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Summary of Career History

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1972 - 1979

Collecting butterflies - Balutota Pass, Sri Lanka in 1976


I returned to England. I was then re-appointed to the new Overseas Civil Service, and went as Director of Planning for three years in the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. In this post, my subjects also included mining, but only at the stage of recommending exploratory licences. I was responsible for the Ministry's capital budget, implementation programme, preparation of project documents for the World Bank and other donors, agro-economic surveys, marketing economics.

Malawi at that time had a well-developed agricultural economy. There were four major World Bank Smallholder Area Development Projects, the Lilongwe Land Development project being the best known. Apart from its own maize requirements, it had an efficient tea industry, produced a large range of tobacco types with a sophisticated tobacco auction system, a very large sugar output, groundnuts and a developing cotton industry. Other crops included rice, cocoa, coffee, cashew nuts, tung oil. Hence my understanding of crop micro-economics was considerably extended.

It was an orderly and beautiful country at that time. Hastings Banda, the President, was dictatorial, and this caused problems, once his British Cabinet Secretary retired, because he then became exposed to uncontradicted rumours. He had spent much of his life as a medical general practitioner in Britain, and was an admirer of Churchill. He had an intense dislike of some of the left-wing Malawi politicians, and consequently fell out with the foreign media who supported them. He had a bad press, but did far more for Malawi by way of building its infrastructure and maintaining orderly standards, than most of his neighbours.

Sri Lanka

Paddy Fields near Ratnapura -  June 1976 After leaving Malawi, I went in 1975 to Sri Lanka on a three-year Colombo Plan assignment to assist the preparation of aid projects, which hitherto had taken the form of a single A4 sheet. At that time, order had recently been restored after a Maoist rebellion, and it was possible to visit every district in detail. The country can grow almost every known commodity, and is a paradise for an agricultural economist, as also for a botanist.

There is an ancient, complex and highly developed rice industry, one of the world's largest tea industries, numerous rubber estates, coconuts everywhere, large sugar estates, cocoa, coffee and cashewnuts, almost every spice and essential oil, and numerous fruit and horticultural crops.

There is a large livestock industry, mainly water buffaloes and dairy cattle, but also smaller stock, sheep, goats, pigs, spotted deer, poultry, and of course a large fishing industry.

In the Agricultural Project Planning Unit, we concentrated mainly on rice settlement projects, on the re-capitalisation and modernisation of the dairy factories, and on the expansion of the potato industry in the horticultural areas of the hills. We also had a foot and mouth epidemic, and with excellent assistance from UK veterinary research, put together a complete vaccine project. This was approved by all the appropriate UK committees, was ready for action, but was never heard of again.

My Sri Lankan colleague, a well-versed civil servant, when on a visit to the Ministry of Overseas Development, found his way into the filing cabinets during the lunch interval, discovered the file, which had been marked ‘put away’ by some junior Assistant Principal. I do not know if the project was ever put into effect.

Around our time in Sri Lanka, after the Maoist rebellion, Sri Lanka became socialist for a while, and nationalisation was widespread. This caused major disruption to estate production. In many cases, estates were looted and equipment dismantled and stolen. However, many of the more powerful estates and brokerage houses survived, and the industries later recovered. After all, by that time there was a large body of native Sri Lankan expertise available to run them.


Indian Research Stations

At the end of my time in Sri Lanka, I had planned to sell my car, an Allegro 2, which I had originally shipped out from Britain. However, the socialist government declared this illegal. It was to be sold to them at a rock bottom price. In that case, I said, I would drive it back to Britain overland.

We had been visited in Sri Lanka by senior Indian research workers, and I had been invited to visit some of their numerous commodity research stations. This seemed too good an opportunity to miss, enabling me largely to complete my understanding of tropical crops. I was able to set up visits to 22 research stations.

On 8th March 1979, I set off across the Palk Strait to India, travelled up the west coast of Kerala, fortuitously coinciding with an International Cashew Symposium in Cochin, and finished at the Potato Research Institute in Simla on 3rd May.

There were opportunities for many other activities enroute; photographing tigers in the Kanha National Park, flying to Katmandu for a spell in the Himalayas, visiting old Army friends. My wife joined me in Delhi and we set off home through Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey.

Always remember, when a soldier sticks his rifle through your car window, offer him a pack of Benson & Hedges! The situation immediately becomes a social occasion.

Although I had been offered a further three year contract in Sarawak, moving to shorter term consultancy work would give me more variety. In 1980, I undertook for the Ministry of Overseas Development an evaluation of the initial trial period of the:

FAO/UK/Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation Dryland Farming Fertiliser Education Project, at Indore, Madhya Pradesh India.

This had been designed to apply successful research at Indore University, in improved varieties and up-dating of the farming system, to the State’s farmland, which had become largely exhausted of nutrients by centuries of farming, through efficiently using the rainfall, rather than through the considerably more expensive, and often environmentally destructive, solution of irrigation.

This was a very efficient project, managed entirely by local people, with a good input back-up system and credit arrangements through rural banks. Farmers who adopted it improved their land and, as might be expected, achieved considerable increases in family income.

My lengthy report on the Project and the farming system was, I understood, placed in the Wye College library, for future reference.

The Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation was of considerable assistance, and further increased my understanding of Indian farming through a visit to the farming areas of West Bengal.



1980 -2003

Tanzania to Retirement


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All of Richard (Tim) Dening's papers relating to his career, first in the colonial administration in Northern Rhodesia and then as an agricultural economist, have been donated to the Bodleian Library  of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, in Oxford, England.

Tim kept very comprehensive records of all aspects of his working life. Anybody wishing to consult the archived papers should contact the library first for advice:

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Website: Copyright B.Corker 2008     Images: Copyright EGL Dening 2008