SEPTEMBER 23, 1955
NEW YORK—I often come across people who know comparatively little about the type of UNESCO experts who are being used in the United Nations expanded program of technical assistance.
UNESCO is the only agency in the U.N. that provides experts in the field of natural sciences. Of course, the specialist sent in by UNESCO works closely with the scientist of the country that receives his aid, and often the problems worked on are important to economic development.
I heard the story, for instance of some scientific experiments that were carried on in this way which paved the way for an important new industry in Iraq. In this instance it was a Swiss scientist who was sent by UNESCO, and as a result Iraq will soon begin the manufacture of sugar from dates. This development will save the country some $16,000,000 annually which had been spent in importing sugar.
For thousands of years one of the principal foods of the people of Iraq and of the whole region of desert dwellers in Asia and Africa has been dates. Iraq alone possesses 169 varieties and produces about 80 percent of the world's dates. The banks of the Tigris and Euphrates are lined with 35,000,000 palms which spread out into fine forests around Basrah.
As so often happens however when there is a good harvest (and Iraq in good years sometimes has 400,000 tons of dates) prices fall very low, with the result that it is not worthwhile even moving the fruit to market. There are times in Basrah when you can buy a whole ton of dates for four dinars, or $11.20. This worried the directors of Iraq's date association and also worried the head of the UNESCO team of scientists, Dr. Herman Mohler. The latter had been sent to Bagdad in 1951 to help establish courses in natural science and initiate research at the university level in a new school at the University of Bagdad.
It had been thought that date sugar could not be made as palatable as the sugar which Iraq was importing at $196 to $244 a ton. She was using about 80,000 tons a year, but some experiments in the laboratory of the new school brought forth a white sugar which no one could distinguish from conventional sugar.
The first experiments were not conclusive, however, so Dr. Mohler sent some of the white sugar which he had produced in Bagdad to Switzerland where there was the refining equipment he needed to carry out further experiments. A few weeks later a ton of white sugar came back, which was distributed to manufacturers of sweets and pastries, and the experiment turned out satisfactorily. The date association founded a company with the Agricultural Bank and the Iraq Agricultural Fund, and the industry producing sugar from dates became a reality and will now function on a business basis.
A factory is now nearly ready for operation which will produce 9,000 tons of sugar a year. There also is hope that this factory can produce an inexpensive syrup, which would provide emergency food in a period of famine. Other by-products will be used for animal food.
The technical-assistance triumph is a demonstration of the value of research to economic progress, and the people of Iraq now for the first time reap the full benefit from their most precious agricultural resource.