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Open letter to Robert B. Zoellick, President, World Bank

Dear Sir,

Recently there has been considerable media attention to the report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The media accounts often indicate the World Bank initiated and funded the project and that it was supported by a number of prestigious international organizations such as the UN, FAO and UNESCO as well as the World Bank. Having carefully gone through the posted documentation, I and many others have found the documents to be troubling and likely over the long term to worsen the present global food crisis. What I have not seen is any statement of support or opposition from the World Bank or other organizations. From the media coverage, one might rightly or wrongly, conclude that the IAASTD's policy prescriptions will become the framework for future actions of the listed organizations. Please tell me that I am wrong (and I apologize in advance for even writing) that you have made your views publicly known on these matters and that I have somehow failed to find them. To many of us with experience in international agriculture, the report would seem to be an embarrassment and silence would not lessen the embarrassment for any organization that the media identifies with the final report.

Even more troubling would be a failure to comment on the attack paragraph against World Bank's World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development that I found on IAASTD's website -
http://www.agassessment-watch.org         http://www.agassessment-watch.org
Not only is the IAASTD ungraciously biting the hand that fed them- being a member of some of these groups requires totally lacking a sense of shame - but they are trashing a superb and very useful piece of work and the many outstanding individuals who contributed to it. I can not imagine an organization such as yours breaking faith with those who have so long labored in research and in the field to help feed the less privileged and then contributed their experience to a document that seeks to provide understanding for continuing the work of increasing and improving world food production. Once again, please, and I am pleading, tell me that I am wrong and that a defense was made and it is my fault for not having seen it.

I am sure that you have seen the offending IAASTD paragraph but let me copy it here:

The World Bank's World Development Report 2008 - Focus on agriculture"On October 19th the World Bank officially released the final version of its "World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development" with a focus on agriculture. In clear contrast to the present drafts of the IAASTD this report promotes top-down approaches, increased world trade in agricultural goods and "modernisiation" of agriculture at the expense of small and subsistence farmers. The present draft
contains a highly ideological praise of genetic engineering (Chapter 7 Innovating through science and technology). At this point the World Bank seems deeply concerned about a quite different view to be presented in a report, which has higher credibility and is based upon more inclusiveness and scientific evidence. The final text of the WDR and some background is available on the http://tinyurl.com/2298md>http://tinyurl.com/2298md World Banks http://tinyurl.com/2298md>http://tinyurl.com/2298md website

Allow me to add my comments to the paragraph and the report:

  1. They are right that the World Bank should be "deeply concerned" about their report but for reasons different than those that they assume. As a start, the World Bank needs to issue a repudiation of the above statement with a defense of their fine document and of the many authentic experts who contributed to it. Please note the reference to "highly ideological praise of genetic engineering" and to their own "higher credibility ... based upon more inclusiveness and scientific evidence." This is insulting to say the least as if the World Development Report 2008 was not based on scientific evidence and somehow the real non-ideological experts (read the NGOs) were somehow systematically excluded and that the report lacks scientific merit. Should the Bank fail to respond to these allegations, in my judgment the World Bank's credibility will be at stake as well as their failure to defend the World Development Report 2008's authors. Please tell me that I am wrong.
  2. There needs to be more transparency by those who most vociferously demand it of others. The WDR was based upon the work of agricultural scientists of proven capability and international reputation for their work. Who are for example the over 300 (or nearly 400 as often stated) scientists who participated? What are their credentials? How many of them have signed onto the draft that is now being widely touted and how many have dropped out in disgust? I went through the various lists of directors, participants etc. and I saw a number of names of NGO activists who are known for their ideological advocacy and not their agricultural expertise. I could name names and advocacy groups but it is best at this time not to do so. From the media reports, one might surmise that the only ones who withdrew or dissented from the report were non-scientist representatives of multinational biotech corporations who left in a childish snit because they could not get their way. I have personally heard from scientists who were participants but refused to sign the document. Since the over 300 (or nearly 400 as often stated) scientists were along with the organizations allegedly supporting it, were being used to legitimize the resulting document, the public needs to know how many scientists refused to sign and what is their expertise and experience compared to those who signed. For example, does being an NGO activist in Europe or North America qualify one as an "expert"? The public needs to know who did not sign and why they failed to do so. If there was a difference of opinion, we need both or all sides and not just that of the proponents.
  3. Many of us involved in international agriculture would certainly be interested in learning what practical and policy actions the World Bank and other institutions will be taking as a result of this report. Are committees being established to assess and evaluate the IAASTD report and its implication for World Bank and other organizations policies. Is there to be reports issued by study groups providing guidelines for implementing the policy recommendations of IAASTD or for rejecting them? If such groups exist, is there a time frame for their response? How will those who are involved in international agriculture know how it will affect their work? After all, the IAASTD boosters are proclaiming the revolutionary character of their recommendations which essentially advocate the dismantling of what they call "industrial agriculture" and undoing much of what the World Bank has been doing over the last half century. Some of us may consider the report more reactionary than revolutionary but it does represent a substantial change in policy and programs. It is not too much of a stretch to conclude that the IAASTD report essentially holds the World Bank and others who have promoted "unsustainable industrial agriculture" as being responsible for the current food crisis. Since the IAASTD now claims sponsorship by a vast array of international organizations, some of whom are very important in agriculture, we need to know how involved they were in developing the final report and have they made any commitments on implementing its recommendations. Are the news accounts of implied endorsement by these organizations including the World Bank correct? If not, the media does need to be corrected.

I have many more questions but it is best that I stop here for now. First and foremost, please let me know if I am mistaken in not seeing an appropriate response by the World Bank. I will apologize publicly and profusely. Should you or a member of your staff be able to respond to my inquiry, please let me know if you wish your response to be confidential. I will be posting the "open letter" and will post any reply unless requested not to do so. In that case, I will post that I received a confidential reply.

Sincerely yours

Thomas R. DeGregori
Professor of Economics

Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Department of Economics
204 McElhinney Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5019
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Email trdegreg@uh.edu
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg