Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Modern Agriculture (8): The Green Revolution

Norman Borlaug? Get down on your knees and praise him, thanking the gods for the fact that because of him you and yours do not depend on "organic" food. Norman Borlaug.

Say what you will about Jesus and Lao Tzu and Mr Clean; but friend, praise to the skies Norman Borlaug.

I'll admit to my surprise that a search of the phrase "Modern Agriculture" at No Dhimmitude brings up 44 posts. I'm a guy who never spent a day on a farm, not even an hour at a petting zoo. But here we are, post number seven directly entitled "Modern Agriculture." Obviously it means something to me. I think it means something to all of us, though the interest is likely not there for most. We take it for granted that there is an abundance of food, that the fridge is full and the cupboard' groaning, shelf after loaded shelf. Maybe it's me, years of traveling in places where food is scarce or even where the food will eat right back if it doesn't poison you to death first. Norman Borlaug. The man saves my life, and I for one am damned grateful. I'm grateful that he save the lives of billions. He's the father of the Green Revolution. He's the real revolutionary, O you friends of Che Guevara.

I write often about Povertarians and Death Hippies. Below are some of the reasons I use words and phrases such. Yes, I hate environmentalists and "ecologists" following the proto-fascist path of Ernst Haekel and Walter Darre. Yes, I hate Keith Pianka and D.H Lawrence. I hate Gandhi. They are Povertarians and Death Hippies, so I don't hate them for no good reason. They are killers. They are evil people. Norman Borlaug is a hero who must go down in history as the closest thing to Jesus in 2000 years.

A paragraph from wikipedia on the Green Revolution:

"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.[27]"

That's what we are up against. No Red Revolution because there was a Green Revolution instead. The mad cynicism of that should send the average reader into the streets to hang a Death Hippie on the spot.

I use the term "philobarbarism" quite often. I think it is often coupled with the phrase :Hang the Death Hippies."

"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.[28]"

The monstrous evil of the Povertarian Death Hippies who live in high style live to condemn those who live a mediocre life of privacy. Annie, get your gun!

The Green Revolution refers to the transformation of agriculture that began in 1945 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[1]. 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.[2] [3] The consensus among some agronomists is that the Green Revolution has allowed food production to keep pace with worldwide population growth. The Green Revolution has had major social and ecological impacts, making it a popular topic of study among sociologists.

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 Genetically modified food.

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

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.[16] The average person in the developing world consumes roughly 25% more calories per day now than before the Green Revolution.[12] 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.[17]

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."[4]

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. [4]

India soon adopted IR8 - a rice semi-dwarf variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute 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.[5] 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. [5]

Famine in India, once accepted as inevitable, has not returned since the introduction of
Green Revolution agriculture.


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.


Cereal production more than doubled in developing nations between the years 1961 – 1985.[12] Yields of rice, maize, and wheat increased steadily during that period.[12] The production increases can be attributed roughly equally to irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development, at least in the case of Asian rice.[12]

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,[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

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[18][19][20], 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.[21] 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."[21] 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.[21]

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. [22] 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.


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.[25] Also, the pesticides involved in rice production eliminated fish and weedy green vegetables from the diets of Asian rice farmers.[26] Critics of this view counter that this presupposes an inherent superiority of subsistence living, which tends to be romanticized in rich Western countries.


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".


Norman Ernest Borlaug (born March 25, 1914) is an American agronomist, humanitarian, Nobel laureate, and has been called the father of the Green Revolution.[1] Borlaug is one of five people in history to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.[2] He is also an awardee of the Padma Vibhushan, India's highest civilian honour to non-citizens of exemplary accomplishment.

Borlaug received his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He took up an agricultural research position in Mexico, where he developed semi-dwarf high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.

