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Whenever we look at the history of humankind, we often classify and describe certain time periods based on some sort of revolution that happened during those years such as when science started growing rapidly during the Scientific Revolution and when machines and inventions used for the industry were widespread during the Industrial Revolution. One of the revolutions that have happened recently was the Green Revolution, which happened during the early part of the second half of the 1900s right after World War II. But what is the Green Revolution?
The Green Revolution describes the period of human history in which productivity of crops increased rapidly thanks to the advancements in different methods used for producing crops such as advanced fertilizers, effective pesticides, and industrial means of farming. This resulted in higher overall productivity.
It was the dawn of the Green Revolution during the 60s to 70s period that ultimately led to how quick food production is in today’s modern world as we are basically looking at more advanced means of farming in many different countries all over the world. But let us try to look at the Green Revolution on a deeper level to truly understand what it has brought to the world today whether it may be good or bad.
What Is the Green Revolution?
The history of humankind is often described by the different “revolutions” that it has experienced. And no, we are not talking about a violent revolution but a revolution wherein one norm overthrows the previous norm to become what prevalently describes the time period. Such revolutions include the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Digital Revolution, which is the period we are in right now.
But, when it comes to one of the more productive revolutions in the history of humankind, the Green Revolution is quite momentous especially when it comes to food and crop production. So, what is the Green Revolution?
The Green Revolution describes the period in human history in which food and crop production rapidly increased to the point that different farms and agricultural bodies and groups began to produce more crops at rates higher than ever. This happened sometime during the 60s to the 70s.
One of the reasons why the Green Revolution began was that different companies were beginning to divert their investments towards agricultural research right after the Second Great War as populations began booming and as more and more people were starting to work in the agricultural sector.
It also helped that certain economies were also adopting new policies that were able to allow the agricultural sector to thrive while also giving an incentive to private individuals to invest in the agricultural sector as well as the research and studies involving agriculture.
Because of how agricultural research improved, science led to the development of different methods of farming that vastly improved the way we approach food and crop production. Some of the improved areas of food and crop production included advancements in synthetic fertilizers and insecticides that not only improved the growth of the crops but also kept insects and pests away from them. Meanwhile, as technology improved, different methods of improving the way we grew and planted crops were also developed such as tractors that improved manual work on the farm and methods that made it easier to irrigate crops.
On top of that, genetic alteration and research of different crops have also led to the rise of high-yield crops that are larger and provide more abundant yields compared to other crops. This has allowed farms to not only improve the efficiency of their farming methods but to also grow crops that actually produce higher yields than ever before.
As such, due to the Green Revolution, global agricultural production dramatically increased as farms all over the world were adapting to the new advancements while also adopting the new techniques that allowed them to produce food more efficiently and effectively.
Definition of a Green Revolution
While we often describe the Green Revolution as the period of time in which agricultural yields and productivity increased to the point that farms all over the world began to produce more food and crops, the term has also gained a definition that not only describes the time period but describes the set of initiatives that happened during the Green Revolution.
The Britannica online encyclopedia describes a Green Revolution as an event wherein food production increases due to the introduction of new farming techniques and grain production into developing countries. It was in Mexico where the Green Revolution saw its early success as the country is often called the birthplace of the Green Revolution. It was also introduced in the Indian subcontinent and in the Philippines, where it saw a lot of success in terms of grain and crop production.
Why did Green Revolution start?
The Green Revolution basically started as a result of how the Mexican government, during the latter parts of the 1940s, began to divert its attention towards agricultural development especially after the Mexican Revolution, which allowed farmers to have control over different agricultural lands.
Of course, the US also supported the Green Revolution in Mexico considering that the country was a close neighbor and that Americans could benefit from supporting the improvement of agricultural methods in Mexico by trading with them. This led to many different American firms and entities diverting their attention and investments towards agricultural development and research and studies concerning different crops and farming methods that could be used to improve the agricultural sector. Of course, this happened right after the Second Great War when populations were booming and there was a need for food production to increase.
