Green Revolution (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
The Green Revolution can be traced back to a 1940 request from Mexico for the United States to provide technical assistance to increase Mexican wheat production. By 1944, with the financial support of the Rockefeller Foundation, a group of U.S. scientists began to research methods of adapting the new high-yield variety (HYV) wheat that had been successfully used on American farms in the 1930’s to Mexico’s varied environments. A major breakthrough in this effort is attributed to Norman Borlaug, who, by the late 1940’s, was director of the research in Mexico. For his research and his work in the global dissemination of the Mexican HYV wheat, Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.
From wheat, research efforts shifted to rice production. Through the work of the newly created International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, researchers used advanced methods of plant breeding to develop an HYV rice. This so-called miracle rice was widely adopted in developing countries during the 1960’s. Since that time, researchers have sought to spread the success of the Green Revolution to other crops and to more countries.
Approximately one-half of the yield increases in food crops worldwide since the 1960’s are attributable to the Green Revolution. Had there not been a Green Revolution, the amount of land used for agriculture would undoubtedly be higher today, as would the prices of wheat, rice, and maize, three species of plants...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Conkin, Paul K. A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture Since 1929. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008.
Federico, Giovanni. Feeding the World: An Economic History of Agriculture, 1800-2000. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005.
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Background (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
From 1960 to 1965 a number of poor countries in the world could not produce enough food for their growing populations. The Earth’s population had almost doubled to 3.7 billion people in fifty years, with more than 900 million people not getting adequate nourishment to lead productive lives. Famine had been avoided during the post-World War II period of history only because production was high for American farmers and surplus grains were shipped overseas as food aid.
In 1966 and 1967, the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent suffered two consecutive crop failures because of monsoons. The United States shipped one-fifth of its wheat reserves to India and sustained sixty million persons in India for a two-year period on American food shipments. It became obvious, as populations continued to grow, that the United States would not be able to continue to supply enough food to feed the world’s growing population adequately. In the mid-1960’s, American policy began to change from giving poor countries direct food aid to educating and helping them to increase their own food production.
The United States had, in the 1950’s, responded to an ailing agricultural economy in Mexico by sending scientists from the Rockefeller Foundation to develop a new wheat that yielded twice as much grain as traditional varieties. The project was successful, and in 1962, the Rockefeller Foundation collaborated with the Ford Foundation to establish the...
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Positive Aspects (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
The new seeds were dependent on irrigation by tube wells (closed cylindrical shafts driven into the ground) and electrical pumps. Irrigation methods were installed in poor countries. This new availability of water made it feasible for farmers to grow crops year-round. The dry season, with its abundant sunlight, had previously been a time when crops could not be grown. With the advent of irrigation, the dry season became an especially productive growing season. Poor countries in tropical and subtropical regions were able to grow two, three, and sometimes four crops a year. Approximately 90 percent of the increase of the world’s production of grain in the 1960’s, 70 percent in the 1970’s, and 80 percent in the 1980’s was attributable to the Green Revolution.
The Green Revolution brought to politicians in developing countries the realization that they could not depend permanently on food aid from other nations. Whereas leaders and politicians in these countries had previously concentrated on developing industrial projects, the extreme pressure of overpopulation on their limited food and land supplies caused them to address agricultural problems and give emphasis to programs to encourage production of food supplies. Countries that were affected by, and benefited from, the Green Revolution include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Turkey, Burma (Myanmar), Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Kenya, the Ivory Coast,...
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Drawbacks and Environmental Impact (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Large-scale pesticide application not only is costly but also can have an adverse effect on the environment. Only a small percentage of insecticides used on crops actually reach the target organism. The rest affects the environment by endangering groundwater, aquatic systems, pollinators, various soil-dwelling insects, microbes, birds, and other animals in the food chain. In addition, large water inputs are needed for proper irrigation of crops. Of the farmers who can afford to irrigate in poor countries, many do not do so properly, and thereby cause salinization, alkalization, and waterlogging of soils, rendering them useless for growing crops.
