will start in 12 to 14 countries and then expand beyond that to ultimately cover a significant portion of Sub-Saharan Africa.

"So the initiative right now is very focused on seed systems. We recognize that that’s one part of what’s necessary, and so we hope over the course of the next several years to work with Rockefeller and with other partners to launch other significant initiatives in improving soil fertility and access to fertilizers and irrigation strategies, and micro-irrigation strategies in particular, and in efforts to link farmers to markets in a more sustained and structured way. So that this initiative over time is something that includes a broad range of integrated strategies as opposed to just being about seeds.
"The other thing I would just say is I think we recognize – and this is relevant to something Roger Thurow said earlier today, that the advocacy and policy environment is absolutely critical. And so, while we don’t fully understand what the right strategies are in terms of policy strategies, we do recognize that we need to get engaged. We need to get significant political leadership engaged in this initiative. And over time we will need significant public investment from African governments, from other major public donors – USAID, DFID, and from the World Bank and other development bank organizations that play a critical role in shaping how public expenditures happen on the continent."

Breakfast Keynote: Bob Gates

Session Four: Future Challenges in Food Production

October 20, 2006 – 9:00 – 11:50 a.m.[3]

Robert Watson, then the Chief Scientist and Director, Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development (ESSD) at the World Bank and Co-Chair of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, spoke about the IAASTD, describing the goals of the report.

Laureate Luncheon: Silvio Crestana

Session Five: 2006 Laureates

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. 2006 Borlaug Dialogue, Accessed March 30, 2012.
  2. 2006 Speakers and Transcripts, Accessed March 30, 2012.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 2006 Transcripts by Agenda, Accessed March 30, 2012.
  4. Speech by Kenneth Quinn, October 19, 2006 - 8:00 - 8:15 a.m.
  5. Gordon Conway speech, October 19, 2006 - 8:15 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
  6. M.S. Swaminathan Speech, 2006 Norman E. Borlaug/World Food Prize International Symposium, October 19, 2006, Des Moines, Iowa.
  7. Rajiv Shah, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: An Emerging Approach to Agricultural Development," 2006 Borlaug Dialogues, October 19, 2006, 2pm-3pm, Des Moines, Iowa.

External Resources

External Articles