It had all the earmarks of another one of those dreary seminars for which this capital city is justly famed: stacks of scholarly papers at the door, a program studded with convoluted panel discussion themes, and attendees restless for lunch.
And so it was that World Bank staff members converged on the meeting room of a suburban hotel yesterday, likely primed for another one of those mind-deadening excursions into theory that seem far from the reality of underdevelopment and desperation in the Third World.
Well, so much for the symbols.
By the time Danny Tawczynski finished telling the magic story of his paper potato bags and by the time apple grower Bill Rose had gently pointed out ways to change the world, it was clear something different was going on at a local institution that, rightfully or not, is considered staid and predictable.
Farmers, in an unusual turn of the screw, were taking part in an experts' seminar on farming techniques, not only as invited guests but right up front as featured speakers. Tawczynski and Rose, it can be reported, were eloquent.
The new word at the World Bank, by order of President Barber B. Conable Jr., the former New York congressman, is that unless the environmental consequences of any given project are weighed, development loans won't be made.
Which explains in part why the bank turned for advice yesterday to a couple of Massachusetts farmers, both highly successful practitioners of a technique known as integrated pest management (IPM). Simply put, IPM means growing farm crops with fewer chemical pesticides and more natural pest controls.
As part of the Conable doctrine, the bank is entering a period of change that could mean, for example, that Third World agricultural development funding will be linked increasingly to diminished use of pesticides for environmental, public health and economic reasons. Thus the interest in IPM.
Along with the two farmers came other officials and farming specialists from Massachusetts, who explained in detail how a state-promoted IPM program has brought a major decrease in pesticide use there.
Tawczynski told how, by careful monitoring for pests and by rotating his plantings, he had virtually eliminated the use of pesticides on his extensive crops of sweet corn and potatoes, both of which are susceptible to heavy bug infestations.
"When the IPM program became available, the University of Massachusetts taught me what the real world was. Their people taught me that some bugs are my friends . . . . And now IPM has become a valuable tool for marketing," he said.
Whereupon Tawczynski unfurled a large paper potato bag, imprinted on one side with a notice that his spuds were grown in an IPM program "with little or no pesticides." They used to be grown with a little; today they're grown with almost none.
"This turned our operation around," he said. "This may be like carrying coals to Newcastle, but people drive all the way from Long Island to buy our potatoes. The notice on the back of the bag is why they're doing it. A growing number of people are concerned about what they are eating."
Tawczynski's farm, it should be noted, is near Great Barrington, Mass., a pretty good haul from Long Island.
Rose, who grows apples at Phillipston, Mass., told a similar story. With IPM techniques, he has reduced chemical sprays by 60 percent "and maintained the quality of the apple." A stack of brochures depicting lush-looking Rose apples provided visual verification.
"This would not have happened without support from the technical people, whether they are in the public or private sector," he said. "We know that by staying with this and by knowing the pests, we are able to do it."
Their success stories are but a small part of what is happening in their state, where the Dukakis administration has embarked on a full-court press to reduce farmers' use of toxic chemicals. It is driven in part by environmental concerns, in part by a desire to cut farmers' operating costs and to keep agriculture solvent in Massachusetts.
According to August Schumacher Jr., who left the World Bank in 1985 to become Dukakis' commissioner of food and agriculture, the IPM program has led to dramatic changes in Massachusetts. Pesticide usage is down considerably and the state is on track toward its goal of cutting use of the most toxic chemicals by half by 1995.
Danny Tawczynski provided an epilogue. "The single biggest benefit of IPM is reeducational," he said. "We're all brought up believing we have to spray. We should be encouraged to use other methods."
Expert heads in the audience nodded in agreement. Most notably, perhaps, no one really wanted to break for lunch. It was that good.