Key Lessons Learned from Green Revolution!
Science and technology underpinned the economic and social gains in Asia over the past 30 years. In agriculture, these gains came to be known as the Green Revolution.
Between 1970 and 1995, cereal production in Asia doubled calorie availability per person increased by 24 percent, and real food prices halved. Although the region’s population grew by 1 billion people, overall food production more than kept pace with population growth.
These food production increases were achieved largely by the cultivation of high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of rice and wheat, accompanied by expansion of irrigated areas, increases in fertilizer and pesticide use, and greater availability of credit.
The scientific basis for the Green Revolution stemmed from national and international research programs that led to the development and distribution of new HYVs, particularly of rice and wheat. The first generation of these new varieties were based on the introduction of new genes for dwarfing that made the HYVs shorter, more responsive to fertilizers, and less prone to falling over or lodging when fertilized and irrigated.
Subsequent varieties also carried genes that gave increased pest and disease resistance and improved taste and grain quality. The key elements in improving food security in Asia from 1970-95 were government policies reflecting a belief that investments in increasing agricultural productivity were a prerequisite to economic development. These national policies were supported by political leaders in Asia and by both the public and private sectors of the international community.
This mix of supportive public policies, scientific discoveries, and public and private investments in rural Asia, particularly in irrigation, credit, and inputs, led to substantial reductions in poverty and improved food security throughout Asia over the past 30 years. Increased agricultural productivity, rapid industrial growth, and expansion of the nonfarm rural economy have all contributed to almost a tripling of per capita gross domestic product across Asia since 1970.
The intensification of agriculture and the reliance on irrigation and chemical inputs has led to environmental degradation, increased salinity, and pesticide misuse. Deforestation, overgrazing, and overfishing also threaten the sustainable use of natural resources. Green Revolution technologies had little impact on the millions of smallholders living in rain-fed and marginal areas, where poverty is concentrated.
Furthermore, the Green Revolution has already run its course in much of Asia. Wheat and rice yields in the major growing areas of Asia have been stagnant or declining for the past decade, while population continues to increase.
The key lessons learned from the Green Revolution are:
(i) It has benefited farmers in irrigated areas much more than farmers in rain-fed areas thus worsening the income disparity between the two groups,
(ii) It overlooked the rights of women to also benefit from the technological advances, and
(iii) It promoted an excessive of use of pesticides that are harmful to the environment.
As countries became self sufficient in food, government investments declined in the agricultural sector and in science and technology across the region. This reflects a worldwide trend toward declining public investments in the rural sector and in agricultural research and development (R&D), nationally and internationally. In Asia, private sector investments in the rural sector and related R^D have concentrated on export commodities.
The downward trends in public investments by governments and development agencies in smallholder agriculture over the past decade have not been matched by a concomitant rise in private investments. Similarly, there is little (and few incentives for) private R&D on the food crops, livestock, fisheries, and aquaculture systems important for food security and poverty reduction in rural Asia.