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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Green Revolution,Agricultural production and food security,Technologies,Malthusian,Political impacts,Social,Socioeconomic impacts, Globalization

The Green Revolution usually refers to the transformation of agriculture that began in 1945. One significant factor came at the request of the Mexican government to establish an agricultural research station to develop more varieties of wheat that could be used to feed the rapidly growing population of the country. In 1943 Mexico imported half its wheat; in 1956, the Green Revolution had made Mexico self-sufficient; by 1964, Mexico exported half a million tons of wheat.The associated transformation has continued as the result of programs of agricultural research, extension, and infrastructural development, instigated and largely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, along with the Ford Foundation and other major agencies. Many agronomists state that the Green Revolution has allowed food production to keep pace with worldwide population growth while others state that it caused the great population increases seen today. The Green Revolution has had major social and ecological impacts, making it a popular topic of study among sociologists.

The term "Green Revolution" was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said, "These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution."


Indian success

With the experience of agricultural development begun in Mexico by Norman Borlaug in 1943 judged as a success, the Rockefeller Foundation sought to spread the Green Revolution to other nations. The Office of Special Studies in Mexico became an informal international research institution in 1959, and in 1963 it formally became CIMMYT, The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

In 1961 India was on the brink of mass famine. Norman Borlaug was invited to India by the adviser to the Indian minister of agriculture M. S. Swaminathan. Despite bureaucratic hurdles imposed by India's grain monopolies, the Ford Foundation and Indian government collaborated to import wheat seed from CIMMYT. Punjab was selected by the Indian government to be the first site to try the new crops because of its reliable water supply and a history of agricultural success. India began its own Green Revolution program of plant breeding, irrigation development, and financing of agrochemicals.

India soon adopted IR8 - a rice semi-dwarf variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute(IRRI) that could produce more grains of rice per plant when grown properly with fertilizer and irrigation. In 1968, Indian agronomist S.K. De Datta published his findings that IR8 rice yielded about 5 tons per hectare with no fertilizer, and almost 10 tons per hectare under optimal conditions. This was 10 times the yield of traditional rice. IR8 was a success throughout Asia, and dubbed the "Miracle Rice". In the 1960s, rice yields in India were about two tons per hectare; by the mid-1990s, they had risen to six tons per hectare. In the 1970s, rice cost about $550 a ton; in 2001, it cost less than $200 a ton. India became one of the world's most successful rice producers, and is now a major rice exporter, shipping nearly 4.5 million tons in 2006.

IR8 and the Philippines

In 1960, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines with Ford and Rockefeller Foundations established IRRI. A rice crossing between Dee-geo-woo-gen and Peta was done at IRRI in 1962. In 1966, one of the breeding lines became a new cultivar, IR8. IR8 required the use of fertilizers and pesticides, but produced substantially higher yields than the traditional cultivars. Annual rice production in the Philippines increased from 3.7 to 7.7 million tonnes in two decades. The switch to IR8 rice made the Philippines a rice exporter for the first time in the 20th century. At the same time, heavy pesticide use reduced the number of fish and frog species found in rice paddies.


In 1970, foundation officials proposed a worldwide network of agricultural research centers under a permanent secretariat. This was further supported and developed by the World Bank; on May 19, 1971, with the FAO, IFAD and UNDP as co-sponsors, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research was established. CGIAR, has added many research centers throughout the world.

CGIAR has responded, at least in part, to criticisms of Green Revolution methodologies. This began in the 1980s, and mainly was a result of pressure from donor organizations. Methods like Agroecosystem Analysis and Farming System Research have been adopted to gain a more holistic view of agriculture. Methods like Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal have been adopted to help scientists understand the problems faced by farmers and even give farmers a role in the development process.

Problems in Africa

There have been numerous attempts to introduce the successful concepts from the Mexican and Indian projects into Africa. These programs have generally been less successful, for a number of reasons. Reasons cited include widespread corruption, insecurity, a lack of infrastructure, and a general lack of will on the part of the governments. Yet environmental factors, such as the availability of water for irrigation, the high diversity in slope and soil types in one given area are also reasons why the Green Revolution is not so succesful in Africa.

