July 09, 2014


At the 80th birthday celebration, two of the “speakers” had worked with Lester when he had headed the International Agricultural Development Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). At the going away party for Lester in 1969, two of his colleagues, Bill Jones and Mac Destler, sang a song, which they reprised for this happy evening.


The following is an excerpt from Breaking New Ground that describes this time in Lester’s life.

"One of the hallmarks of the USDA during the Kennedy-Johnson era, the eight-year span when Orville Freeman was secretary of agriculture, was the department’s growing involvement in international agricultural development. In 1964 the USDA, working with the AID, had created a new agency—the International Agricultural Development Service (IADS). Matthew Drosdoff, an agronomist who had been the Food and Agricultural Officer for the AID in Vietnam since 1962, became the first agency head. In contrast to the Foreign Agricultural Service, whose responsibility was to develop markets for U.S. farm products, the purpose of the IADS was to help develop agriculture in third-world countries. In many countries the AID subcontracted the agricultural part of their program to the IADS.

In 1966, it was decided that the agency should be playing more of a policy role, and Secretary Freeman appointed me the IADS administrator. I had no idea this was coming, but I was both pleased and honored.

Two years earlier the agency had been cobbled together very quickly, with personnel donated from other agencies in the USDA. Unfortunately, this meant that the various agencies often sent employees who were about to retire and not their most productive. To help make it a more effective agency, I hired some talented young staffers from outside the department, including I. M. Destler (who got his masters in public administration from Princeton), William Abbott (a White House fellow who had edited the Harvard Law Review), and William Jones, editor of Development Digest. From within the department, I hired Lyle Schertz and Dana Dalrymple.

As the youngest agency head in government, I needed to learn a lot quickly. To help me, I recruited the experienced Mollie Iler from the embassy in Rome, the one who had typed each draft of our agreement with India, as my administrative assistant.

We had a huge range of on-the-ground projects going in thirty-nine countries, including expanding rice production in Senegal, breeding higher-yielding corn varieties in Kenya, organizing farm co-ops in Brazil, and helping the Maasai in Tanzania improve their herd management. Managing the IADS was complicated, simply because we were working with the AID, the host-country government, and officials and farmers within the country.

I headed the IADS for two years, then in 1968 Richard Nixon was elected president. I knew that I did not want to work in a Nixon administration. I resigned, leaving office a week before Nixon was inaugurated in January 1969. Much to my regret, Nixon dismantled the IADS. The reason given was that U.S. farmers did not want the USDA helping other countries to develop their agriculture, thus creating competition for them."

Stay tuned!
Reah Janise Kauffman


P.S. Our thanks to Moser Media for the great video work!