Large-scale application of fertilizers is costly and reaches a point where further applications do not produce the expected increase in yield and begin to cost far more than they are worth. Crop yields also decrease because of increased soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, aquifer depletion, desertification, and pollution of groundwater or surface waters.
The Green Revolution exemplifies monoculture agriculture, the planting of large areas with a single type of seed. This use of monotypes can create multiple environmental problems. In many cases, the widespread use of genetically homogeneous seed caused old varieties with great genetic variability to be abandoned. Crops consisting entirely of genetically homogeneous rice and wheat are more vulnerable to...
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Outlook (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
The drawbacks of the Green Revolution have led farmers and scientists to seek safer and more diverse solutions to world food needs. Genetic engineers hope to be able to breed high-yield plant strains that have greater resistance to insects and disease, need less fertilizer, and are capable of making their own nitrogen fertilizer so as not to deplete the soil of nutrients. Proponents of integrated pest management continue to investigate combinations of crop rotation, time of planting, field sanitation, and the use of predators and parasites as ways to control insects without the use of harmful chemicals. Regardless of developments in food production and technology, however, in the long term the most important aspect of addressing world food needs is to control population growth.
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Alauddin, Mohammad, and Clement Tisdell. The “Green Revolution” and Economic Development: The Process and Its Impact in Bangladesh. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.
Brown, Lester R. Seeds of Change: The Green Revolution and Development in the 1970’s. New York: Published for the Overseas Development Council by Praeger, 1970.
Chiras, Daniel D., and John P. Reganold. Natural Resource Conservation: Management for a Sustainable Future. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.
Cotter, Joseph. Troubled Harvest: Agronomy and Revolution in Mexico, 1880-2002. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.
Miller, G. Tyler, Jr., and Scott Spoolman. Environmental Science: Problems, Concepts, and Solutions. 12th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Brooks Cole, 2008.
Perkins, John H. Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Shiva, Vandana. The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics. London: Zed Books, 1991.
Singh, Himmat. Green Revolutions Reconsidered: The Rural World of Contemporary Punjab. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Wu, Felicia, and William Butz. The Future of Genetically Modified Crops: Lessons from the Green Revolution. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Institute, 2004....
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Green Revolution (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
GREEN REVOLUTION. The Green Revolution was the notable increase in cereal-grains production in Mexico, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s. This trend resulted from the introduction of hybrid strains of wheat, rice, and corn (maize) and the adoption of modern agricultural technologies, including irrigation and heavy doses of chemical fertilizer. The Green Revolution was launched by research establishments in Mexico and the Philippines that were funded by the governments of those nations, international donor organizations, and the U.S. government. Similar work is still being carried out by a network of institutes around the world.
The Green Revolution was based on years of painstaking scientific research, but when it was deployed in the field, it yielded dramatic results, nearly doubling wheat production in a few years. The extra food produced by the Green Revolution is generally considered to have averted famine in India and Pakistan; it also allowed many developing countries to keep up with the population growth that many observers had expected would outstrip food production. The leader of a Mexican research term, U.S. agronomist Norman Borlaug, was instrumental in introducing the new wheat to India and Pakistan and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
Borlaug (b. 1914) was hired in 1944 to run a wheat-research program established by the Rockefeller Foundation and the government of Mexico in an effort to make that country self-sufficient in the production and distribution of cereal grains. Borlaug's team developed varieties of wheat that grew well in various climatic conditions and benefited from heavy doses of chemical fertilizer, more so than the traditional plant varieties. Wheat yield per acre rose fourfold from 1944 to 1970. Mexico, which had previously had to import wheat, became a self-sufficient cereal-grain producer by 1956.
The key breakthrough in Mexico was the breeding of short-stemmed wheat that grew to lesser heights than other varieties. Whereas tall plants tend both to shade their neighbors from sunlight and topple over before harvesting, uniformly short stalks grow more evenly and are easier to harvest. The Mexican dwarf wheat was first released to farmers in 1961 and resulted in a doubling of the average yield. Borlaug described the twenty years from 1944 to 1964 as the "silent revolution" that set the stage for the more dramatic Green Revolution to follow.
