The “Green Revolution”, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

The onset of the “green revolution,” at least in international terms, may be traced to interventions in the 1960s.  High-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, largely created by United States research, were then being adopted by Asian and Latin-American countries (Evenson, Gollin, 2003,  p. xiii).  This set the stage for enormous, global potentials affecting international relations and the evolutions of underdeveloped nations.   On one level, it is widely argued that improving agricultural productivity and sustainability is an ethical and commercial imperative, if deprived nations are to be made self-sufficient.  Conversely, there is serious doubt as to both the actual gains made in these efforts, as well as undesirable cultural and health repercussions.   The reality is that negative and positive results mark the green revolution, and only a consistent, international effort to promote the instruments of sustainability responsibly can validate its ongoing presence.

Discussion

However it is applied and wherever it is implemented, the green revolution is basically defined as three distinct operations.  First, genetically-engineered and/or selectively bred crops, such as wheat, corn, and rice, are developed and planted.  Then, output is increased through the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and water.  Finally, the number of crops grown annually per plot of land is increased through multicropping, usually in areas where only one crop is cultivated (Tyler, 2006,  p. 156).   The advantages are obvious; as farmlands produce more, and a wider variety of crops, on the same land mass, developing nations have less need to create more farmland through deforestation, or using easily eroded mountain areas for food production.  Then, and inevitably, the society’s standard of living is improved, as more food creates opportunities for export and expansion within the nation itself.  In many ways, in fact, the green revolution has been viewed as a vast success;  between 1950 and 1985, grain production worldwide tripled (Tyler,  2006, 156).  Equally importantly, much of this astounding growth occurred in Southern Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries suffering severe deprivation.  These are facts not to be discounted, when the true impacts of the green revolution are fully considered.

At the same time, all this productivity has generated serious concerns about underlying damage being caused.  On one level, there is some question as to the actual yield of the introduced, genetically-enhanced crops.  The 1990s, for example, saw a significant reduction in yield growth in developing nations, in marked contrast to the successes of the earlier decades.  In Asia, cereal crop output has diminished, and this is attributed to a combination of factors: the infrastructure needed to perpetuate the growth is missing or weak; higher-profit crops take precedence over better yields of lower-profit product;  environmental constraints; and problems in conducting adequate irrigation (World Bank, 2005,  p. 29).  What appears to have arisen, in fact, is a pattern necessarily exponential and complicated.   As developing nations receive external assistance in promoting agriculture through green technologies, the nations have difficulty keeping pace with the demands of these systems.  Water, fertilizer, and pesticides are expensive commodities, beyond the reach of most Third World farmers, despite U.S. assistance in providing the crop materials themselves (Tyler,  2006,  p. 158).  More plainly, to be successfully green and developed, a nation must be sufficiently developed to begin with, to “sustain” the sustainability efforts.

There are other problems and objections raised.  Scientists have already noted that merely increasing supplies of water, fertilizer, and pesticides by no means assures a higher yield; in fact, cases of this reveal lessened agricultural productivity (Tyler,  2006,  p. 158).   There is also the significant risk of endangering global biodiversity.  Essentially, the green revolution relies on as uniform and international effort to grow a limited number of crops.  This translates to the need for farmers in developing nations to cease cultivating natural crops, in order to make room for the higher-yielding ones.  India, for example, once produced over 30,000 different varieties of rice; today, most of the country’s rice production is limited to 10 varieties.  This is a serious issue, in regard to global sustainability.  The practice is, ironically, in place to protect as much variety in organic life as possible.  Nonetheless, the focus on encouraging commercial development is destroying this variety, as it is estimated that, since 1900, the planet has lost over 75 percent of its former agricultural diversity (Tyler, 2006,  p. 158).   As agricultural activity often serves to define a culture and how it evolves, there can be no assessment of just how impactful an increased effort at growing only a minimal variety of crops may be.  The activity at this scales is unprecedented in human history, and it cannot be known how the green revolution, seeking to generate mass food production, will then alter the inherent natures of individual societies and cultures.

