Benefits and Harm Effect of the Green Revolution

Food is something that all humans need to survive, but not all humans have always had a constant supply of food. The Green Revolution was a period of time from the 1950s-1970s when technology and fertilizers were implemented in developing countries to yield more crop production with the use of seed varieties, fertilizers, irrigation, and chemicals. It was a program developed in the late 1950s by U.S. sponsored scientists, starting in Mexico, then spread to India, and some other parts of Asia.

The main objective of the program was to get developing countries to rely less on imports, and to start to transition to practicing similar farming techniques as those in the U.S, and to produce more food where there was a deficiency. It had many positive impacts, and did a lot of good, but it also had quite a few unintended consequences. While the Green Revolution had many benefits and allowed farmers to produce a variety and abundance of food, and allowed farmers to plant crops virtually anywhere, it also did lots of damage to the earth, and caused debt among farmers.

To fully understand the Green Revolution, one must look at the history of it and how it all started. In 1940, Henry A. Wallace, a plant breeder and former president of a hybrid seed company, had just been elected at the US Vice President. Wallace often visited Mexico to look at their agriculture, and the people there loved him. However, it was very apparent to him the back-breaking work the Mexican farmers were facing to produce a bushel of corn. Wallace came back convinced that with the help of modern agricultural technology, Mexico could come out of poverty and hunger; however there was no such US government program to help them yet.

However, Wallace knew Nelson Rockefeller, persuaded him that they could make a huge difference by supporting research to improve the productivity of maize (corn) and beans in Mexico. The Mexican government wanted a program that would help move their economy into the Industrial age. They wanted to use the latest technologies to produce their crops, and produce crops that could be exported globally, providing them with desperately needed foreign currency.

In 1943, the Rockefeller foundation came to an agreement with the Mexican government, resulting in the creation of the Mexican Agricultural Program (MAP). US scientists would go down to Mexico, trying to set up a plant breeding program. The Mexican government wanted to improve their country’s food security that would dampen demands for land and reduce their food imports. The majority of the credit goes to a man named Norman Borlaug, who was a corn breeder. He joined the program to develop varieties of wheat that would resist the deadly disease of “wheat rust”. Borlaug developed these rust-resistant wheat varieties by importing seeds for different rice varieties worldwide, and then cross-bred them to get the most-desired traits. After much trial and error, Borlaug and the other scientists made a successful strain of grain.

By combining these discoveries with agricultural techniques, Mexico was able to produce a surplus of grain. They made so much of a surplus of grain that they had to store the excess in special bins. After this program turned out to be a success, they then turned their attention to other parts of world. With approval from the Mexican government, and interest from other governments, they started spreading their discoveries to other places. Modern agriculture spread from the US to Mexico, to India, and to later to parts of Asia.

The Green Revolution had a huge impact on India. By the time World War ? had ended, India was under various foreign power for over 2400 years, with the British in charge for the last 200 years. Indian gained independence in 1947, and the faced big problems ahead of them. India was faced with years of drought, and political turmoil, with Pakistan and Bangladesh violently taking over their land. The US saw that India was on the brink of famine, with one third of the population underfed, over 100 million people hungry. Within their first ten years of independence, the Indian government started giving land that was once imperial farms to the peasants that worked on the farms.

These new landowners were encouraged to adapt to new farming techniques and adopt to modern agricultural technology, but unfortunately most of them lacked education and just didn’t have enough money. In India, their staple food was rice, and most of the land that was sufficient for growing rice was now taken over by Pakistan. So now that India and Pakistan were two separate countries, India had to import rice from Pakistan, however it was outrageously expensive. India also relied heavily on grain imports from the US. India was in desperate need of developing a way to successfully source their own food.

According to the article by Daniel Zwerdling, in the 1960s, there was public concern in the US about the high percentage of starving people in India. The Ford Foundation and Indian government collaborated with the Mexican government to import wheat seeds. Through much trial and error, it resulted in a great abundance of wheat production. They produced a rice variety that could produce more grains of rice per plant when grown with certain irrigation and fertilizers. In 1966, India ordered 18,000 tons of wheat seeds, the largest purchase of seed in the world up until then. India went from having to pay high costs on importing rice, to one of the world’s most successful rice producers, making them a major rice exporter.