In the 1960s, many observers felt that widespread famine was inevitable in the developing world and that the population would surpass the means of food production, with disastrous results in countries such as India. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization calculated that 56 percent of the human race lived in countries with an average per-capita food supply of 2,200 calories per day or less, which is barely at subsistence level (cited by Mann, p. 1038). Biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb that "hundreds of millions" would starve to death in the 1970s and 1980s "in spite of any crash programs embarked upon" at the time he wrote his book (Ehrlich, p. xi).
In 1963, just such a devastating famine had threatened India and Pakistan. Borlaug went to the subcontinent to try to persuade governments to import the new varieties of wheat. Not until 1965 was Borlaug able to overcome resistance to the relatively unfamiliar crop and its foreign seeds and bring in hundreds of tons of seed to jump-start production. The new plants caught on rapidly. By the 1969970 crop seasonbout the time Ehrlich was dismissing "crash programs"5 percent of the 35 million acres of wheat in Pakistan and 35 percent of India's 35 million acres of wheat were sown with the Mexican dwarf varieties or varieties derived from them. New production technologies were also introduced, such as a greater reliance on chemical fertilizer and pesticides and the drilling of thousands of wells for controlled irrigation. Government policies that encouraged these new styles of production provided loans that helped farmers adopt it.
Wheat production in Pakistan nearly doubled in five years, going from 4.6 million tons in 1965 (a record at the time) to 8.4 million tons in 1970. India went from 12.3 million tons of wheat in 1965 to 20 million tons in
As important as the wheat program was, however, rice remains the world's most important food crop, providing 350 percent of the calories consumed by people in Asia. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines was founded in 1960 and was funded by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the government of the Philippines, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. This organization was to do for rice what the Mexican program had done for wheat. Scientists addressed the problem of intermittent flooding of rice paddies by developing strains of rice that would thrive even when submerged in three feet of water. The new varieties produced five times as much rice as the traditional deepwater varieties and opened flood-prone land to rice cultivation. Other varieties were dwarf (for the same reasons as the wheat), or more disease-resistant, or more suited to tropical climates. Scientists crossed thirty-eight different breeds of rice to create IR8, which doubled yields and became known as "miracle rice." IR8 served as the catalyst for what became known as the Green Revolution. By the end of the twentieth century, more than 60 percent of the world's rice fields were planted with varieties developed by research institutes and related developers. A pest-resistant variety known as IR36 was planted on nearly 28 million acres, a record amount for a single food-plant variety.
In addition to Mexico, Pakistan, India, and the Philippines, countries benefiting from the Green Revolution included Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Malaya, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, and Turkey. The Green Revolution contributed to the overall economic growth of these nations by increasing the incomes of farmers (who were then able to afford tractors and other modern equipment), the use of electrical energy, and consumer goods, thus increasing the pace and volume of trade and commerce.
As successful as the Green Revolution was, the wholesale transfer of technology to the developing world had its critics. Some objected to the use of chemical fertilizer, which augmented or replaced animal manure or mineral fertilizer. Others objected to the use of pesticides, some of which are believed to be persistent in the environment. The use of irrigation was also criticized, as it often required drilling wells and tapping underground water sources, as was the encouragement of farming in areas formerly considered marginal, such as flood-prone regions in Bangladesh. The very fact that the new crop varieties were developed with foreign support caused some critics to label the entire program imperialistic. Critics also argued that the Green Revolution primarily benefited large farm operations that could more easily obtain fertilizer, pesticides, and modern equipment, and that it helped displace poorer farmers from the land, driving them into urban slums. Critics also pointed out that the heavy use of fertilizer and irrigation causes long-term degradation of the soil.
Proponents of the Green Revolution argued that it contributed to environmental preservation because it improved the productivity of land already in agricultural production and thus saved millions of acres that would otherwise have been put into agricultural use. It is estimated that if cropland productivity had not tripled in the second half of the twentieth century, it would have been necessary to clear half of the world's remaining forest-land for conversion to agriculture (Brown, Eco-Economy).
