Green Revolution

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The Green Revolution is a term used to describe the transformation of agriculture in many developing nations that led to significant increases in agricultural production between the 1940s and 1960s. This transformation occurred 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.

The term “Green Revolution” was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who stated, “[The rapid spread of modern wheat and rice varieties throughout Asia] and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution... I call it a Green Revolution based on the application of science and technology.[1]

The Green Revolution has had major social and ecological impacts, which have drawn intense praise and equally intense criticism.


[edit] History

[edit] Green Revolution in Mexico

The Green Revolution began in 1943 with the establishment of the Office of Special Studies, which was a venture that was a collaboration between the Rockefeller Foundation and the presidential administration of Manuel Avila Camacho in Mexico. While Camacho's predecessor Cárdenas promoted peasant subsistence agriculture through policies of land reform, Avila Camacho's primary goal for Mexican agriculture was to aid in the nation's industrial development and economic growth.[2] US Vice President Henry Wallace, who was instrumental in convincing the Rockefeller Foundation to work with the Mexican government in agricultural development, saw Camacho’s ambitions as beneficial to US economic and military interests.[3]

J. George Harrar, who would later become president of the Rockefeller Foundation, headed the Office of Special Studies. Its lead scientists included Norman Borlaug, Edwin Wellhausen, and William Colwell. Researchers from both the United States and Mexico were involved in this program. The main initiative of the Office was the development of high-yielding maize and wheat varieties. Borlaug received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on wheat breeding.

The Mexican national government invested heavily in rural infrastructure development, and the adoption of new seed varieties became widespread. Mexico became self-sufficient in wheat production by 1951 and began to export wheat thereafter.

[edit] International spread of the Green Revolution

With the experience of agricultural development judged as a success by many of the powerholders involved, 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).

The second nation to which the Green Revolution spread was India. The Ford Foundation had a presence in the nation, and their social scientists had decided that the technological development of agriculture was important to the future of India . At the same time Chidambaram Subramaniam, the former Indian Minister of Steel and Mines, became Minister of Food and Agriculture. The Foundation and Indian government collaborated to import a huge amount of wheat seed from CIMMYT. India then began its own Green Revolution program of plant breeding, irrigation development, and financing of agrochemicals. By the late 1970s, the Green Revolution raised rice yields in India by 30 percent and bought India the vital time to curb its population growth without suffering a recurrence of the devastating famines of the 1940s. [4]

The Rockefeller and Ford Foundation jointly established IRRI (The International Rice Research Institute) in the Philippines in 1960. HYVs (high yielding varieties) spread throughout that country, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other non-Soviet bloc countries throughout Latin American, Asia, and North Africa. USAID became involved in subsidizing rural infrastructure development and fertilizer shipments.

[edit] Agricultural production and food security

[edit] Technologies

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, and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

The novel technological development of the Green Revolution was the production of what some referred to as “miracle seeds.” [4] Scientists created strains 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. Norin 10 wheat, a variety developed by Orville Vogel from Japanese dwarf wheat varieties, 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.”[5]

With the availability of molecular genetics in Arabidopsis and rice the mutant genes responsible (reduced height(rht), gibberellin insensitive (gai1) and slender rice (slr1)) have been cloned and identified as cellular signalling components of gibberellic acid, a phytohormone involved in regulating stem growth via its effect on cell division. 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 fertilisers 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. One criticism of HYVs is that they were developed as F1 hybrids, meaning they need to be purchased by a farmer every season rather than saved from previous seasons, thus increasing a farmer’s cost of production.

[edit] Production increases

World production of coarse grain, 1961-2004, compared with area harvested over the same period.
World production of coarse grain, 1961-2004, compared with area harvested over the same period.

Cereal production more than doubled in developing nations between the years 1961 – 1985.[6] Yields of rice, maize, and wheat increased steadily during that period.[7] The production increases can be attributed roughly equally to irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development, at least in the case of Asian rice.[8]

Some, however, have challenged the purported production increases of Green Revolution agriculture. Miguel A. Altieri, for example, writes that the comparison between traditional systems of agriculture and Green Revolution has been unfair, because Green Revolution agriculture produces monocultures of cereal grains, while traditional agriculture usually incorporates polycultures.[9] Additionally, some traditional systems of agriculture that were displaced by the Green Revolution such as the chinampas in Mexico or raised-field rice farming in Asia are known to be very highly-productive.[10]

[edit] Effects on food security

The effects of the Green Revolution on global food security are difficult to understand because of the complexities involved in food systems.

