Sir John Crawford – a visionary ‘buying time’ for big challenges

February 21, 2024

Sir John Crawford was a remarkable Australian who contributed at the highest levels to the development of Australia and other countries, and in whose honour the Crawford Fund is named. We proudly launch a special account of Sir John Crawford’s contribution to international agricultural research at the National Press Club on 21 February 2024.

“Buying Time: J.G. Crawford and International Agricultural Research explains Crawford’s embrace of agriculture, and specifically of the promise of the Green Revolution, not only as a simple solution, but a means of ‘buying time’ while other pressing issues might also be addressed, and thank goodness we were given that time,” said The Hon John Anderson AC, Chair of the Crawford Fund.

“2024 is the 40th anniversary of Sir John’s passing. Through the impact of his intellectual vision and advocacy to see that vision in place, he has done much to increase agricultural productivity, expand international education and training programs as well as improving economic policy capacity of governments – a legacy that the Crawford Fund is proud to continue,” said John.

“Sir John, a ‘Malthusian optimist,’ recognised the need for not only science but also policies, governance and institutional structures for delivery of food and nutrition security.”

“The job isn’t yet done and we still need leaders – visionaries – like Sir John to pioneer pathways for agriculture and food production. And we need scientists and researchers across a much broader set of disciplines than were perhaps engaged in Sir John’s time, to walk us down the pathways to food and nutrition security,” he said.

Nicholas Brown, Professor of History at ANU, is co-author of Buying Time and is also working on the full biography that examines the life and broader work of Sir John Crawford, which will also be launched this year. 

“Sir John Crawford often spoke of his work in enabling international agricultural research as ‘buying time’. The hungry needed food, farmers needed recognition for their skills in working the fields, and the world needed security from the consequences of an imbalance between production and markets. He was buying time for other big challenges including environmental degradation, high population growth, national economies in disarray and international assistance cuts,” said Professor Brown.

“It was a pragmatic bargain to be struck on the prospects of the Green Revolution. But with those and more challenges arguably more pressing than ever, and the legacy of the Green Revolution still so contested, this book shows how Crawford’s commitments and determination still demand our attention.”

“Crawford regarded his close involvement in the development of an international network of agricultural research centres as among his major achievements. It was certainly a distinctive role for an Australian economist, drawing on a remarkable mix of personal and professional skills, opportunities and relationships. Buying Time captures this one dimension of Crawford’s complex life, exploring its personal dimensions in fresh ways. It makes a fresh contribution to our understanding of the ways in which Australians play into international affairs,’ said Professor Brown.

Hear more from Professor Nicholas Brown in this interview on ABC Victorian Country Hour (21 Feb 2024).

Dr Denis Blight, former CEO of the Crawford Fund and co-author of Buying Time noted “If India was the nursery of the Green Revolution, then Crawford was its nurseryman.” At the event launch Dr Blight, who knew and travelled with Sir John, presented some more personal anecdotes of that time.

Buying Time: J.G. Crawford and International Agricultural Research is a paperback, 159 pages,  277 grams. 22cm x 16cm.

Hard copies are available from the Fund.

For purchases in Australia the cost is $25 plus $11 postage and handling (NB Australian orders only). To order a copy, please pay $36 via the Crawford Fund donation portal and select the Training option. Please ensure you complete your details accurately as this will be the postal address used. Please email Bron Refshauge on bronwyn.refshauge(at)crawfordfund(dot)org once you have paid and we will post your copy. Bronwyn can also answer any queries.

For overseas orders, please also contact Bron Refshauge on bronwyn.refshauge(at)crawfordfund(dot)org directly via email so that international postage rates can be calculated on a case-by-case basis before payment is arranged and your order posted.