During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations. These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation.[3] He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

More recently, he has helped apply these methods of increasing food production to Asia and Africa. Borlaug has continually advocated the use of his methods and biotechnology to decrease world famine. His work has faced environmental and socioeconomic criticisms, including charges that his methods have created dependence on monoculture crops, unsustainable farming practices, heavy indebtedness among subsistence farmers, and high levels of cancer among those who work with agriculture chemicals. He has emphatically rejected many of these as unfounded or untrue. In 1986, he established the World Food Prize to recognize individuals who have improved the quality, quantity or availability of food around the globe.


To finance his studies [during the Depression era], Borlaug periodically had to put his education on hold and take a job. One of these jobs, in 1935, was as a leader in the Civilian Conservation Corps, working with the unemployed on US federal projects. Many of the people who worked for him were starving. He later recalled, "I saw how food changed them...All of this left scars on me".[9]


During the mid-1960s, the Indian subcontinent was at war, and experiencing widespread famine and starvation, even though the US was making emergency shipments of millions of tons of grain, including over one fifth of its total wheat, to the region.[13] The Indian and Pakistani bureaucracies and the region's cultural opposition to new agricultural techniques initially prevented Borlaug from fulfilling his desire to immediately plant the new wheat strains there. By the summer of 1965, the famine became so acute that the governments stepped in and allowed his projects to go forward.[9]

In the late 1960s, most experts said that global famines in which billions would die would soon occur. Biologist Paul R. Ehrlich wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb, "The battle to feed all of humanity is over... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Ehrlich also said, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971," and "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980."

In 1965, after extensive testing, Borlaug's team began its effort by importing about 450 tons of Lerma Rojo and Sonora 64 semi-dwarf seed varieties: 250 tons went to Pakistan and 200 to India. They encountered many obstacles. Their first shipment of wheat was held up in Mexican customs and so could not be shipped from the port at Guaymas in time for proper planting. Instead, it was sent via a 30-truck convoy from Mexico to the US port in Los Angeles (LA), encountering delays at the US-Mexico border. Once the convoy entered the US, it had to take a detour, as the US National Guard had closed the freeway due to Watts riots in LA. When the seeds reached LA, a Mexican bank refused to honor Pakistan treasury's payment of US$100,000 because the check contained three misspelled words. Still, the seed was loaded onto a freighter destined for Bombay, India, and Karachi, Pakistan. Twelve hours into the freighter's voyage, war broke out between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region. Borlaug received a telegraph from the Pakistani minister of agriculture, Malik Khuda Bakhsh Bucha: "I'm sorry to hear you are having trouble with my check, but I've got troubles, too. Bombs are falling on my front lawn. Be patient, the money is in the bank..."[9]


The initial yields of Borlaug's crops were higher than any ever harvested in South Asia. The countries subsequently committed to importing large quantities of both the Lerma Rojo 64 and Sonora 64 varieties. In 1966, India imported 18,000 tons —the largest purchase and import of any seed in the world at that time. In 1967, Pakistan imported 42,000 tons, and Turkey 21,000 tons. Pakistan's import, planted on 1.5 million acres (6,100 km²), produced enough wheat to seed the entire nation's wheatland the following year.[13] By 1968, when Ehrlich's book was released, William Gaud of the United States Agency for International Development was calling Borlaug's work a "Green Revolution". High yields led to a shortage of various utilities: labor to harvest the crops, bullock carts to haul it to the threshing floor, jute bags, trucks, rail cars, and grain storage facilities. Some local governments were forced to close school buildings temporarily to use them for grain storage.[9]

In Pakistan, wheat yields nearly doubled, from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 7.3 million tons in 1970; Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production by 1968. Yields were over 21 million tons by 2000. In India, yields increased from 12.3 million tons in 1965 to 20.1 million tons in 1970. By 1974, India was self-sufficient in the production of all cereals. By 2000, India was harvesting a record 76.4 million tons (2.81 billion bushels) of wheat. Since the 1960s, food production in both nations has increased faster than the rate of population growth. Paul Waggoner, of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, calculates that India's use of high-yield farming has prevented 100 million acres (400,000 km²) of virgin land from being converted into farmland—an area about the size of California, or 13.6% of the total area of India.[20] The use of these wheat varieties has also had a substantial effect on production in six Latin American countries, six countries in the Near and Middle East, and several others in Africa.