The major purported achievement of the Green Revolution has been that the production increases have helped to avoid widespread famine. It is also often claimed that Green Revolution agriculture is responsible for feeding billions of people.[11] These assertions generally assume some variation of the Malthusian principle of population. Malthusianism has been evident throughout the history of the Green Revolution. The team sent to survey Mexican agriculture in 1941 for the Rockefeller Foundation cited the high birth rate and relative inadequacy of its agriculture as a cause for concern.[12] In 1959, the Ford Foundation carried out a study in India that stated the nation’s population would outstrip its food supply by 1966, although validity of its methodology was a subject of criticism.[13] At Borlaug’s Nobel acceptance speech he stated, “...we are dealing with two opposing forces, the scientific power of food production and the biologic power of human reproduction.”[14]

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 yet greater famine and malnutrition than the UN presently attributes to the planet Earth (approximately 850 million people suffering from chronic malnutrition in 2005). The average person in the developing world consumes about 25% more calories per day now than before the Green Revolution.[15]

Increasing food production however is not synonymous with increasing food security, and is only part of a larger equation. For example, Amartya Sen’s work has found that large historic famines have not been caused by decreases in food supply, but by socioeconomic dynamics and a failure of public action. [16] 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.[17] Also, the pesticides involved in rice production eliminated fish and weedy green vegetables from the diets of Asian rice farmers.[18]

[edit] Social changes

[edit] Political impacts

A major critic of the Green Revolution, the US investigative journalst Mark Dowie, writes that the primary objective of the program was a Cold War geopoltical 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.[19]

It is also 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.[20]

[edit] 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 rights to their farmland.[21] The increased level of mechanization on larger farms made possible by the Green Revolution removed an important source of employment from the rural economy.[22] 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.

The new economic difficulties of smallholder farmers and landless farm workers led to increased rural-urban migration. The increase in food production led to a decrease in food prices for urban dwellers, and the increase in urban population increased the potential for industrialization. However, industry was unable to absorb all of the displaced agricultural labor and some cities grew at unsustainable rates.[23]

[edit] Globalization

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 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.[24]

[edit] Ecological change

[edit] Pesticides

Green Revolution agriculture increased the use of pesticides, which were necessary to limit the high levels of pest damage that inevitably occur in monocultures. Organochlorides, a chemical group of pesticides including DDT and dieldrin that spread with the Green Revolution, does not easily break down in the environment and therefore accumulates through the food chain and spread throughout ecosystems. Other problems with pesticides include the poisoning of farm workers, the contamination of water, and the evolution of resistance in pest organism populations.[25]

[edit] Water issues

Irrigation projects have created significant problems of salinization, waterlogging, and lowering of water tables in certain areas.[26]

[edit] Biodiversity

The spread of Green Revolution agriculture affected both agricultural biodiversity and wild biodiversity. There is little argument that the Green Revolution acted to reduce agricultural biodiversity, as it relied upon just a few 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 cereal varieties over thousands of years. To address these concerns, massive seed banks such as CGIAR’s International Plant Genetic Resources Institute have been established.

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 did not need to expand into new, uncultivated areas to feed a growing human population. A counterhypothesis speculates that biodiversity was sacrificed because traditional systems of agriculture that were displaced have often 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 impacts 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 (Whether the habitat used was an arid region or an uninhabited bog, biotic impacts can be extensive.)

[edit] Legacy of the Green Revolution

IRRI and CIMMYT became a part of the CGIAR which was established in 1971. Since that time, 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.[27] 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.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Altieri, M. A. Agroecology: The science of sustainable agriculture. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1995. Revised and expanded edition.
  • Brown, Lester. Seeds of Change. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.
  • Cleaver, Harry. The Contradictions of the Green Revolution. American Economic Review, Vol. 62, Issue 2, May, 1972, pp.177-86. Available on the author's website.
  • Conway, Gordon. The Doubly Green Revolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.
  • Dowie, Mark. American Foundations: An Invesigative History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001.
  • Dreze, Jean and Sen, Amartya. Hunger and Public Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Oasa, Edmud K. The Political Economy of International Agricultural Research in Glass, Bernhard, ed., 1987. The Green Revolution Revisited, pp. 13–55.
  • Ross, Eric B. The Malthus Factor: Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development. London: Zed Books, 1998.
  • Spitz, Pierre. The Green Revolution Re-Examined in India in Glass, Bernhard, ed., 1987. The Green Revolution Revisited, pp.57–75.
  • Wright, Angus. Innocence Abroad: American Agricultural Research in Mexico, Jackson, Wes, ed., 1985. Meeting the Expectations of the Land pp.124 – 138.
  • Wright, Angus. The Death of Ramon Gonzalez. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Speech by William S. Gaud to the Society for International Development. 1968. [1]
  2. ^ Wright, 2005. pp. 171 – 173.
  3. ^ Wright 2005. pp. 171 – 173
  4. ^ Brown, 1970.
  5. ^ Rice Varieties: IRRI Knowledge Bank. Accessed Aug. 2006. [2]
  6. ^ Conway, 1997 chpt. 4.
  7. ^ Conway, 1997 chpt. 4.
  8. ^ Conway 1997 chpt. 4.
  9. ^ Altieri 1995.
  10. ^ Wright, 2005. pp. 158.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Wright 2005, pp. 174.
  13. ^ Ross 158
  14. ^ Norman Borlaug’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1970. [3]
  15. ^ Conway, 1997 chpt. 4.
  16. ^ Drezé and Sen 1991
  17. ^ Spitz, 1987
  18. ^ Conway 1997 pp. 279.
  19. ^ Primary objective was geopolitical - see Mark Dowie, American Foundations: An Investigative History, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2001, (pp. 109-114)
  20. ^ Ross 1998. Chpt. 5.
  21. ^ Oasa 1987
  22. ^ Oasa 1987
  23. ^ Wright 1985
  24. ^ Brown 1970
  25. ^ Conway 1997, chpt.11
  26. ^ Conway 1997, pp. 253
  27. ^ Oasa 1987