Green Revolution

views updated May 23 2018


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 19691970 crop seasonabout the time Ehrlich was dismissing "crash programs"55 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 1970. Both nations were self-sufficient in cereal production by 1974.

As important as the wheat program was, however, rice remains the world's most important food crop, providing 3580 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 countriessuch as Mexico, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Chinahad 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 biotechnologythe 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

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): 948953.

Easterbrook, Gregg. "Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity." The Atlantic Monthly 279, no. 1 (January 1997): 7582.

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): 10381043.

Walsh, John. "The Greening of the Green Revolution." Science 242 (1991): 26.

Richard L. Lobb

Green Revolution

views updated Jun 08 2018


The Green Revolution (not to be confused with "green" as in the environmental movement) was a dramatic increase in grain yields (especially wheat and rice) in the 1960s and 1970s, made possible by the Rockefeller Foundation's development of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties starting in the 1950s. The moral good of producing more food seems unquestionable. Indeed, Norman Borlaug (b. 1914), the scientist who spearheaded the Green Revolution, received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Yet the Green Revolution did spur ethical disputes over the social and environmental changes its technologies produced, especially in the developing world. Proponents argued that increased food supply benefited society generally; opponents pointed to the ways that poorer segments of societies were disproportionately hurt by the Green Revolution. In the early twenty-first century, Green Revolution technologies continue to promote conflict between those who see them as tools in service of society and those who argue that they promote injustice.

Competing Views of Development

The controversy over the social justice of the Green Revolution was apparent from the start of the Rockefeller Foundation work in Mexico. Encouraged by U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace, the Rockefeller Foundation in 1941 offered to send agricultural advisors to Mexico to help improve its wheat crop. The Rockefeller family had both a history of humanitarian work and valuable oil properties in Mexico. Both the family and Wallace were concerned about increasing social unrest in Mexico and sought solutions that would not reawaken interest in the previous Mexican administration's attempts to redistribute land to the poor (Wright 1990). The Rockefeller Foundation officers believed that they could stabilize Mexican society by increasing the supply of cheap, domestically-grown food. The Rockefeller Foundation's survey team of cutting-edge agricultural scientists, including plant breeders and agricultural chemists, unsurprisingly advocated technologies that had proved successful in the United States: the development of new, high-yielding varieties of major crops. North American farmers had profited from this system, despite the increased cost of purchasing new seed stock every year, and Rockefeller expected the same results of modernization in Mexico (Fitzgerald 1986).

Critics attacked the plan as inappropriate for small farms, which they believed ought to be the target of any agricultural improvement in Mexico. Carl Sauer, a geographer from the University of California Berkeley, argued that the plan would be disastrous for the peasant economy of Mexico, as peasant farmers would be unable to standardize on expensive new seeds. Other critics argued that by excluding experts on Mexican society from the survey team, Rockefeller risked forcing an inappropriate scientific solution on Mexico. The Rockefeller team fired back that Sauer and other critics simply wanted to keep Mexico backward, and were unwilling to let it modernize (Wright 1990).

Behind this sniping was a fundamental disagreement over how to benefit Mexican society. For Rockefeller's critics, improvement had to target economically-pressed peasants to be beneficial. Rockefeller argued Mexico had to rapidly start producing more food, using the best science and technology available. For Rockefeller, modern evoked the moral superiority of doing whatever was necessary, socially or technologically, to produce increases in the food supply. Critics argued that the science and technology should be appropriate for the majority of Mexican farmers. Both held moral commitments, but to different visions of the Mexican future.

Expected and Unexpected Consequences

Rockefeller adopted the survey team's recommendations. Borlaug's group employed traditional and novel scientific methods to produce high-yielding semidwarf wheat varieties that exceeded all expectations. Semidwarf varieties are stalky plants that can hold a heavy head of grain. These varieties, used with plentiful water, fertilizers, and pesticides, produced dramatically high crop yields. Interest in semidwarf varieties spread quickly, especially where food security was a concern. The Indian government asked Borlaug to help it develop wheat varieties for India; these were ultimately credited with preventing a major famine (Perkins 1997). Governments lauded the social good of the technology that allowed them to import less food despite growing populations and green revolution science was soon extended to other staple grains, especially rice. Rice-producing countries around the world adopted these new rice varieties as readily as had wheat producers. Those who adopted Green Revolution technologies often experienced increases in their standards of living, although in some places, government-mandated food prices sometimes undercut the economic benefits of higher yields (Leaf 1984).

