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The Green Revolution: History, Impact and Future

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Biology
Wordcount: 3384 words Published: 12th Jun 2018

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Plants are an essential part of lives on the planet and a crucial source of economic prosperity for almost every country. They provide directly or indirectly almost all the food of man and animals. They also supply industrial raw material, for instance, timber, paper, rubber, products for the chemical industries such as starch, sugars, oils and fats, energy in the form of fuel wood, starch and sugars which are sources of ethanol, methanol, etc., and massive numerous valuable drugs, fragrances and other fine chemicals. Plant growth also has a massive influence on environment. Because of all these roles, Policymakers should be continually developing policies for the use of plants to protect the earth’s environment and to feed the growing populations.(1)

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The Historical Phenomenon (Green revolution)

The term “Green Revolution” has begun to be used in 1960s refers to the renovation of agricultural practices by some Third World countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America, beginning in Mexico in the 1940s. Because of the use of high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of wheat and rice which increase food crop production. Green revolution technologies spread worldwide in different terms as “agricultural revolution” and “seed-fertilizer revolution”, which led to a substantial increase in the amount of calories produced per acre of agriculture in 1960s.(light green, H2)

The green days of the Green Revolution (History and Development)

In 1970 the American botanist, Norman Borlaug, Director of the Division for Wheat Cultivation at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center or CIMMYT in Mexico, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was honoured for having set in motion a worldwide agricultural development, later to be called the ‘Green Revolution’ (light green). In the 1940s, N. Borlaug began conducting research in Mexico and developed new disease resistance high-yield varieties of wheat. By combining Borlaug’s wheat varieties with new mechanized agricultural technologies, Mexico was able to produce more wheat than was needed by its own citizens, leading to its becoming an exporter of wheat by the 1960s. Prior to the use of these varieties, the country was importing almost half of its wheat supply.(net)

Due to the success of the Green Revolution in Mexico, its technologies spread worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s. The United States for instance, imported about half of its wheat in the 1940s but after using Green Revolution technologies, it became self-sufficient in the 1950s and became an exporter by the 1960s.(net)

A renovation of the history of the Green Revolution shows that the international agricultural research institutes played an important role in progressing of using Green Revolution technologies. Such as, in 1959, the CIMMYT instituted in Mexico, which was founded by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and the Mexican government provided the land. Also, in 1960, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila, which was joint effort of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation Several more international institutes were established and funded by government agencies as the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). After that, in 1971, all the international agricultural research institutes were brought under the umbrella of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).(4)

The development was based on the genetic improvement of particularly productive plants. Borlaug’s so-called “miracle wheat” doubled and tripled yields in short period of time. Similar increases were soon achieved with maize and, at the (IRRI), with rice (IR8) that produced more grain per plant when grown with irrigation and fertilizers.(2)

The success of the newly developed strains appeared limitless. They were introduced in several Asian countries in 1965, and, by 1970, these strains were being cultivated over an area of 10 million hectares. Within three years, Pakistan ceased to be dependent wheat imports from the United States. Sir Lanka, the Philippines, and number of African and South American countries achieved record harvests. India, which had just avoided a severe famine in 1967, produced enough grain within five years to support its population, and became one of the world’s leading rice producers.(2) Despite the success of the Green Revolution in increasing yields per hectare in India, this success has largely bypassed Africa. The reasons for this include the fact that both wheat and rice are relatively unimportant staple crops in Africa; that Africa’s main staples of maize, sorghum, millet, and cassava have experienced only modest productivity gains; and that Africa’s infrastructure is not sufficiently well developed to support significant agricultural change

The witness of the Green Revolution (Plant Technologies)

Agricultural technology development can be characterised as passing from primarily “land-related” technologies, through mechanisation to bio-chemical technologies (associated with new varieties and relatively large amount of agro-chemicals). It is now moving towards a “bio-technology’ phase. (green p 72)

The crops developed throughout the Green Revolution were high yield varieties (HYVs), which means they were domesticated plants in high response to chemical fertilizers and produce more grain per plant when grown with irrigation.( H2)

They were insensitive to photoperiodicity and matured in about 110 days rather than 180 days; it was thus possible to grow two or even three crops in a year. The yield potential of these varieties was greater in the temperate regions of Asia and in the dry season in the monsoon region than in the humid tropics, because of the longer hours of sunshine and hence the greater potential photosynthesis available to the plant. (H2)

The terms often used with these plants that make them successful are harvest index, photosynthate allocation, and insensitivity to day length. The harvest index refers to the above ground weight of the plant. During the Green Revolution, plants that had the largest seeds were selected to create the most production possible. After selectively breeding these plants, they evolved to all have the characteristic of larger seeds. These larger seeds then created more grain yield and a heavier above ground weight.

This larger above ground weight then led to an increased photosynthetic allocation. By maximizing the seed or food portion of the plant, it was able to use photosynthesis more efficiently because the energy produced during this process went directly to the food portion of the plant.

