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Green Revolution

History and Overview of the Green Revolution

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Green Revolution

Dr. Norman E. Borlaug receives the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. Burlaug, a 1970 Nobel Laureate, was honored for his work in the 'Green Revolution,' saving millions of lives from famine in India, Mexico, and the Middle East.

Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images
Updated October 23, 2008
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.

History and Development of the Green Revolution

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.

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.

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.

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