A recent program in western Africa is attempting to introduce a new high-yield variety of rice known as "New Rice for Africa"(NERICA). NERICAs yield about 30% more rice under normal conditions, and can double yields with small amounts of fertilizer and very basic irrigation. However the program has been beset by problems getting the rice into the hands of farmers, and to date the only success has been in Guinea where it currently accounts for 16% of rice cultivation.

Agricultural production and food security


The projects within the Green Revolution spread technologies that had already existed, but had not been widely used outside of industrialized nations. These technologies included pesticides, irrigation projects, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and improved crop varieties developed through the conventional (that is, not using biotechnology), science-based breeding methods available at the time.

The novel technological development of the Green Revolution was the production of what some referred to as “miracle seeds.”

Agronomists bred cultivars of maize, wheat, and rice that are generally referred to as HYVs or “high-yielding varieties.” HYVs have an increased nitrogen-absorbing potential compared to other varieties. Since cereals that absorbed extra nitrogen would typically lodge, or fall over before harvest, semi-dwarfing genes were bred into their genomes. A Japanese dwarf wheat cultivar (Norin 10 wheat), which was sent to Washington by Cecil Salmon, was instrumental in developing Green Revolution wheat cultivars. IR8, the first widely implemented HYV rice to be developed by IRRI, was created through a cross between an Indonesian variety named “Peta” and a Chinese variety named “Dee-geo-woo-gen.”

With advances in molecular genetics, the mutant genes responsible for Arabidopsis genes(GA 20-oxidase, ga1, ga1-3), wheat reduced height genes(Rht) and a rice semidwarf gene (sd1) were cloned. These were identified as gibberellin biosynthesis genes or cellular signaling component genes. Stem growth in the mutant background is significantly reduced leading to the dwarf phenotype. Photosynthetic investment in the stem is reduced dramatically as the shorter plants are inherently more stable mechanically. Assimilates become redirected to grain production, amplifying in particular the effect of chemical fertilizers on commercial yield....

HYVs significantly outperform traditional varieties in the presence of adequate irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers. In the absence of these inputs, traditional varieties may outperform HYVs.

Production increases

Cereal production more than doubled in developing nations between the years 1961 – 1985. Yields of rice, maize, and wheat increased steadily during that period. The production increases can be attributed roughly equally to irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development, at least in the case of Asian rice.

While agricultural output increased as a result of the Green Revolution, the energy input into the process (that is, the energy that must be expended to produce a crop) has also increased at a greater rate, so that the ratio of crops produced to energy input has decreased over time. Green Revolution techniques also heavily rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, some of which must be developed from fossil fuels, making agriculture increasingly reliant on petroleum products. Proponents of the Peak Oil theory fear that a future decline in oil and gas production would lead to a decline in food production or even a Malthusian catastrophe.

Effects on food security

The world population has grown by about four billion since the beginning of the Green Revolution and most believe that, without the Revolution, there would be greater famine and malnutrition. India saw annual wheat production rise from 10 million tons in the 1960s to 73 million in 2006. The average person in the developing world consumes roughly 25% more calories per day now than before the Green Revolution. Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%.

The production increases fostered by the Green Revolution are widely credited with having helped to avoid widespread famine, and for feeding billions of people.

Criticisms of the Green Revolution

Food security

Malthusian criticism of the Green Revolution

Some criticisms generally involve some variation of the Malthusian principle of population. Such concerns often revolve around the idea that the Green Revolution is unsustainable, and argue that humanity is currently in a state of overpopulation with regards to the sustainable carrying capacity of the earth.

Malthusian predictions have frequently failed to materialize. In 1798 Thomas Malthus made his prediction of impending famine. The world's population had doubled by 1923 and then had doubled again by 1973 without fulfilling Malthus' prediction. Malthusian Paul R. Ehrlich, in his 1968 book The Population Bomb, said that India would never feed itself and claimed that "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980" and "Hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs." Ehrlich's predictions failed to materialize when India became self sustaining in cereal production in 1974 (six years later) as a result of the introduction of Norman Borlaug's dwarf wheat varieties.

