Montague Yudelman, who grew up on a farm in South Africa and became a leading specialist in agricultural development at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank, died Jan. 22 after choking on food at a Washington restaurant. He was 90.
His son John Yudelman confirmed the death.
From 1972 until his retirement in 1984, Dr. Yudelman was the World Bank’s director of agriculture and rural development. He worked under bank president Robert McNamara to help alleviate hunger and poverty in developing countries through new agricultural strategies.
Foremost, they de-emphasized loans to larger-scale commercial agricultural projects in favor of a rural development approach with a focus on poor small farmers.
Dr. Yudelman oversaw the bank’s drastic increase in loans to small farmers worldwide. In 1978 alone, the amount was $3.3 billion, reportedly four times the amount from just a few years earlier.
“We are finding out in reality that food production requires more and more capital and that low-cost means of agricultural production are very difficult to find,” he said at the time. The price tag for long-range irrigation planning exceeded $100 billion alone, he added.
The core of his mission was increasing food security, a term used to describe a consistency in food access and distribution. That, in turn, can lead to other forms of development. His efforts worked most successfully in India and Southeast Asia because of irrigation infrastructure, his son said.
Montague Yudelman was born in Johannesburg and served in the South African air force during World War II. He then came to the United States working as a carpenter’s mate on a cargo ship.
At the University of California at Berkeley, he received a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and, in 1952, a doctorate in agricultural economics. He became a U.S. citizen in 1963.
Earlier he held administrative, research and teaching positions at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, Harvard University and the University of Michigan.
His 1964 book, “Africans on the Land,” presented ideas for overcoming the problems of agricultural development in Southern, Central and East Africa. “One gathers,” a New York Times reviewer wrote, “it is time to call off the safaris and send out tractor and fertilizer salesmen.”
After leaving the World Bank, Dr. Yudelman was a distinguished fellow at the World Resources Institute, an environmental, energy and natural resources policy center in Washington. He was a District resident.
His first marriage, to Cynthia Polakow, ended in divorce. His second wife, Sally Watters, whom he married in 1968, died in 2008.
Survivors include three children from his first marriage, John Yudelman of Toronto, Jane Yudelman of Boston and Paul Yudelman of Fort Myers, Fla.; two stepsons, Christian Miller of Berkeley, Calif., and Ethan Miller of Pelham, N.Y.; and nine grandchildren.