The Green Revolution had many positive benefits. Between the 1960s to the late 1980s, yields of rice, corn, and wheat increased steadily, and cereal production more than doubled. This can be credited to irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development. Through trial and error, India had developed their own new varieties of rice and wheat, with shorter stalks, which was needed for that area, and varieties of wheat that were disease-resistant. They had become self-sufficient, built fertilizer plants, and irrigation projects. It made it possible to create an abundance of food, and because of it, India didn’t experience as much famine. The Green Revolution has changed agriculture worldwide, benefiting people in many different countries, increasing food production.

These hybrid seeds, with the aid of fertilizer and irrigation, produced much more crops then what was previously possible. These seeds were very special, because they could easily adapt to certain environments and growing conditions. The goal of the Green Revolution was not only to produce more food, but it was also to try to prevent communism in developing countries (Food, Jennifer Clapp). Clapp states that, “Put simply, the United States asserted that well-fed people in the developing world were less likely to instigate in a communist uprising that those who were hungry.” The term “Green” in the Green Revolution refers not only to the plants that are green, but it refers to anti-communism, or not red. The idea behind it was that if countries could provide food for themselves, it would keep communism at bay.

The GR brought astonishing results to Mexico, India, and Pakistan, bringing very high yields of wheat. In addition, it also provided benefit to some Asian countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Burma, and Vietnam, who became major producers of Green Revolution rice.

However, the Green Revolution had many negative impacts. Experts say that India is experiencing a growing problem that could become a global crisis. According to a recent [2009] report by the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology, “the state’s agriculture ‘has become unsustainable and non profitable.’” G.S. Kalkat, chairman of the Punjab State Farmers Commission, claims that if Punjab farmers don’t drastically change the ways in which they grow India’s food, it could lead to a modern Dust Bowl.

The “green” in Green Revolution didn’t didn’t have the same meaning of how we generally think of the term “green” now- as being organic. Indian farmers were persuaded to abandon their old ways of farming, and to adapt and practice the “American” way of farming. They were told to stop growing their traditional breeds and techniques of farming, and to switch to using chemical fertilizer instead of cow manure. They were told that if they switched to these new ways of farming, and used chemicals and high-yield seeds, they would have a surplus of flourishing crops. All this was pretty much true, and a great success, for a couple decades at least.

In the beginning of the Green Revolution, the US sent money and technological support to India to get them started. India’s government also helped out their farmers in the beginning, they gave them low-cost chemicals and fertilizers, seeds, and they even paid them. Truly, it helped India. India was no longer relying solely on importing goods, they produced enough crops not only for their own country, but they also created revenue by exporting their crops to other nations. According to Daniel Zwerdling’s article, “Villages like Chotia Khurd were harvesting three to four times as much grain per acre as they did before.” Many of the farmers and the local government were swimming in money. They were now able to take out loans to buy luxury items that they couldn’t necessarily afford before. They bought cell phones, paved their roads, remodeled their once-mud houses, and more. However, the farmers and government now claim that this era of such luxury is over; the Green Revolution farming techniques and system is coming to a major halt.

In villages in India, on the surface, everything seems to be fine, however, there are flaws in the system. When the Green Revolution first started, there was not sufficient rainfall for the crops. As a result, they had to tap into the underground water table. At first it was fine, but after constant removal of water from the water table, it started to get very low. The water table is a slow system, and the water you remove doesn’t get replaced very fast; it takes many years. So, after years of relying heavily on the water table for their source of water, the consequences were creeping up on them.