Is food production actually related to famine?

To some modern Western sociologists and writers, increasing food production is not synonymous with increasing food security, and is only part of a larger equation. For example, Harvard professor Amartya Sen claimed large historic famines were not caused by decreases in food supply, but by socioeconomic dynamics and a failure of public action. However, economist Peter Bowbrick has accused Sen of misrepresenting historical data, telling outright lies and being wrong on his theory of famines. In fact Bowbrick argues that Sen's views coincide with that of the Bengal government at the time of the Bengal famine of 1943 and the policies Sen advocates failed to relieve the famine.

Food production versus quality of diet

Some have challenged the value of the increased food production of Green Revolution agriculture. Miguel A. Altieri, one of the pioneers of agroecology and peasant-advocate, writes that the comparison between traditional systems of agriculture and Green Revolution agriculture has been unfair, because Green Revolution agriculture produces monocultures of cereal grains, while traditional agriculture usually incorporates polycultures. This production of monoculture cereal crops is frequently used for export, feed for animals, or conversion into biofuel. According to Emile Frison from Biodiversity International, it has also lead to a change in dietary habits, as less people suffer hunger, but many are affected by malnutrition e.g. iron-deficiency or vitamin A-deficiency. Currently about 60% of annual deaths of children under the age of five are related to malnutrition.

Additionally, some claim traditional systems of agriculture that were displaced by the Green Revolution such as the chinampas in Mexico or raised-field rice farming in Asia can be highly-productive. Critics point out that these traditional forms of agriculture produced less food than Green Revolution crops, and were prone to famine, as evidenced by the frequency of famine in these communities. This argument does not take into account the amount of land that was cleared or irrigated for the green revolution, and the latest statistics that show a major drop in the productivity of land that has been intensively farmed for the past 30 years due to desertification and other forms of land degradation.

There are several claims about how the Green Revolution may have decreased food security for some people. One such claim involves the shift of subsistence-oriented cropland to cropland oriented towards production of grain for export and/or animal feed. For example, the Green Revolution replaced much of the land used for pulses that fed Indian peasants for wheat, which did not make up a large portion of the peasant diet. In regards to the quality of the high yield rice (HYR) which was introduced to poverty ridden Asian countries, such as in the Philippines, which began in 1964, the flavor was found to be inferior, and was considered more glutinous and less savory than their native varieties. This resulted in a lower than average market value price. The introduction of Pesticides involved in rice production has further impacted the diets of the locals by poisoning and killing off the fish and weedy green vegetables that traditionally co-existed in the rice patties that were nutritious food sources in the diets of the Philippino farmers.

Social impacts

Political impacts

The Green Revolution is unpopular among many leftists because of its context within the Cold War. A major critic of the Green Revolution, the US investigative journalist Mark Dowie, writes that the primary objective of the program was a Cold War geopolitical one: providing food for the populace in underdeveloped countries which thus brought social stability and weakened the fomenting of communist insurgency. Citing internal Foundation documents, he states that the Ford Foundation had a greater concern than Rockefeller in this area.

Additionally, it is maintained elsewhere that there is a significant amount of evidence suggesting the Green Revolution had the effect of weakening socialist movements in many nations. In countries like India, Mexico, and the Philippines, technological solutions were sought as an alternative to expanding agrarian reform initiatives, the latter of which were often linked to socialist politics.

Socioeconomic impacts

The transition from traditional agriculture in which inputs were generated on-farm to Green Revolution agriculture, which required the purchase of inputs, lead to the widespread establishment of rural credit institutions. Smaller farmers often went into debt, which in many cases result in a loss of their farmland. The increased level of mechanization on larger farms made possible by the Green Revolution removed a large source of employment from the rural economy. Because wealthier farmers had better access to credit and land, the Green Revolution increased class disparities. Because some regions were able to adopt Green Revolution agriculture more readily than others (for political or geographical reasons), interregional economic disparities increased as well. Many small farmers are hurt by the dropping prices resulting from increased production overall.