The United States also saw the Green Revolution as a way for them to increase their influence in Asia and in other developing countries during the Cold War period. During this time, many different Asian nations were beginning to adopt socialism as their primary political belief. But the problem during that time was that famine was rampant in Asia especially in territories that have adopted socialism.
As such, the US realized that using the Green Revolution and improving food and crop production in those developing Asian countries would become the answer to the food shortages and the famine they were facing at that time. In turn, this would also increase the American capitalist influence in such nations as opposed to the socialist beliefs that were preached by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The Green Revolution saw its early success in Mexico, which prompted the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to try to adopt the same techniques in the Philippines, one of the Asian countries that had close ties with the United States. This eventually led to the increase of the production of rice in the Philippines to more than double in just a span of 20 years.
In India, the same food production and agricultural methods were introduced to India, which was in the middle of a massive famine at that time. The Green Revolution techniques allowed the country to escape the brink of famine despite the large population that India boasted during that time.
But while the Green Revolution may have been successful in Mexico and in certain parts of Asia, it hasn’t been the same in Africa as numerous African nations are still struggling to increase food production due to the different environmental conditions in that continent. That’s why famine is still rampant in Africa even up to now as the continent is still struggling to adopt new ways to try to increase food production.
Despite how investments and agricultural innovation have dropped during the 2000s as a result of how more and more private firms and entities are focusing on the digital landscape, the Green Revolution still plays an important role especially in developing countries that are still lagging in food production and are still relying heavily on the agricultural sector to try to improve grain and crop production as one of the main drivers for their growth.
Of course, we also have to consider the role that climate change plays in our world today as the Green Revolution is still very much looking for ways to try to adapt different varieties of grains and crops to rapidly changing climate conditions that we have recently been seeing and experiencing.
Green Revolution Techniques
When it came down to one of the most important techniques developed and utilized during the Green Revolution, the improvements in irrigation became vital especially in places where there were often droughts and where water was used inefficiently. Moreover, older methods of irrigation were actually found to have been contributory factors to droughts.
In that sense, one of the more advanced irrigation techniques introduced during the Green Revolution was a method where water was allowed to slowly drip into the roots of the plants to make the use of water more efficient. Sprinklers were also some of the more advanced and efficient methods of irrigation introduced during that time.
In the past, agricultural sectors were much more concerned with the use of natural fertilizers as scientific advancements were still far off from producing synthetic fertilizers that were quicker, cheaper, and much more effective than natural variants. Switching to synthetic fertilizers was one of the main goals of the Green Revolution as doing so would allow crops and grains to grow faster and larger.
Due to the advancements in science during the Green Revolution, it became possible for synthetic and chemical-based fertilizers to be produced on a widescale basis as more and more manufacturing plants that produced these fertilizers sprung up, which only contributed to the growth of agriculture during that era.
Pests have always been some of the biggest antagonists when it comes down to agriculture as different types of insects and pests can ruin an entire batch of crops in an instant. That’s why it was important for pesticides to be developed to reduce the chances of pest infestation and diseases in crops.
Thanks to the growth of technology, pesticides were developed at a quicker pace to help out in keeping crops from dying out due to pests. Insecticides accounted for a huge chunk of the pesticides that were developed that time but fungicides, which were useful for fruits and vegetables to decrease the likelihood of them suffering from diseases, also became abundant. The use of pesticides not only improved the growth and production of crops but also the quality of the food that was produced during the Green Revolution.
4. Genetically modified crops
Advancements in the understanding of genetics as well as different studies and research involving the genetic makeup of different crops have allowed scientists and researchers during the Green Revolution to come up with different methods and techniques that allowed them to improve certain crops and grains.
Seeds and varieties of crops were improved thanks to how they were specifically modified and bred to be better versions of certain crops such that they were more resilient to pests and diseases and were able to produce greater yields.
Green Revolution benefits
Due to the different techniques and methods developed during the Green Revolution, there were plenty of benefits that developed and developing countries experienced.
1. Developing countries saw growth
A lot of the different techniques and methods that were developed during the Green Revolution were introduced to developing countries such as Mexico, India, the Philippines, and Africa. And since most of the developing countries were reliant on agriculture as their main driver for growth, they were able to see remarkable improvements in their economy due to the increase of their food production as well as to the trade and exporting of crops and grains to other countries.
