Plant Technologies In The Green Revolution Biology Essay


Food is an essential part of our lives, which is why the way it is grown, processed an transported is worth understanding and improving. Broadly, the food industry comprises a complex network of activities pertaining to the supply, consumption, and catering of food products and services across the world.

The term Green Revolution refers to the renovation of agricultural practices beginning in Mexico in the 1940s. Because of its success in producing more agricultural products there, Green Revolution technologies spread worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s, significantly increasing the amount of calories produced per acre of agriculture.

The beginnings of the Green Revolution are often attributed to Norman Borlaug, an American scientist interested in agriculture. In the 1940s, he 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.

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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.

In order to continue using Green Revolution technologies to produce more food for a growing population worldwide, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as many government agencies around the world funded increased research. In 1963 with the help of this funding, Mexico formed an international research institution called The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

Countries all over the world in turn benefited from the Green Revolution work conducted by Borlaug and this research institution. India for example was on the brink of mass famine in the early 1960s because of its rapidly growing population. Borlaug and the Ford Foundation then implemented research there and they developed a new variety of rice, IR8, that produced more grain per plant when grown with irrigation and fertilizers. Today, India is one of the world's leading rice producers and IR8 rice usage spread throughout Asia in the decades following the rice's development in India.

Plant Technologies of the Green Revolution

The crops developed during the Green Revolution were high yield varieties - meaning they were domesticated plants bred specifically to respond to fertilizers and produce an increased amount of grain per acre planted.

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 photosynthate 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.

Impacts of the Green Revolution

Since fertilizers are largely what made the Green Revolution possible, they forever changed agricultural practices because the high yield varieties developed during this time cannot grow successfully without the help of fertilizers.

Irrigation also played a large role in the Green Revolution and this forever changed the areas where various crops can be grown. For instance before the Green Revolution, agriculture was severely limited to areas with a significant amount of rainfall, but by using irrigation, water can be stored and sent to drier areas, putting more land into agricultural production - thus increasing nationwide crop yields.

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In addition, the development of high yield varieties meant that only a few species of say, rice started being grown. In India for example there were about 30,000 rice varieties prior to the Green Revolution, today there are around ten - all the most productive types. By having this increased crop homogeneity though the types were more prone to disease and pests because there were not enough varieties to fight them off. In order to protect these few varieties then, pesticide use grew as well.

Finally, the use of Green Revolution technologies exponentially increased the amount of food production worldwide. Places like India and China that once feared famine have not experienced it since implementing the use of IR8 rice and other food varieties.

Criticism of the Green Revolution

Along with the benefits gained from the Green Revolution, there have been several criticisms. The first is that the increased amount of food production has led to overpopulation worldwide.

The second major criticism is that places like Africa have not significantly benefited from the Green Revolution. The major problems surrounding the use of these technologies here though are a lack of infrastructure, governmental corruption, and insecurity in nations.

Despite these criticisms though, the Green Revolution has forever changed the way agriculture is conducted worldwide, benefiting the people of many nations in need of increased food production.

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, some 923 million people are seriously

undernourished (FAO SOFI Report 2007) with more than two billion people suffering from micronutrient

malnutrition, or 'hidden hunger' caused by inadequate and non-diversified diets (FAO SOFI Report 2002).

25,000 men, women and children die each day from starvation (World Health Report 2000). 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


Fortunately, the latest scientific approaches in organic agriculture, supported by a body of replicated research

data and economic analyses, offer affordable and quickly adaptable ways to implement farming systems that

can quickly move us out of our current crisis.

Section Three: Green Revolution Production Benefits Have Declined and Societal Costs


The old Green Revolution was never very green. 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,

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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. A study of Rodale Institute's FST from 1981 to 2002 shows that fossil energy

inputs for organic corn production were about 30% lower than for conventionally produced corn. (Pimentel et

al. 2005; Pimentel 2006)

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)

High-quality seed of varieties with

improved characteristics is likely to play

an important role in securing the future

supply of food. 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 geneticallymanipulated

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.

Climate scientists predict average

temperature increases for the Australian

continent of between one and six

degrees Celsius by 2070, accompanied

by reduced precipitation. The German

Association of Biotechnology Industries

(DIB) expects the first drought-tolerant

wheat variety to be brought onto themarket 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. Even by 2020, the world's

population is expected to be consuming

120 million tonnes more milk than it

did ten years ago. It will therefore be

essential to increase the efficiency of

milk production if methane emissions

by the world's milking herds are to be

reduced, or at least kept under control.

A cow capable of producing ten litres of

milk a day emits about 40 grammes of

methane for every litre. If productivity is

raised to 30 litres of milk a day, then the

emission rate sinks to 15 grammes per

litre, because the proportion of the cow's

total food intake expended on basal

metabolism decreases, thus improving

efficiency. For a four-fold increase in

the amount of milk, a cow only needs a

2.8-times greater energy ration in its feed.

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.

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 complementarity 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