The new economic difficulties of small holder farmers and landless farm workers led to increased rural-urban migration. The increase in food production led to a cheaper food for urban dwellers, and the increase in urban population increased the potential for industrialization.


In the most basic sense, the Green Revolution was a product of globalization as evidenced in the creation of international agricultural research centers that shared information, and with transnational funding from groups like the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, and United States Agency for International Development USAID. Additionally, the inputs required in Green Revolution agriculture created new markets for seed and chemical corporations, many of which were based in the United States. For example, Standard Oil of New Jersey established hundreds of distributors in the Philippines to sell agricultural packages composed of HYV seed, fertilizer, and pesticides.

Environmental impacts


Green Revolution agriculture relies upon extensive use of pesticides, which are necessary to limit the high levels of pest damage that inevitably occur in monoculture - the practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area. Additionally, improper and excessive use of pesticides by untrained subsistence farmers in India is believed to be responsible for an increase in cancer in rural areas.

Water issues

Industrialized agriculture with its high yield varieties are extremely water intensive. In the US, agriculture consumes 85% of all fresh water resources. The southwest, for example, uses 36% of the nations water while at the same time only receiving 6% of the countries rainfall.[citation needed] Only 60% of the water used for irrigation comes from surface water supplies. The other 40% comes from underground aquifers that are being used up in a manner similar to topsoil that makes the aquifers[citation needed], as Pfeiffer says, “for all intents and purposes non renewable resources”. The Ogallala Aquifer is essential to a huge portion of central and southwest plain states, but has been at annual overdrafts of 130-160 percent in excess of replacement. This irrigation source for America's bread basket will become entirely unproductive in another 30 years or so. Likewise, rivers are drying up at an alarming rate. In 1997, the lower parts of China’s Yellow River was dry for a record 226 days. Over the past ten years, it has gone dry an average of 70 days a year. Famous lifelines such as the Nile and Ganges along with countless other rivers are sharing in the same fateThe Aral Sea has lost half its area and two-thirds its volume due to river diversion for cotton production.

Also the water quality is being compromised. In the Aral Sea, water salinization has wiped out all native fish, leaving an economy even more dependent on the agricultural model that originated the problem.

Fish are disappearing through another form of agricultural run off as well. When nitrogen intensive fertilizers are washed into waterways it results in an explosion of algae and other microorganisms that lead to oxygen depletion resulting in “dead zones”, killing off fish and other creatures.


The spread of Green Revolution agriculture affected both agricultural biodiversity and wild biodiversity. There is little disagreement that the Green Revolution acted to reduce agricultural biodiversity, as it relied upon just a few high-yield varieties of each crop. This has led to concerns about the susceptibility of a food supply to pathogens that cannot be controlled by agrochemicals, as well as the permanent loss of many valuable genetic traits bred into traditional varieties over thousands of years. To address these concerns, massive seed banks such as CGIAR’s International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (now Bioversity International) have been established (see Svalbard Global Seed Vault).

There are varying opinions about the effect of the Green Revolution on wild biodiversity. One hypothesis speculates that by increasing production per unit of land area, agriculture will not need to expand into new, uncultivated areas to feed a growing human population. A counter-hypothesis speculates that biodiversity was sacrificed because traditional systems of agriculture that were displaced sometimes incorporated practices to preserve wild biodiversity, and because the Green Revolution expanded agricultural development into new areas where it was once unprofitable or too arid.

Nevertheless, the world community has clearly acknowledged the negative aspects of agricultural expansion as the 1992 Rio Treaty, signed by 189 nations, has generated numerous national Biodiversity Action Plans which assign significant biodiversity loss to agriculture's expansion into new domains.

Norman Borlaug's reply to the alternative interpretations of the Green Revolution

Norman Borlaug has dismissed most claims of critics, but does take certain concerns seriously. He states that his work has been "a change in the right direction, but it has not transformed the world into a Utopia". Of environmental lobbyists he has stated, "some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things".

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