However, the rates at which production increased in the early years of the program could not continue indefinitely, which caused some to question the "sustainability" of the new style. For example, rice yields per acre in South Korea grew nearly 60 percent from 1961 to 1977, but only 1 percent from 1977 to 2000 (Brown et al., State of the World 2001, p. 51). Rice production in Asia as a whole grew an average of 3.2 percent per year from 1967 to 1984 but only 1.5 percent per year from 1984 to 1996 (Dawe, p. 948). Some of the leveling-off of yields stemmed from natural limits on plant growth, but economics also played a role. For example, as rice harvests increased, prices fell, thus discouraging more aggressive production. Also, population growth in Asia slowed, thus reducing the rate of growth of the demand for rice. In addition, incomes rose, which prompted people to eat less rice and more of other types of food.
The success of the Green Revolution also depended on the fact that many of the host countriesuch as Mexico, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Chinaad relatively stable governments and fairly well-developed infrastructures. These factors permitted these countries to diffuse both the new seeds and technology and to bring the products to market in an effective manner. The challenges were far more difficult in places such as Africa, where governments were unstable and roads and water resources were less developed. For example, in mid-1990s Mozambique, improved corn grew well in the northern part of the country, but civil unrest and an inadequate transportation system left much of the harvest to rot (Mann, p. 1038). According to the report by David Gately, with the exception of a few countries such as Kenya, where corn yields quadrupled in the 1970s, Africa benefited far less from the Green Revolution than Asian countries and is still threatened periodically with famine.
The Green Revolution could not have been launched without the scientific work done at the research institutes in Mexico and the Philippines. The two original institutes have given rise to an international network of research establishments dedicated to agricultural improvement, technology transfer, and the development of agricultural resources, including trained personnel, in the developing countries. A total of sixteen autonomous centers form the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which operates under the direction of the World Bank. These centers address issues concerning tropical agriculture, dry-area farming, corn, potatoes, wheat, rice, livestock, forestry, and aquatic resources, among others.
Future advances in agricultural productivity depend on the development of new varieties of plants such as sorghum and millet, which are mainstays in African countries and other less-developed areas, and on the introduction of appropriate agricultural technology. This will probably include biotechnologyhe genetic alteration of food plants to give them desirable characteristics. For example, farmers in Africa are plagued by hardy, invasive weeds that can quickly overrun a cultivated plot and compel the farmer to abandon it and move on to virgin land. If the plot were planted with corn, soybeans, or other crops that are genetically altered to resist herbicide, then the farmer could more easily control the weeds and harvest a successful crop. Scientists are also developing a genetically modified strain of rice fortified with vitamin A that is intended to help ward off blindness in children, which will be especially useful in developing countries. While people have expressed concern about the environmental impact of genetically modified food plants, such plants are well established in the United States and some other countries and are likely to catch on in the developing world as well.
See also Agriculture since the Industrial Revolution; Biotechnology; Crop Improvement; Ecology and Food; FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization); Food Safety; Food Supply and the Global Food Market; Food Trade Associations; Government Agencies; High-Technology Farming; Horticulture; Hunger, Physiology of; Inspection; International Agencies; Political Economy.
Borlaug, Norman. "The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity." Nobel Lecture. Delivered 11 December 1970. Available at http://www.nobel.se.
Brown, Lester R. Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth. New York: Norton, 2001.
Brown, Lester R., et al., eds. State of the World 2001: A World-watch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society. New York: Norton, 2001.
Dawe, David. "Re-Energizing the Green Revolution in Rice." American Journal of Agricultural Economics 80 (1998): 94853.
Easterbrook, Gregg. "Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity." The Atlantic Monthly 279, no. 1 (January 1997): 752.
Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. Revised and expanded. New York: Sierra Club / Ballantine, 1971. A reprint of the 1968 edition.
Gately, David. "Backgrounder: The Past 25 Years: Successes, Failures, and Lessons Learned in Feeding the World." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., 2001. Available at .
Lappé, Frances Moore, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset. World Hunger: 12 Myths. New York: Grove Press, 1998.
Mann, Charles. "Reseeding the Green Revolution." Science 277 (1997): 1038043.
Walsh, John. "The Greening of the Green Revolution." Science 242 (1991): 26.
Richard L. Lobb