“They hired drilling companies to dig wells, and they started pumping groundwater onto the fields.” Sandeep Singh, a young Sikh farmer says he “has been forced to hire the drilling company again, because the groundwater under his fields has been sinking as much as three feet every year.” Farmers have had to deepen their wells every couple of years, because the water table kept dropping. Kalkat, the director of the Punjab State Farmers Commission, states that , “‘Farmers are committing a kind of suicide… It’s like a suicide in masse.’” Apparently the farmers weren’t surprised when environmentalists warned them that the Green Revolution was heading downhill fast.

The constant use of groundwater and not freshwater as the main source for the crops had its consequences. At the edge of the fields, a white substance would be apparent that spread across the soil. This substance was salt residue, which often poisons the crops, making it hard for the crops to absorb needed nutrients from the soil. These intense farming methods of constantly drilling into the underground water supply and using pesticides is destroying and poisoning the soil. “The high-yield crops gobble up nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, iron and manganese, making the soil anemic”(Daniel Zwerdling). The farmers claim that they we needing to use three times as much fertilizer than they did before, to produce the same amount of crops.

Due to the constant search for water, and how much the farmers have to pay to access water, it is causing farmers to be in debt. As the farmers dig deeper underground to access water, their supplies are constantly being overused. This forces them to constantly update their resources, “they have to install ever more powerful and more expensive pumps to send it gushing up to their fields.” In addition to this, they have to hire professionals, which is very expensive. Due to this costly process, farmers were forced to borrow money, however banks often turned them away. In desperation, the farmers turned to their last resort- borrowing money from local businessmen who often charged double the bank’s interest rate, causing them to plummet in deep debt.

The article by Zwerdling introduces a story about an Indian farmer, Clad. The program of the GR[Green Revolution] was to suggest to farmers to borrow money in order to enable them to purchase modern seed varieties, fertilizers, and chemicals. During the years when the Green Revolution was thriving, many farmers took out loans to spend money on luxury items, because at the time it didn’t seem like it would be that much of an issue to pay it off. They also had to take out loans for equipment, turning into this vicious cycle that caused many farmers to go in debt. Farmers were forced to rely on unstable sources of money. Many family members would go overseas to find a job, and send money back to their families in India to help.

The article written by Vikas Bajaj in 2011 titled “Galloping Growth, and Hunger in India” addresses what India is like now. For decades since the GR began, it seemed to be solving many of India’s food problems, but it’s not having that same effect anymore. Indian policy makers have failed to follow up on India’s investments in updating agricultural technology of the 1960s and ‘70s. Instead they focused on more glamorous investments like construction and information technology. With India’s ever growing population, the demand for food is continuing to increase. As a result, India has had to fall back on relying on importing food staples like lentils and beans from other countries.

The Green Revolution has created big effects on the environment and our health today, and the future of it is questionable. Due to all the years of using lots of chemicals and constantly having to pump water from underground, it has had a big impact today on the environment. Land degradation and soil nutrients depletion have forced farmers to move on to other lands, often cutting down trees to make space for farming. Also, the consumption of crops that were sprayed with pesticides to kills pests has a negative health impact on humans, and can cause disease or even death. However, because of the GR, we have this abundance of food, and we have the privilege of enjoying the great food that we have today. In this day and age in the US, we can get any food at any point in the year. However, there is still starvation worldwide, and bad environmental effects from the GR.

In conclusion, the Green Revolution had many benefits when it first started out, but now it is slowly collapsing. It successfully created an abundance of food, and helped developing countries rely less on importing food from other countries to producing their own food. With the help of implementing new seed variations, fertilizers, chemicals, and irrigation, places like Mexico, India, and parts of Asia were able to create more crops. However, over the years, it has caused lots of damage to the environment, caused farmers to be in debt, and had some negative health impacts. While the Green Revolution had many benefits and allowed farmers to produce a variety and abundance of food, and allowed farmers to plant crops virtually anywhere, it also did lots of damage to the earth, and caused debt among farmers. Today, there are calls for a new Green Revolution, that have alternate solutions and ways to produce crops, as well as fix the consequences from the first Green Revolution. Everything has pros and cons, as we see in the Green Revolution, but with continued help, there is hope for improvement in the future.  

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