Al Gore Of Science

Also published by American Chronicle in a slightly different form

dar-yap.JPG
Two faces: Left, Philippine Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and
ICRISAT Director General William Dar showing sorgo brochure

Being About William Dar &

‘Science With A Human Face’

In the developing world, agriculture is the most promising site of growth – since the Green Revolution, it has always been full of promises, promises, promises.

We need leaders in science – as well as politics – who do not merely promise but deliver. And we have an outstanding one, in the field of international agriculture: Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). ICRISAT is based in Andhra Pradesh, India; Dr Dar is from the Philippines; the match is made in heaven. Led by Dr Dar, Team ICRISAT, the name they call themselves, have given the world an outstanding crop for mitigating global warming: sweet sorghum, a variety of Sorghum bicolor (2007 February 4, ‘The Yankee Dawdle,’ americanchronicle.com).

To simplify, agriculture equals crops. Agriculture is the redeemer from heaven – but only if the crops by themselves multiply the number of people who reap their own golden harvests from their own sweat in the offices and in the fields.

Sweet sorghum is an outstanding example of such a crop, as it is a multiplier crop like no other – it multiplies the opportunities:

(1) It multiplies the planted fields. In science, they have what they call multi-location testing; in sorgo, we have what I call a multi-location crop that doesn’t need much more testing – sorghum grows well anywhere, including temperate countries (2006 March, Oklahoma State University, osu.okstate.edu).

(2) It multiplies the farmers. Have the farmers no capital for fertilizer or pesticide? There is a sorghum variety for him, and him, and him; they don’t have to apply fertilizer or pesticide. That is crucial, as fertilizer and pesticide comprise the major costs of cropping (fao.org).

(3) It multiplies the carbon gas guzzlers. All vegetation captures carbon dioxide from the air and via photosynthesis turns it into organic matter: stems, leaves, fruits, flowers. All crops clear the air; from what we’ve known of sorgo, planting sweet sorghum is the better farmer’s clean air act. With its corn-like wide and long leaves, sorgo is the best crop drinker of bad air and therefore the best mitigating crop for climate change.

(4) It multiplies the consumers. Sorgo has multiple uses: food (grains, syrup and jaggery from both stalk and grains), feed (from grains), fuel (for firewood, biofuel), forage (leaves, stalks), fertilizer (the whole plant) (‘Sweet Sorghum,’ icrisat.org). And the syrup is valued by the food industry for its color and taste; it is also high in iron (Texas A&M University, sorghum.tamu.edu).

(5) It multiplies the water. Since sweet sorghum grows with much less water than most crops, especially rice, (a) we don’t need expensive irrigation systems, and (b) we can have more uses of precious water.

Sorgo is the single crop that can theoretically be the silver bullet we can shoot to kill the vampire called global warming. That crop can be neither corn nor sugarcane because these are needed mostly for food and feed. If you take corn or sugarcane as your feedstock for producing ethanol, you are competing with the humans and animals for their sustenance, solving a problem and creating another.

And the processing of ethanol from sorgo is more environment-friendly than ethanol from corn (the US’ choice of biofuel crop), since sorgo goes straight to ethanol extraction, no messy necessary prior transformation from starch to sugar (icrisat.org): sorgo is all sugar.

Already, here are sweet sorghum initiatives worldwide: India has started producing ethanol from sweet sorghum (business-standard.com); the Philippines has initiated its own sorghum ethanol program according to Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap (bar.gov.ph); China is shifting from corn to cassava and sweet sorghum as its source of ethanol (ap-foodtechnology.com); Africa (Zambia) is ‘energizing itself’ with sugarcane and sweet sorghum as sustainable sources of power (gfse.at); and Texas is currently establishing farmer coops to produce every year 12 M gallons of ethanol from sweet sorghum (cleanhouston.org).

Outstanding. Sweet sorghum as the biofuel crop of choice has barged into the consciousness of the world largely because of the efforts of Team ICRISAT. Outstanding has always been the word to describe what Dr Dar has been doing at ICRISAT since he became Director General in 2000, transforming a non-performing asset of an international institute into what I have described as an outstanding performance in a major role (2007 April 9, ‘Discovery Manager: William Dar, Merlin of Ethanol,’ globalnation.inquirer.net).

For its 2006 overall achievements, ICRISAT has just been rated Outstanding by the CGIAR. ICRISAT is a member of the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). This 2007 award is for total excellence ‘with regards to outputs, impact, quality and relevance of research, institutional and financial health, and stakeholder perception.’ In other words, the award belongs to Team ICRISAT. The honor comes with a funding support of $2.4 M for 2007 from the World Bank (thehindubusinessline.com). I’m not surprised. Under Dr Dar, ICRISAT has won twice the most prestigious CGIAR trophy, the King Baudouin Award, in 2002 and 2004 (icrisat.org). ICRISAT also won the World Bank’s Development Marketplace Award in 2005 (thehindubusinessline.com).

That is all ‘science with a human face’ (icrisat.org).

The other day, June 22, the Philippine Regulation Commission (PRC) handed the 2007 award for Outstanding Professional of the Year in Agriculture to Dr. William D Dar. This is not an ordinary award, even as it is ‘the highest award bestowed by the Commission as recommended by his/her peers for having amply demonstrated professional competence of the highest degree and conducted himself/herself with integrity in the exercise of his/her profession,’ in the words of the PRC (from letter of invitation to Dr. Dar dated May 08). The awarding was held at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, CCP Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City.

Sorgo is the redeeming crop; Dr William Dar is the Al Gore of science. He is a manager equal to the best; sweet sorghum, his baby, is equal to the challenge of mitigating global warming.

Copyright 2007 June 24 by Frank A Hilario.
Researched for, organized-reorganized, formatted & hyperlinked via Microsoft Word 2003.

 

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