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Organization Helps Fertilize Fields

December 6, 1999

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (AP) _ It sprouted up 25 years ago during a global food crisis. Since then, the International Fertilizer Development Center in northwest Alabama has become a worldwide presence in agriculture, helping farmers growing rice in Bangladesh, sweet potatoes in Peru and millet in Niger produce bigger yields and more profitable farms.

In 1974, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger promised at a world food conference to create a center to ensure that fertilizer would not be a constraint to food production, said Jorge Polo, director of IFDC’s outreach division.

The food shortage stemmed from rising oil prices during the petroleum crisis of the 1970s, Polo said.

``Petroleum was used in the production of many of the fertilizers that were in use at that time. When oil prices went up, many of the poorer countries of the world didn’t have enough money to buy the fertilizer they needed to grow food to feed their people,″ he said in a recent interview.

The solution was IFDC, and it helped put Muscle Shoals on the agricultural map.

``The world knows where Muscle Shoals is because of IFDC,″ Polo said.

Amit Roy, IFDC’s president and chief executive officer, said the company has trained more than 7,000 people from 150 countries at their headquarters and 200,000 to 300,000 people overall.

``And most of the people we have had contact with have passed what they learned from us on to many more people,″ Roy said.

He said IFDC is the only non-profit international organization in the world that works to improve fertilizers. It receives grants from government and private agencies and also gets money from contracts with foreign governments for the work it does.

The center has about 100 employees at its Muscle Shoals facility and about 300 employees worldwide.

Azad V. Shanwal, head of the department of soil science at Haryana Agriculture University in Hisar, India, said researchers in foreign countries look to IFDC when they want to know something about fertilizer.

``IFDC has had a very good reputation on the international level,″ Shanwal said. ``It provides very good training that is beneficial to research university professors, to the farmers and to the business community, too.″

Shanwal and Dharam S. Dabas, an associate professor at Haryana University, completed a six-week program at IFDC in October. They learned how to use computer-generated models to produce yield forecasts for crops, which Shanwal says will help university researchers and extension agents in India teach farmers how to make their farms more profitable.

IFDC researchers also help farmers in developing nations form marketing cooperatives for their crops.

``After we had been in business a few years, we realized that we could give farmers in the countries that were hungry the best fertilizer available, but if they cannot grow food and sell it, they are not going to use it,″ Polo said.

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