Finally, by selectively breeding plants that were not sensitive to day length, researchers like Borlaug were able to double a crop’s production because the plants were not limited to certain areas of the globe based solely on the amount of light available to them.

Benefits & Criticism (Consequences of the Green Revolution)

Agricultural development thinking in the 1960s and 1970s was preoccupied with the problem of feeding a rapidly increasing world population. Then, the obvious solution was to increase per capita food production. The resulting green revolution has had a dramatic impact on the Third World, particularly in terms of increasing the yields of the staple cereals – wheat, rice, and maize. However, despite impressive success, it also suffers from problems of equity and failures in achieving stability and sustainability of production.( 5 After)

Since the 1940s, the fossil fuel-based Green Revolution has greatly increased the production of a few selected commodity grain crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans and rice, achieved through high-input, monoculture cropping practices. The unintended consequence of this

Green Revolution experiment is that the focus on chemical crop fertility inputs, pest protection, and weed control has increased toxicity in the environment and degraded the planet’s finite soil and water resources (Khan et al. 2007).

Worldwide, 1.9 billion hectares are significantly degraded. Soils are less fertile, erosion has greatly increased, and breakdowns in agro-ecological functions have resulted in poor crop yields, land abandonment, and deforestation. (IAASTD 2008)

Furthermore, chemically-based conventional farming methods lead to human health risks. Pesticides have damaged wildlife, poisoned farm workers, and created long-term health problems such as cancers and birth defects (Lichtenberg, 1992).

Even in the U.S., more than half of the nation’s drinking water wells contained detectable amounts of nitrate and seven percent have detectable amounts of pesticides. (US EPA 1992) There is a significant health risk from pesticide residue on the foods we eat. Conventionally grown food in the heavily regulated United States has 2/3 more pesticide residue than organically grown food. As soils on organic farming systems continually rid themselves of pesticides from prior industrial agricultural practices, the pesticide residue gap between conventional and organic will grow even larger. (Delate et al. 2006; Baker et al. 2002). Preschool children in the Pacific Northwest eating a conventional food diet had eight times the organophosphorus pesticide exposure compared to children of parents who provided organic diets. (Curl et al. 2003; Lu et al. 2005) In countries with little or no regulatory enforcement, the situation of people eating food contaminated with pesticide residue can be much worse. A 2008 research review – commissioned in partnership with the United Nations and prepared by 400 world experts and signed by 57 nations – strongly rejects industrial farming as a viable approach to address problems of soaring food prices, hunger, social injustice and environmental degradation in the developing world. (IAASTD 2008). Around the world, one- to five-million farm workers are estimated to suffer pesticide poisoning every year, and at least 20,000 die annually from exposure, many of them in developing countries. (World Bank: Bangladesh: Overusing Pesticides in Farming January 9, 2007) The United States is burdened with an estimated $12 billion annual health and environmental cost from pesticide use, (Pimentel et al. 2005) and estimated annual public and environmental health costs related to soil erosion of about $45 billion (Pimentel et al. 1995). But the damage transcends environmental soil loss. What cannot be economically calculated is the cost of destroying future generations’ ability to produce enough food for their survival. When all costs are calculated the Green Revolution is not cost-efficient. While centralized, industrial agricultural methods reduce labor costs by substituting herbicides, insecticides and synthetically-produced fertilizers as well as farm machinery for application and crop maintenance, the energy costs are much higher than in organic farming systems. The negative consequences of the Green Revolution led the 2008 United Nations research review to strongly reject industrial farming as a viable approach to address problems of soaring food prices, hunger, social injustice and environmental degradation in the developing world. (IAASTD 2008)

Second Green revolution

New biotechnology can affect every stage of plant life. Rapid biotechnology tests for contamination by crop disease organisms and for seed and crop quality controls allow for safer and more efficient crop breeding is likely to play an important role in securing the future supply of food. Crop germplasm improvement by the addition of new genes has been the goal of plant breeding since the beginning of agriculture. New efficient genetic modification methods could aim at increasing plant performance and plant resistance to virus and other disease, as well as to drought, salt, cold, heat, etc. They could also enlarge the land resource basis available for agriculture. Genetic modification might become the most important contribution of biotechnology to plants. From 1982, when the first single gene was successfully transferred, progress has been rapid; several dozen plants have since been modified in the laboratory.(1)

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Broad-scale implementation of innovative technologies, such as hybrid breeding and plant biotechnology, would go a long way towards increasing and securing the harvests of our most important crops. For example, varieties of crop plants whose resistance to drought or extreme temperatures has been strengthened – through gene technology or by other means – could contribute to securing the harvest in the face of climate change. Researchers in the Australian state of Victoria have run successful field trials of genetically manipulated wheat lines that are capable of delivering stable yields under conditions of water stress. In the 2006/07 season, drought in Victoria destroyed an estimated 70 percent of the wheat harvest. The German Association of Biotechnology Industries (DIB) expects the first drought-tolerant wheat variety to be brought onto the market in five to ten years. For maize, this could happen in two to five years. Authorities in the USA have already received a registration application for drought-tolerant maize. Plant biotechnology is also likely to contribute to a resource-efficient increase in the productivity of food from animal husbandry. In future, ruminants might be fed more easily-digestible grasses with modified fructan and lignin contents. This would reduce the amount of climate-damaging digestive gases they produce, and at the same time, increase energy yield.