[A]ssuming that global food demand is on the rise, restricting crop usage to traditional low-yield methods such as organic farming would also require at least one of the following: the world population to decrease, either voluntarily or as a result of mass starvations; or the conversion of forest land into crop land. It is thus argued that high-yield techniques are ultimately saving ecosystems from destruction. On a global scale, this view holds strictly true ceteris paribus, if all land either consists of forests or is used for agriculture. But other land uses exist, such as urban areas, pasture, or fallow, so further research is necessary to ascertain what land has been converted for what purposes, in order to determine how true this view remains. Increased profits from high-yield production may also induce cropland expansion in any case, although as world food needs decrease, this expansion may decrease as well.[22]


As Borlaug's name is nearly synonymous with the Green Revolution, over the decades environmentalists, nutritionists, progressives, and economists have mounted many criticisms of the Green Revolution. Throughout his years of research, Borlaug's programs often faced opposition by people who consider genetic crossbreeding to be unnatural or to have negative effects.[23] Borlaug's work has been criticized for bringing large-scale monoculture, input-intensive farming techniques to countries that had previously relied on subsistence farming[24]. These farming techniques reap large profits for US agribusiness and agrichemical corporations such as Monsanto and have been criticized for widening social inequality in the countries owing to uneven food distribution while forcing a capitalist agenda of US corporations onto countries that had undergone land reform.[25] There are also concerns about the long-term sustainability of farming practices encouraged by the Green Revolution in both the developed and developing world.[26]

Other concerns of his critics and critics of biotechnology in general include: that the construction of roads in populated third-world areas could lead to the destruction of wilderness; the crossing of genetic barriers; the inability of crops to fulfill all nutritional requirements; the decreased biodiversity from planting a small number of varieties; the environmental and economic effects of inorganic fertilizer and pesticides; the amount of herbicide sprayed on fields of herbicide-resistant crops.[27]


In the early 1980s, environmental groups that were opposed to Borlaug's methods campaigned against his planned expansion of efforts into Africa. They prompted the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and the World Bank to stop funding most of his African agriculture projects. Western European governments were persuaded to stop supplying fertilizer to Africa. According to David Seckler, former Director General of the International Water Management Institute, "the environmental community in the 1980s went crazy pressuring the donor countries and the big foundations not to support ideas like inorganic fertilizers for Africa."[20]


[Who'd know?] Borlaug was also featured in an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, where he was referred to as the "Greatest Human Being That Ever Lived". In that episode, Penn & Teller play a card game where each card depicts a great person in history. Each player picks a few cards at random, and bets on whether they think their card shows a greater person than the other players' cards based on a characterization such as humanitarianism or scientific achievement. Penn gets Norman Borlaug, and proceeds to bet all his chips, his house, his rings, his watch, and essentially everything he's ever owned. He wins because, as he says, "Norman is the greatest human being, and you've probably never heard of him." In the episode—the topic of which was genetically altered food—he is credited with saving the lives of over a billion people.


On September 27, 2006, the United States Senate by unanimous consent passed the Congressional Tribute to Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Act of 2006. The act authorizes that Borlaug be awarded America's highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal. On December 6, 2006, the House of Representatives passed the measure by voice vote. President George Bush signed the bill into law on December 14, 2006, and it became Public Law Number 109–395. According to the act, "Dr. Borlaug has saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived, and likely has saved more lives in the Islamic world than any other human being in history." The act authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to strike and sell duplicates of the medal in bronze. He was presented with the medal on July 17, 2007.[38]


Modernity isn't perfect, but thanks to Norman Borlaug there are billions of healthy people around to complain about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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