4: RICE WARS

 

Dr Gaoussou Traore (left) and Dr Erika Styger (right).

The work of Erika’s institute, based at Cornell University, isn’t universally liked, having been dubbed ‘nonsense’, with ‘no empirical or theoretical basis’, its findings ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘miraculous’ (not a compliment). In what’s becoming a common thread on my journey, it appears those people who question the status quo can expect rough treatment from the incumbents.

The Green Revolution’s Norman Borlaug is often given the accolade of being the first person in history to save a billion lives, and is one of only six people in history to receive not only the Nobel Peace Prize, but also the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. He’s been described as ‘the greatest human being you’ve probably never heard of.’ He’s also been accused of creating ‘rural impoverishment, increased debt [and] social inequality’. ‘Has there ever been a person in human history whose legacy has pivoted so precariously on the fulcrum between good and bad?’ asked The Guardian.

 

Data from NASA’s GRACE satellites shows that countries containing half the world’s people are over- pumping their aquifers, meaning the world is facing a water- based food bubble. As NASA’s Alexandra Richey asks, ‘What happens when a highly stressed aquifer is located in a region with socio-economic or political tensions that can’t supplement declining water supplies fast enough?’ – which is an academic’s way of saying, ‘You think tensions are high in the Middle East now? You wait until the water runs out.’

Sudhir Paswan standing in fields side by side in the village of Chitto, Jharkhand. On the left: traditional subsistence farming. On the right: an ‘SRI’ field – no fertiliser, no irrigation, no pesticides. ‘Green revolution’ yields are available to small farmers without the need for expensive inputs and scale of industrial farming.

If I go to a rice conference and tell them we’re getting 14.3 tonnes a hectare, they don’t believe it, they say I am making fake data,’ says Sudhir.

 

Father Henri de Laulanié was a Jesuit missionary based near the city of Antsirabe, working with farmers to improve their agricultural systems and therefore paying particular attention to the nation’s staple crop of rice. He created a rural training centre and it was here that an accidental discovery set him on the path to notoriety…

‘My goodness!’ says Gaoussou. ‘Here?’

 

‘If you dig one foot down you will find hard rock,’ Sudhir tells us, a broad grin on his face.

 

Erika bends down to examine the earth. ‘This is really bad soil. You would never think of growing in soil like this. Never! Why did you do it?’ she asks.

 

‘To see if we could,’ replies Sudhir. ‘To do the impossible.’