God I love this video. In part, it’s great to see a development organization investing in proper production values for a Boring Development initiative – though the 154 view count on YouTube suggests it may be just a bit too boring to do the trick.
Mostly, though, because the yellow rust resistant wheat story gets to the heart of what the Aid Enterprise should be about: leveraging the knowledge-intensive capabilities that really are in short supply in developing countries to generate interventions that show up right in the poorest people’s bottom line: their income.
But I also like it because it demystifies “biotech” in a development context. Because people have strong – and often negative – reactions to the idea that biotech is a key to development. The tendency is to immediately think of GM-crops. Suddenly, it’s “controversial” and you find yourself in the middle of an ideologically fraught debate.
But GM is a distraction. Often, the most valuable biotech in a development context is kinda low-tech.
The effort to identify and propagate naturally rust-resistant seed featured in this video is a perfect example: there’s nothing there that agricultural scientists weren’t doing in North America 75 years ago.
And the basic idea goes back to the neolithic revolution, really: it’s just that these guys are searching for better adapted varieties in a more systematic way than people 12,000 years ago were able to.
This capacity to seek out and propagate better, more productive seed is irreducibly boring. Even ICARDA’s excellent videographers working in a stunningly photogenic bit of Ethiopia can’t get more than 154 people to want to learn about it. But the absence of this basic, low-tech biotech capacity is one of the most important reasons very poor farmers in very poor countries stay very poor.
Thing is: very poor farmers are 70% of the very poor people in the world today. So this is not a subject we can allow ourselves to be bored by.