The fears of critics were also realized, especially in the early years. Medium-sized and large farms could adopt the new technologies easily, and their high yields led to declining food prices. While urban populations benefited, small farmers watched the profits from their own harvests decrease. Some smaller farmers were able to adopt the technologies and improve their standards of living, but others were forced into rural labor or to move to the cities. Because people went hungry despite growing food supplies, critics argued that the Green Revolution could create food, but not relieve hunger (Sen 1981). They pointed to regional inequities, as areas suited to Green Revolution grains and favored by government attention flourished, while poorer regions fell behind. For critics, the Green Revolution failed the test of social justice (Shiva 1991).

Later, unanticipated environmental effects fed ongoing debates about social justice. The issue of monocropping highlights the environmental angle. Monocropping (producing a single crop in a field) helps produce uniform, high-yielding crops. However, it also produces microenvironments in which crops are more vulnerable to insects. Scientists responded by recommending heavy use of pesticides, with serious systemic consequences: sometimes toxic levels of pesticide exposure for farm laborers (who were often those disenfranchised by the Green Revolution), and rapid adaptation by insects requiring constant innovation and resulting in higher prices. Extensive monocropping sometimes led to less diversity in local food supplies, which critics have argued disproportionately affected the nutrition of the poor. In Green Revolution areas, the poor have come to depend almost exclusively on grains, decreasing the nutritional value of their diet (Shiva 1993). In each critique, the question of justice, whether for the poor or for future generations, is the central concern.


The attention that critics have paid to social justice, while sometimes questioned by supporters of the Green Revolution, have not fallen on deaf ears. The agency responsible for the scientific development of Green Revolution crops, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), has responded vigorously. Scientists have decreased the amounts of pesticide needed, reducing risk to farm workers and lowering the cost of inputs. They increased the number of food crops for which they have developed high-yielding varieties, including some crops traditionally cultivated by the poor. Scientists have given attention to developing high yielding crops using less water, an important consideration in arid regions. In the 1990s, scientists began to research ways to introduce Green Revolution technologies to the poor regions of Africa that had been previously bypassed.

Advocates have also argued that making Green Revolution technologies socially just is not only the responsibility of scientists, but also of regional and national governments (Hazell 2003). In places where agricultural credit is accessible, more small farmers have been able to retain or expand their land and benefit from the technologies. Such efforts are not lost on critics, but neither have they quieted the criticism that Green Revolution technologies promote injustice. Supporters are equally steadfast that Green Revolution technologies produce social goods that outweigh shortcomings. A widely agreed-upon ethical judgment of the Green Revolution remains unlikely, because the complex social and environmental consequences of this technology continue to unfold.


SEE ALSO Agricultural Ethics;Food Science and Technology;Green Ideology;Modernization;Poverty.


Fitzgerald, Deborah. (1986). "Exporting American Agriculture: The Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico, 1943–53." Social Studies of Science 16: 457–483. Historical look at the work of the Rockefeller Foundation during their earliest interventions in Mexico, exploring the reasons that they based their recommendations to Mexico on the "best practice" of U.S. agricultural science.

Hazell, Peter B. R. (2003). "Green Revolution, Curse or Blessing?" In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, ed. Joel Mokyr. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. A critical evaluation of the economics of the Green Revolution that argues that poverty reduction through Green Revolution technologies is possible when appropriate government policies and credit programs are in place.

Leaf, Murray J. (1984). Song of Hope: The Green Revolution in a Punjab Village. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. An anthropological study of a Punjab village that explores the positive social and economic changes of the village since the introduction of Green Revolution technologies.

Perkins, John H. (1997). Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press. A comprehensive history of the science and politics of the Green Revolution focusing on wheat production.

Sen, Amartya K. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford, UK: Clarendon. Examines connections between food availability, poverty, and the occurrence of famine. Questions whether increases in the food supply eliminate famine.

Shiva, Vandana. (1991). The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics. Penang, Malaysia: Third World Network. Examines the socioeconomic results of the Green Revolution and argues that it does too much harm to poor communities.

Shiva, Vandana. (1993). Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology. London: Zed Press. A critical examination of the issue of monocropping, why it appeals, and its shortcomings as a model for agriculture.

Wright, Angus. (1990). The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma. Austin: University of Texas Press. A study of agricultural change in Mexico focusing on sociopolitical background and consequences of the Green Revolution.

