Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Was the "Green Revolution" the antithesis of GREEN?

The “Green Revolution” refers to the dramatic increases in cereal grains in many developing countries in the 1960s, as an effort to curb hunger around the world.  Mexico, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines were the main countries to implement new agricultural techniques, including irrigation and chemical fertilizers.  With these new agricultural technologies, Mexico was able to become self-sufficient in producing wheat and India and Pakistan averted famine (Lobb, 2003).
The Rockefeller Foundation and the government of Mexico hired Norman Borlaug, agronomist from the U.S., to aid the country in becoming independent producers of cereal grains.  Bourlaug succeeded in Mexico and went on to assist India and Pakistan with their wheat production.  There he introduced Mexican dwarf wheat varieties, which thrived.  Bourlaug also introduced irrigation technologies and the use of chemical fertilizers to each of these developing countries.  “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,” according to Lobb (para 6).  India also increased their yields from 12.3 million tons of wheat in 1965 to 20 million tons in 1970.  Bourlaug helped both countries to be self-sufficient in cereal production by 1974.  Bourlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
The work of Bourlaug was monumental in supporting developing countries to become self-sufficient in crop production, saving many lives from famine.  The majority of the world adopted Bourlaug’s agricultural technologies and this led the world of food production into a new era.  Other positive aspects of the Green Revolution included: the automation of the farming process, crops resistance to pests, many crops could be replanted without having to wait for land to fallow, and the advantage of being able to grow wide array of crops virtually anywhere (Bradley, 2010).
As with any type of revolution, many achievements are made, however with such dramatic changes not all of them were positive.  The Green Revolution was the antithesis of sustainability, making countries dependent on chemical fertilizers to grow their crops, replacing the use of natural manure or mineral fertilizers.  Furthermore, the revolution, which was aimed at curbing world hunger, did not succeed, rather further intensifying the root cause: the distribution of economic power.  The Green Revolution is also highly criticized by many for fueling chemical companies into more dominating and dangerous ground, such as the creation of hazardous chemicals such as “Roundup” and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) seeds.
The issues surrounding chemical fertilizers have been a hot topic of controversy in recent years.  Fertilizers seep into our water from run-off, creating “dead zones” where life cannot be sustained, as the algae blooms have depleted all oxygen from the water (Biello, 2008).  Fertilizers are also known to cause many health issues, as the amount of nutrients and minerals in food treated with these chemicals are diminishing.  For example, one of these depleted nutrients in fertilizer treated crops is Omega-3 oils, which a deficiency of in the body can lead to “heart disease, some cancers, mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder, and Alzheimer's Disease”, explains Corriher (2008).  Along with depleting nutrients from the crops themselves, nutrients and minerals in the soil are lost as well when fertilizers are used.  Not only does the soil have a more difficult time absorbing water, but the lack of nutrients and minerals in the soil also cause lack of nutrients and minerals in the crop being produced.  Senate document No, 64 paraphrased in the article by Corriher, explains the importance of nutrients and minerals in our food:
Our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon minerals we take into our systems than upon calories or vitamins, or upon precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume. Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies that cannot be remedied until depleted soils from which our food comes are brought into proper mineral balance? The alarming fact is that foods (fruits, vegetables and grains), now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals, are starving us - no matter how much of them we eat.
So where do we draw the line and what is the trade off?  Although chemical fertilizers have aided communities in becoming self-sustaining, being able to grow crops virtually anywhere with less risk of loss from pests or draught, however it has produced inferior crops that lack nutrition and lead to increases in disease. 
            Chemical fertilizers are one example of how the Green Revolution has set us back; another example is the distribution of economic power that the revolution intensified.  The Green Revolution was fueled by the thought that if food production could be increased that world hunger would decrease, unfortunately it is not that simple.  The rules of economics were forgotten in this equation.  In a study conducted by the World Bank in 1986 study, it was concluded that increasing food production does not result in food security.  “Far too many people do not have access to the food that is already available because of deep and growing inequality,” Rosset explains, “If agriculture can play any role in alleviating hunger, it will only be to the extent that the
bias toward wealthier and larger farmers is reversed through pro-poor alternatives like land reform and sustainable agriculture, which reduce inequality and make small farmers the center of an economically vibrant rural economy.”
            Lastly, the Green Revolution has brought power to chemical companies such as Monsanto and DuPont.  Issues surrounding their practices are perhaps the most controversial of all.  Many of their practice surround biotechnology and the altering of seeds in order to yield desirable characteristics.  For example, “Scientists are…developing a genetically modified strain of rice fortified with vitamin A that is intended to help ward off blindness in children” (Rosset). While some biotechnology might sound like a miracle, concerns for GMO’s are increasing.  These concerns include: unknown risks of GMO’s, heath concerns, insufficient or inaccurate research, emergence of resistant weeds, increasing insect resistance, increasing levels of plant estrogens, and that GMO’s are not required to be labeled as such (Smith, 2009).
            As I have gone over, the Green Revolution has many pros and cons.  The Green Revolution fueled technologies that the world very much needed, but at the cost of declining human health and the escalating degradation of our environment.  We must learn from both the positive and negative aspects of the Green Revolution and use them to lead us in the path of increased technology, yet sustainable and healthy technology.

Biello, D. (2008, March 14). Fertilizer runoff overwhelms streams and rivers--creating vast "dead zones". Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fertilizer-runoff-overwhelms-streams

Bradley, J. (2010). The green revolution: facts and fallacies. Retrieved from http://www.joshuabradley.org/green_revolution/pros_and_cons.html

Corriher, T. (2008, April 5). How chemical fertilizers are destroying your body, the soil, and your food. Retrieved from http://healthwyze.org/index.php/fertilizer-dangers.html

Lobb, Richard L.. "Green Revolution." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. 2003. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403400302.html

Rossett, P. (2011).  Lessons from the Green Revolution. Retrieved from http://www.foodfirst.org/media/opeds/2000/4- greenrev.html

Smith, J.M. (2009, May 20). Genetically modified GM food dangers.  Retrieved from Alternative Medicine Truth: http://alternativemedicinetruth.blogspot.com/2009/05/genetically-modified-gm-food-dangers.html

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