Green Revolution

The "green revolution" refers to the widespread introduction of industrial agriculture into developing countries that began in the 1940s. As seen in Norman Borlaug's work on world hunger, its early promoters—led by the Rockefeller Foundation—assumed that increased food production would alleviate hunger in poor countries and thereby help prevent "red" (i.e., communist) revolutions. Although the green revolution has led to impressive increases in agricultural production over the years, critics such as Amartya Sen have argued that poverty and inequality must also be vigorously attacked since the poor typically cannot afford to buy enough food. Others, like Kenneth Dahlberg and Vandana Shiva, have argued that its high social, environmental, and energy costs of the green revolution make it unsustainable.

United States and European seed-breeding technologies devised in the 1930s were used from the 1940s onward to develop high-yielding varieties (HYVs) adapted to the climate and soil conditions of different developing countries. Research on maize (corn) begun in Mexico in the 1940s by the Rockefeller Foundation was extended in 1959 to rice in the Philippines in partnership with the Ford Foundation. By the 1960s, fears of famine in Asia caused by rapid population growth led to major aid programs to increase agricultural production though a package of inputs (HYVs, fertilizers, and pesticides) and financial support. Plant breeder Norman Borlaug, who led the Mexican research, was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the green revolution. A network of international agricultural research centers managed by the World Bank was also created to further spread the green revolution.

A new phase of the green revolution began in the mid-1980s in response to two emerging global developments. The first was growing international concerns about the increasing gap in wealth between the rich countries of the northern hemisphere and the poor countries of the southern hemisphere, the continuing population explosion, discrimination against women, environmental degradation, the loss of genetic diversity , and global warming . The international response has been that vigorous pursuit of sustainable development is the only answer to these problems. Interest in sustainable agriculture and food systems that are more energy efficient and less socially and environmentally destructive has grown rapidly in all countries. The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, is promoting proposals, made by Conway in his work The Doubly Green Revolution, which seeks rural development of the world's poorest regions though sustainable farming systems developed with full farmer participation, including women subsistence farmers.

The second development raising concern is the increasing global power of multinational corporations. Proposed responses have been divided along the same rich-poor lines as with other international problems. In agriculture, new plant genetic engineering techniques, plant and animal patenting, and free-trade agreements have combined to give multinational corporations a significant ability to shape agricultural policies, as well as the structure of food systems world wide. This power raises fundamental questions about the ability of governments to continue to set national food safety and labeling standards. These protect citizens and enable them to choose foods produced in a sustainable manner, which includes providing farm families and farm and food workers reasonable incomes and working conditions. Many farm, environmental, and consumer groups, as well as the poor countries of the world, are seeking ways to protect their food sovereignty and promote more equitable food systems.

Reconciling this increasing corporate power with the need to develop sustainable food and agricultural systems will be a serious source of contention for years to come.



Borlaug, Norman E. (1997). Norman Borlaug on World Hunger. San Diego, CA: Book-service International.

Conway, Gordon R. (1998). The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for All in the 21st Century. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Dahlberg Kenneth A. (1979). Beyond the Green Revolution: The Ecology and Politics of Global Agricultural Development. New York: Plenum Press.

Sen, Amartya K. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Shiva, Vandana. (1991). The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics. London: Zed Books.

Steinhart, John, and Steinhart, Carol. (1974). "Energy Use in the United States Food System." Science 184:307–316.

Internet Resources

Consulative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Web site. Available from .

Rockefeller Foundation Web site. Available from .

Kenneth A. Dahlberg


These new seed varieties were based on disease-resistant seed varieties found in the developing countries which were crossbred: 1) to make them respond more to fertilizer and irrigation, thus increasing their yield; 2) to make them less sensitive to annual variations in day length so that they can be used in many different latitudes and climatic zones, and 3) with rice, to make them mature faster so that two crops a year can be grown.

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