Green Revolution

views updated Jun 27 2018

Green Revolution


Green Revolution is the term applied to the introduction of modern crop varieties in developing countries beginning in 19641965. The Green Revolution was introduced at different rates in different countries. It was produced by more than five hundred National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in developing countries and supported by eight International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs) located in developing countries. IARCs produced roughly 35 percent of Green Revolution Modern Varieties (GRMVs), which included highly productive lines of rice and wheat. NARS produced 60 percent of GRMVs. Private sector breeders in developing countries produced 5 percent of GRMVs. Developed countries did not produce GRMVs for developing countries.

Twelve countries with populations in 2000 of one million or more did not have a significant Green Revolution (these countries had less than 2 percent GRMV adoption in 2000). Nine of these countries were in sub-Saharan Africa. An additional eighteen countries had less than 10 percent GRMV adoption in 2000 (eleven of these were also in sub-Saharan Africa). Another eighteen countries had less than 20 percent GRMV adoption in 2000 (twelve of these were in sub-Saharan Africa). Forty-five countries had significant Green Revolutions.

The forty-eight countries with low levels of GRMV adoption had low levels of crop value per hectare because crop yields were low. They used very little fertilizer and had low rates of productivity growth. The UNIDO index of industrial competitiveness for these forty-eight countries was low. Most of these countries were small. By contrast, the countries with significant Green Revolutions were larger countries (including India and China).

In 1960 birth rates were similar for all developing countries. By 2000, birth rates in the successful Green Revolution countries had declined to roughly half of the birth rates of 1960. For the unsuccessful countries, birth rates declined by only 15 percent. Food consumption per capita (as measured by calories consumed per capita) increased by 10 percent for the unsuccessful Green Revolution countries and by 25 percent for the successful Green Revolution countries. The unsuccessful countries increased food consumption because the real prices of food grains in world markets declined. In 2000 the real prices of food grains in world markets were 40 percent of their 1960 levels. Child mortality rates improved for all countries because of better diets.

The Green Revolution was criticized by two groups. In the 1980s it was criticized because farmers adopting GRMVs used more fertilizer. The first two GRMV crops were wheat and rice, and indeed fertilizer use did increase for these crops. It was also widely perceived in the 1980s that GRMVs were adopted only in favorable production environments. The second round of critics, who appeared at the end of the 1980s, emphasized environmental factors and increased use of chemicals.

The Green Revolution is continuing as new generations of GRMVs are being developed, and overall GRMV production is increasing, not declining. For example, by the 1990s two IARCs, ICRISAT in India and ICARDA in Syria, had begun developing GRMVs for unfavorable semi-arid and dryland conditions. The Green Revolution is seen today as having had a major impact in spite of its uneven delivery.

SEE ALSO Food Crisis


Ehrlich, Paul R. 1968. The Population Bomb. New York: Ballantine.

Evenson, Robert E., and Douglas Gollin, eds. 2003. Crop Variety Improvement and Its Effect on Productivity: The Impact of International Agricultural Research. Wallingford, U.K., and Cambridge, MA: CABI Publishers.

Evenson, Robert E., and Yoav Kislev. 1975. Agricultural Research and Productivity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Griliches, Zvi. 1957. Hybrid Corn: An Exploration in the Economics of Technological Change. PhD diss., University of Chicago.

Wilson, Edward O. 1992. The Diversity of Life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Robert E. Evenson

Green Revolution

views updated May 29 2018

Green Revolution

The "green revolution" refers to the widespread introduction of industrial agriculture into developing countries that began in the 1940s. As seen in Norman Borlaug's work on world hunger, its early promotersled by the Rockefeller Foundationassumed that increased food production would alleviate hunger in poor countries and thereby help prevent "red" (i.e., communist) revolutions. Although the green revolution has led to impressive increases in agricultural production over the years, critics such as Amartya Sen have argued that poverty and inequality must also be vigorously attacked since the poor typically cannot afford to buy enough food. Others, like Kenneth Dahlberg and Vandana Shiva, have argued that its high social, environmental, and energy costs of the green revolution make it unsustainable.

United States and European seed-breeding technologies devised in the 1930s were used from the 1940s onward to develop high-yielding varieties (HYVs) adapted to the climate and soil conditions of different developing countries. Research on maize (corn) begun in Mexico in the 1940s by the Rockefeller Foundation was extended in 1959 to rice in the Philippines in partnership with the Ford Foundation. By the 1960s, fears of famine in Asia caused by rapid population growth led to major aid programs to increase agricultural production though a package of inputs (HYVs, fertilizers, and pesticides) and financial support. Plant breeder Norman Borlaug, who led the Mexican research, was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the green revolution. A network of international agricultural research centers managed by the World Bank was also created to further spread the green revolution.