2. Global food supply increased
The overall improvements of agricultural techniques and methods in several countries all over the world eventually led to the increase of the global food supply. In Mexico alone, the new varieties of wheat introduced actually increased their food production by 300% in a span of only 20 years thanks to how it was easier and more efficient for them to produce wheat. The same goes for other countries such as the Philippines, where rice production also dramatically increased. Thanks to how agriculture-heavy countries were able to produce food at a rapid pace, they were able to trade and export their crops to other countries thereby improving the overall global food supply.
3. More mouths were fed
Famine was rampant in Mexico and in several Asian nations during the time of the Green Revolution. But thanks to how food supply increased and how more and more crops were produced in a more efficient and effective way, global hunger dramatically decreased as more mouths all over the world were fed.
4. Agricultural lands became more efficient
On top of how certain countries were able to grow more food at a faster rate due to the modernized agricultural techniques introduced, they were also able to make use of their lands more efficiently than ever before. The new technology as well as the modified seeds allowed them to basically produce more food and grains without even increasing the available agricultural land. This benefited smaller countries with limited land that can be used for agricultural purposes as they were basically able to grow more crops without the need for more land.
Is the Green Revolution sustainable?
Despite how the Green Revolution was able to bring about a lot of different benefits thanks to the growth of the agricultural sector as well as the global food supply, there were still some criticisms about it. One particular issue was in relation to the sustainability of the Green Revolution.
Critics were quick to point out how greenhouse gases were increasing rapidly during the Green Revolution due in large part to the increase of carbon cycling in the atmosphere as more and more crops were grown every single year during that era.
On top of that, some of the modern methods of agriculture introduced during the Green Revolution relied on non-renewable resources. In particular, because of how agriculture became modernized, more agricultural machinery and pesticides were being used. Machines and pesticides rely heavily on fossil fuels, which are non-renewable resources.
Agricultural biodiversity was also affected because crop and grain production relied more on genetically modified variants that lacked the same diversity that some crops and grains do because they were genetically engineered to be faster and bigger as opposed to being healthier and more nutritious. As such, there were fears that certain crop variants would end up going extinct due to how monotonous the food production was.
As to that, the widespread belief today is that the Green Revolution back then was not sustainable and was more of a quick answer to the huge problems that plagued several countries during the post-WWII era. Such problems included drought, famine, and hunger, which needed the Green Revolution as a quick yet unsustainable solution.
What are the disadvantages of the Green Revolution?
Here are some of the other negative issues regarding the Green Revolution:
1. It didn’t cater to the poor
Poor farmers who couldn’t afford the more modern techniques and technologies introduced during the Green Revolution suffered because they saw lower crop yields and were losing their market to the more advanced farmers.
2. Poor quality of diet
The main focus of the Green Revolution was abundance and not quality. That’s why a lot of the different crops that were modified to be able to provide abundant yields lacked essential nutrients. High-yield crops may have been high in carbohydrates usually lacked essential fats, protein, vitamins and minerals, and amino acids that humans required on a daily basis.
3. Impact on health
The increased reliance on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers had negative impacts on the health of humans as there were connections between the increase of cancer and pesticide use and exposure.
Is Green Revolution good or bad?
In response to the criticisms of the Green Revolution, the major proponent of the movement, Norman Borlaug, said that there was no miracle cure to any problem that plagued the world and that the Green Revolution and the increase of food production it brought was not a perfect cure to food scarcity and hunger at that time. He also said that the environmental activists that were against the Green Revolution did not experience what it was like being on the brink of death due to hunger and famine.
Indeed, the Green Revolution had a lot of weaknesses and disadvantages that can easily be pinpointed. In a sense, it became more of a quick solution to the hunger and famine that struck developing countries during that time but it was not a miracle elixir by any means.
As such, the Green Revolution is neither good nor bad because it did have its mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages. But the one thing that you could easily say is that it needed to be improved and it needed to grow so that it could actually fill the holes in its armor and become more sustainable.