Increasing income levels in developing countries mean that more and more people expect to be able to consume animal-derived foods, so this type of efficiency gain is essential if the environmental and climatic impacts of animal husbandry are to be kept under control. The twin pressures of climate change and dwindling fossil energy resources will propel agriculture to the forefront in supplying the world’s population with renewable energy and sustainable supplies of raw materials. Forecasts indicate that between 20 and 30 percent of the agricultural surface might be dedicated to producing biomass by 2025. It follows then that this area will either be lost to food production – or at best only available to a limited extent. This means that biomass production also desperately needs innovative approaches if the conflict between the tank and the plate is to be relieved.

Need of another revolution

The challenge facing the world today is to provide food, fibre and industrial raw materials for an ever growing world population without degenerating the environment or affecting the future productivity of natural resources. This challenge is even more pressing in developing countries, where FAO estimates that a total of 925 million people are undernourished in 2010 (FAO SOFI report 2010).

The industrial Green Revolution has not, and cannot, feed the world. Instead of helping people feed themselves, it has created a cycle of dependency. In a world of 6.5 billion people, experts project that the world food supply will need to double again over the next 40 years to feed our planet’s population.

Based upon the heavy use of chemical fertilizers and irrigation, the industrial Green Revolution worked only as long as fuel was cheap and water was abundant. The transitory benefits of increased short-term food production have come at too great an ecological price as carbon is extracted from the soil and emitted as global-warming carbon dioxide in our air instead of remaining in the soil to nurture crops. Petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides have also polluted our water and poisoned our environment, food, and people.


It is sometimes said that the Gene Revolution will replace the Green Revolution. But this will not happen until and unless this mechanism enables breeders to produce “dynamic” gains in generations of varieties. Until such time, the Gene Revolution’s GM products can only complement conventional Green Revolution breeding. This complementarily takes the form of installing “static” GM products on the dynamic generations of varieties produced by conventional Green Revolution methods.^

* The Roundup Ready product produced by Monsanto has been “installed” on approximately 1,500 soybean varieties produced by 150 seed production companies

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been introduced in the agricultural system and on the market of consumer goods in the last 10-20 years, initially in the USA but also increasingly in developing countries. Since the discovery of genetic engineering, with its potential to modify DNA of living organisms, discussion and controversy have been abundant [1,2] both cited in [3]. Europe has witnessed a particularly strong resistance to the introduction of GMOs in agriculture and for consumer food products, both from consumers, national governments and from the EU. The public objections had numerous causes, including the concerns about the risk assessment, the ethics and equity issues, power relations and the mistrust of technocrats and public authorities. The resistance in Asia, Latin America and North America has been generally weaker than in Europe, although some authors have voiced scathing criticism of the US governments and the industrial lobby for abusing famine in Africa to foster the spread of GM food to developing countries [4].In response to the criticism, the European governments have attempted to improve the risk assessment methods and its scientific basis, and to tailor public policies to the growing demand for transparency, accountability, and public participation.( second revo ref2)

Major issues

Concerns about the introduction of GMOs in crops and in food concentrate on four mutually overlapping areas: environmental concerns; public health concerns; ethical concerns about “tampering with nature” and individual choice; and a combination of ethical and socio-conomic concerns related to the issues of patenting

C) Improving plant breeding

In vitro and other biotechnologies help to reduce the time-consuming and expensive process of producing, growing and evaluating large numbers of plants. Included are molecular genetics for paid identification of valuable genes, new methods for hybrid seed production, and plant propagation and tissue culture.

D) Improving plant production

Crop performance in the field, defined as yield, depends upon numerous factors, including environment, soil type, agronomy, external factors such as pests and disease and the plant properties themselves. Genetic modification of plants or micro-organisms can modify these factors, leading, for example, to better plant morphology , stress resistance, and biological fertilisation, as well as pest and disease control, which reduce chemical inputs into agriculture.

Improving Plant Production

Crop performance in the field, defined as yield, is a very complex character and is affected strongly by environmental factors, soil type, external agents such as pests and diseases, by the quality of agronomy and husbandry as well as by the properties of the plants themselves. Biotechnological methods can lead to increased yield by creating plants with attributes that optimise exploitation of specific environments.

Plant characters frequently in need of improvement by exploitation of new genes in breeding programmes

Increase drought tolerance, Increase salt tolerance, Increase cold tolerance, Increase heat tolerance, Increase disease resistance, Increase pest resistance, Herbicide tolerance, Increase nitrogen utilisation, Increase acid/alkali tolerance, Increase metal tolerance, Modified day length responses, Modified vernalisation responses, Increase photosynthesis/respiration efficiency.


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