A new phase of the green revolution began in the mid-1980s in response to two emerging global developments. The first was growing international concerns about the increasing gap in wealth between the rich countries of the northern hemisphere and the poor countries of the southern hemisphere, the continuing population explosion, discrimination against women, environmental degradation, the loss of genetic diversity , and global warming . The international response has been that vigorous pursuit of sustainable development is the only answer to these problems. Interest in sustainable agriculture and food systems that are more energy efficient and less socially and environmentally destructive has grown rapidly in all countries. The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, is promoting proposals, made by Conway in his work The Doubly Green Revolution, which seeks rural development of the world's poorest regions though sustainable farming systems developed with full farmer participation, including women subsistence farmers.

The second development raising concern is the increasing global power of multinational corporations. Proposed responses have been divided along the same rich-poor lines as with other international problems. In agriculture, new plant genetic engineering techniques, plant and animal patenting, and free-trade agreements have combined to give multinational corporations a significant ability to shape agricultural policies, as well as the structure of food systems world wide. This power raises fundamental questions about the ability of governments to continue to set national food safety and labeling standards. These protect citizens and enable them to choose foods produced in a sustainable manner, which includes providing farm families and farm and food workers reasonable incomes and working conditions. Many farm, environmental, and consumer groups, as well as the poor countries of the world, are seeking ways to protect their food sovereignty and promote more equitable food systems.

Reconciling this increasing corporate power with the need to develop sustainable food and agricultural systems will be a serious source of contention for years to come.

see also Agriculture; Economics; Environmental Justice; Sustainable Development.


borlaug, norman e. (1997). norman borlaug on world hunger. san diego, ca: book-service international.

conway, gordon r. (1998). the doubly green revolution: food for all in the 21st century. ithaca, ny: cornell university press.

dahlberg kenneth a. (1979). beyond the green revolution: the ecology and politics of global agricultural development. new york: plenum press.

sen, amartya k. (1981). poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. new york: oxford university press.

shiva, vandana. (1991). the violence of the green revolution: third world agriculture, ecology, and politics. london: zed books.

steinhart, john, and steinhart, carol. (1974). "energy use in the united states food system." science 184:307316.

internet resources

consulative group on international agricultural research (cgiar) web site. available from

rockefeller foundation web site. available from

Kenneth A. Dahlberg


These new seed varieties were based on disease-resistant seed varieties found in the developing countries which were crossbred: 1) to make them respond more to fertilizer and irrigation, thus increasing their yield; 2) to make them less sensitive to annual variations in day length so that they can be used in many different latitudes and climatic zones, and 3) with rice, to make them mature faster so that two crops a year can be grown.

Green Revolution

views updated May 21 2018

Green Revolution

Green revolution refers to the breeding and widespread use of new varieties of cereal grains, especially wheat and rice. These semidwarf varieties boost yields when grown with high inputs of fertilizer and water. Green revolution agriculture became widespread in less-industrialized countries in the 1960s when international aid agencies sponsored scientific and educational projects promoting the green revolution. These programsincluding the adoption of new wheat varieties in India and Pakistan and new rice varieties in the Philippines and Indonesiasupported foreign policy objectives of the United States and were intended to alleviate hunger.

Supporters noted that the green revolution increased crop yields. India, for example, produced more wheat and rice, which helped avoid famines and save foreign exchange currency. Critics, however, charged that the green revolution increased inequalities: rich farmers became richer and poor farmers became poorer. Critics also complained that the green revolution encouraged increased environmental problems through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation.

There were problems with both perspectives on the green revolution policies. Critics avoided providing realistic alternatives for solving national food deficits, and supporters avoided noting that poor individuals continued to be hungry, despite the increased supplies.

The green revolution was a change in agricultural practices with secondary social and political effects. Both industrialized and less-industrialized countries adopted the practices. Almost all wheat and rice grown today originated in the green revolution.

see also Borlaug, Norman; Economic Importance of Plants; Fertilizer; Grains; Rice; Wheat.

John H. Perkins


Perkins, J. H. Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Green Revolution

views updated May 14 2018

Green Revolution Intensive plan of the 1960s to increase crop yields in developing countries by introducing higher-yielding strains of plant and new fertilizers. The scheme began in Mexico in the 1940s, and was successfully introduced in parts of India, se Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.

green revolution

views updated Jun 27 2018

green revolution A popular term referring to a particular type of technical change in Third World agriculture arising from improved genetic material, intensive fertilizer use, and controlled irrigation. Mainly associated with wheat and rice production and widely diffused in South and East Asia and Latin America, but not Sub-Saharan Africa.

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