Obituary: Professor Ian Carruthers

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The Independent Online
Ian Carruthers will be remembered for his major contributions to agrarian development in the world's poorer countries - particularly in irrigation economics - and for the unique external degrees in Agricultural Development which he did so much to set up at Wye College.

He was among the first to recognise that capital investment in Third World irrigation systems would inevitably be wasted if attention was not paid to operating and maintenance costs. The question of appropriate levels and methods of cost recovery was one he continuously pressed. His work on irrigation resulted in many presentations and publications, culminating in the publication with Colin Clark of a seminal book, The Economics of Irrigation, in 1981.

He was born in 1938 in Sidcup, the eldest of four children, and went to Sidcup and Chislehurst Grammar School where he excelled academically and in sports. Subsequently, he attended Wye College, London University's outpost in Ashfield, Kent, and graduated with a First Class degree in Horticulture in 1961. Among other activities at Wye, he established a record for throwing the cricket ball which stands to this day.

Following graduation, he undertook postgraduate studies at Oxford at the Institute of Agricultural Economics. With this training he joined Hunting Technical Services as an agricultural economist, working on the Lower Indus Project in Pakistan, then the largest irrigation programme in the world. It was this experience that set the course for his major contri-bution to irrigation economics.

Upon return to the United Kingdom in 1967, he was appointed to the staff of Wye College, in an ODA-funded post which required him to spend much of his time overseas. He went first to Makerere University in Uganda and subsequently to the University of Nairobi looking into irrigation and water management. At the Institute of Development Studies in Nairobi he extended his work to rural water supplies.

Back in Wye, he strengthened the teaching in overseas development and extended his work on the management of irrigation systems. The case for reform in the matter of cost recovery, which he first discussed in The Economics of Irrigation, was again treated in his book with Leslie Small, Farmer Financed Irrigation: the economics of reform, published in 1991.

But Carruthers's life was not only concerned with irrigation. He addressed all manner of policy issues in the area of agrarian development, and his interests gradually broadened and took on a global perspective. He took an early lead in the discussion of environmental issues and subsequently of concerns for social development. More recently his views on world food security have become influential at the very highest levels in this important debate.

As an independent thinker he raised many important but perhaps awkward questions. With a ready fund of ideas he was in constant demand as an adviser and consultant to such bodies as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Bank, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Overseas Development Agency (ODA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Commonwealth Secretariat and other bilateral organisations. He served as a non-executive director on the main board of the Commonwealth Development Corporation and as a Council Member of the Overseas Development Institute.

Ian Carruthers made an outstanding personal contribution to enhancing the accessibility of continuing professional development in sustainable agriculture and rural development internationally. He was the originator, inspiration and driving force for the Wye College External Programme. He had the foresight to identify an international need and the ability to generate the means for meeting it. He inspired and encouraged his colleagues to commit themselves to publish books and learning materials of the highest quality and relevance.

His initiative has enabled professionals world-wide to update their knowledge and to qualify for postgraduate London University degrees. The extraordinary success of the programme is recognised by government organisations, agencies and charities around the world. In 1994, it was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize.

Carruthers's extensive network of contacts enabled him also to recognise shifts in the demand for traditional year-long courses towards the shorter, highly focused professional update. He took up the challenge on behalf of the college, which now has an extensive and successful portfolio of courses for continuing professional development. In addition he took a full part in college affairs, serving for six years on the Governing Body and as Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics between 1988 and 1991. Recognition for his work came with his Readership in Agrarian Development in 1977 and subsequently the award of the Chair of Agrarian Development at Wye in 1984.

Ian Carruthers not only made an incisive and perceptive contribution to debate on international development; he was also a plantsman of considerable standing, taking great delight in his extensive garden at Waltham on the Kent Downs. He was a horticulturist by inclination and training and had a true feel for plants. Growing a variety of herbs gave him a sense of their culinary use and he became a devoted cook, invariably preparing fine dinners that many enjoyed at his home. He lived with his second wife, Sarah Ladbury, both in England and occasionally in Cyprus. They shared an interest and expertise in social and economic development.

Paul Webster

Ian Douglas Carruthers, agricultural economist: born Sidcup, Kent 30 August 1938; Lecturer, Reader and Professor of Agrarian Development, Wye College 1967-96; married 1961 Barbara Price (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1992), 1993 Sarah Ladbury; died Canterbury 24 May 1996.