Related to these issues is the fact that developing nations are different from developed nations in ways far beyond agricultural output.  When a nation engages in green agriculture to enhance its productivity, the entire economic structure of the society must shift, and this requires some form of stable, government intervention to assure that all needs of the people are reasonably met.  Unfortunately, a defining characteristic of Third World countries is leadership by no means democratic in nature.  A strong and responsible government is mutually reliant upon a strong and capable society, and underdeveloped nations typically possess neither (UN-HABITAT, 2009,  p. 8).   Here, again, may be seen the mutually inclusive nature of green efforts, in that changes to a nation’s productivity must have far-reaching consequences removed from agricultural concerns. One of these consequences is health.  It is natural to assume that a green focus in a poor country must translate to better nutrition for the populace, but other factors create serious risks.  For example, research reveals that sustainability farming in Asia, while greatly increasing yield, has led to extreme issues.  Water pollution, often resulting from the misuse of pesticides and chemically-enhanced fertilizers, is a growing danger (Walter, 2009, p. 95).  More plainly, environmental damage is generating severe risks to the health of the people.   That many such areas, again, are governed by regimes not particularly motivated to reflect an awareness of these problem is a real and threatening consequence of the green revolution.

Lastly, interventions from those world powers seeking to promote green farming in deprived nations are by no means consistent, and how developing countries receive U.S.  assistance in promoting green industries varies from administration to administration.   The Clinton presidency was marked by at least an overt display of interest, and its Country Studies Program offered funds to various nations for implementing green technologies.  The vast, sub-Saharan regions of Africa were largely ignored, but these years saw a renewed interest in cultivating assistance programs.   Less active was the Bush administration, which emphatically made it clear that the U.S. would assume no responsibility in this arena contrary to its other foreign policies.  Common to all administrations is that Congress, more than the White House, makes efforts to fund aid for sustainable development for other nations (Vig, Faure, 2004, p. 258).  Flaws and dangers notwithstanding, the U.S., as well as most European powers, continues to explore new ways of infusing green technology into underdeveloped nations.

Conclusion

Since the 1960s, what is known as the green revolution has been an increasingly important element in international relations, as well as profoundly going to the innate prosperity of underdeveloped countries.  New methods of farming, relying on genetically-enhanced grains, fertilizers, and pesticides, have been incorporated into deprived regions, in order to significantly improve agricultural yields.  The results have been mixed.  On one level, productivity has been markedly increased, despite more recent slowdowns; enormous gains in yield output globally have been noted.  At the same time, issues arise.  Struggling countries are not equipped or assisted in addressing pollution issues, and often have no governmental support in this area.  Health consequently suffers, and all of this is apart from the changes which must occur in a culture whose agriculture, traditionally the foundation of all civilization, changes so dramatically.  Then, these efforts encourage a limiting of crop variety, which threatens biodiversity.  The green revolution was, and remains, a worthwhile ambition, and developed countries are ethically obligated to offer this form of aid.  Nonetheless, the totality of the obligation must be addressed as well.  Negative and positive results define the green revolution, and only a consistent, international focus on to promoting sustainability responsibly can validate its ongoing presence.

 

References

Evenson, Robert Eugene, & Gollin, Douglas.  (2003).  Crop Variety Improvement and Its Effect on Productivity: The Impact of International Agricultural Research.  Cambridge: CABI Publishing.

Miller, G. Tyler.  (2006).  Sustaining the Earth: An Integrated Approach.  Belmont: Cengage Learning.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme.  (2009).  Planning Sustainable Cities: Global Report on Human Settlements, 2009.  London: UN-HABITAT.

Vig, Norman J., & Faure, Michael G.  (2004).  Green Giants?: Environmental Policies of the United States and the European Union.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Walter, Lynn.  (2009).  Critical Food Issues: Environment, Agriculture, and Health Concerns. New York: Macmillan.

World Bank. (2005).   Agricultural Growth for the Poor: An Agenda for Development.   Washington D.C.: The World Bank.

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