Interaction between humans and the environment has always had a great importance in the development of humankind; according to Marx, what differentiates humans from other animals is the fact that humans can transform their surroundings to suit their needs, through labor. The Green Revolution is not the exception to that. In times of need the human being manipulated its environment to be suitable for its development, however, the question lingers, how efficient was it, how positive?
The Green Revolution, from 1945 to the present, was motivated by the need to increase the production of food to supply for the increasing demand as population grew, to promote national self-sustainability in terms of food. However, during that period the effect of the Revolution have been detrimental to the environment and society: they have damaged agricultural diversity and heritage, damaged the lands, and put at risk food security; also, they have widened the gap between the very rich and the very poor, monopolizing the food industry.
The Green Revolution originated after an urgent need to promote food security with a growing trend in global population, as a way to promote self-sustainability and independence. As it is clear in the report given by the Food and Agriculture Organization (DOC 2), in the period ranging from around 1929 (great depression) and 1945 (end of World War II) the global food supply index was below the world population. What this means is that there was literally not enough food being produced world wide to feed the world population.
This struggle of human kind to stay afloat in supplying the minimum needs for survival meant that a change needed to occur. The answer, as Dr. Norman Borlaug stated in his Nobel Lecture (DOC 4) was not simply planting more in the developing nations, since the lands in those areas were “tired, worn out, depleted of plant nutrients…”
Clearly, what the document refers is that a new, more effective way of growing food had to be developed. In fact, Dr.Borlaug states that the priority of the developments of the green revolution concentrated in the millions that were lurked by hunger, a large problematic that clearly was under the spotlight. As a proof that the world was prioritizing the deficient food supply is the statement given by President Harry Truman (DOC 3). President Truman was the leader of the most powerful nation in the world at the time, the one with the largest technological developments, and his word was the one that would set the course of the world.
This particular speech is vital, since it is the inaugural speech, where he was to set the priorities of the government and address the world with what the United States had as a course for the future. In this speech, he clearly refers to the shocking figure that “more than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery” and says that the United States will help provide “technical knowledge… to produce more food” In the speech President Truman refers often to liberty, thus meaning that self-sustainability will provide freedom.
This speech is the perfect example, the jewel of the trend that the world was seeing with regard to prioritizing food. The mention of “technical knowledge” is vital in the construction of the green revolution as a response to the lack of food, with technological developments in the agricultural field. Some have said that the Green Revolution has been a success in improving the food industry, and improving living conditions for everyone; nevertheless the numbers today reflect a mediocre success.
Indian minister for food and agriculture (1964-1967) states in an interview (DOC 5) that the farmers of the state of Punjab competed to use the technology that was introduced by the green revolution the best. It is stated with a positive connotation, as to refer to the great feats of Punjab. This seems very positive, however, the most likely reason for this to have occurred is the fact that multinational corporations were kicking them out of the market and they were forced into utilizing the technology that those same corporations were imposing on them.
If this were true, which it most likely is, as it has happened in many places around the world, it would discredit the great success that the Green Revolution supposedly is. Furthermore, the claim is that the Green Revolution has brought prosperity, however, to whom, to the ones that were rich already? A perfect example of this negative impact of the Green Revolution is the conversation between Mrs. Dula and the United
Nations official (DOC 6), which gives a not very realistic perspective of the impact of the green Revolution and is concentrated exclusively in the sector of the very rich. This document is indeed quite revealing, as the speaker is an aristocratic woman of Mexico, probably a housewife who sees the world through the optic of his husband, a man who earns a salary if the revolution which he works for is successful; in fact, she is most likely part of one of the clubs she talks about herself.
The occasion of this statement is a simple conversation with a UN official, probably at some sort of a social event, where the high class is all joined together, with perfectly slanted people who are not really analyzing the global impact of the Green Revolution. This document gives a crystal clear proof of how much the Green Revolution has made the “rich Mexican farmers” richer probably at the expense of making the poor laborers, poorer, however, this document presents only one, very bright point of view to sell the revolution.
With regards to India once again, socially, they sell the idea of improvement, like in the report of the State of Punjab (DOC 9) where it says that the Green Revolution has seen with it the “emergence of middle and rich peasants” a very undesirable euphemism to conceal the actual situation. This document seems to give a perspective of social growth and development, of a population going for education, yet once again, it seems very idealistic in its tone, when in reality India has totally different conditions.
With regards to that, India has one of the largest Gini index’s in the world, meaning a huge social inequality, and has one of the smallest middle classes in the world, which has diminished even more throughout the years, meaning that in reality, India may have had a somewhat positive year, but the general trend is of a very pronounced downturn in social progress, all related to the Green Revolution which is destroying the small farmers. The Green Revolution, in truth has brought more ill than it has brought good, in the environmental and social aspects.
Regarding environmental harm, the FAO Wheat Yield report (DOC 1) is very good in demonstrating the introduction of massive scale crops that the Green Revolution brings forth with it. The introduction of these crops damages the lands since they are not prone to such production. The graphs show that in both Mexico and India the crop yields were extremely irregular, and as time passed they have become even more, this is due to the fact that they are not proper to those areas and its planting is something totally synthetic and with complete disrespect towards the natural balance.
The article by Dr. Vandana Shiva (DOC 8) reveals how much damage the crops, especially Genetically Modified Organisms; do to the land they are planted in. The “reduced genetic diversity, increased vulnerability to pests, soil erosion, water shortages…” are effect that will leave marked the land for a long time, as Dr. Shiva states, and are a threat to future generations, which will have totally barren land where it will be impossible to plant food. Dr. Shiva also refers to the social problematic that the Green Revolution is planting alongside its seeds.
For instance the fight for water to provide irrigation, previously not needed in India, has lead to “conflict and violence” and as it has become a worldwide trend, the career for water dominance is “leading to both local and interstate water conflicts. ” This clearly shows how disadvantageous the spread of the Green Revolution has been, since it has brought unmeasured changes that have not been made responsibly, but rather abruptly, causing enormous damage. Dr.
Shiva is an Indian Physicist, and being from India she probably has had a very direct contact with the Green Revolution, considering that one of its birthplaces was in fact the State of Punjab. In this occasion she is writing for the Ecologist magazine, a publication read by people with primary interest in the environmental issues, including organization leaders and maybe politicians who will probably get concerned, especially due to the tone of annoyance and hatred that she employs in the article.
Expanding on social implications, the Guatemalan National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous peasants (DOC 10) gives a different perspective. Although it may sound somewhat as mysticism from indigenous people, saying that they have contaminated the seeds is not a joke, considering the hormones that can be found in GMO plantations. This also acknowledges a vital issue, the loss of diversity and heritage that society is killing with the systematic Green Revolution trends, like the Mayan traditions, which have been present for “five thousand years.
Furthermore, the social disaster does not stop there, but stumbles over women, which according to the FAO Newsletter (DOC 7) have been forced to change their job. In this case the implications have made woman, traditionally in other roles, have even less opportunities to succeed, as the increased need for cash income made the woman be forced to work. This implies a social catastrophe since it denies the right of woman to equal opportunities, which are stripped off with the Green Revolution, which makes them simply one more laborer forced to work.
Additional to the information presented in the documents it would be vital to contain the point of view of a small scale male farmer that has to compete with the multinational corporations, which have been installed after the start of the Green Revolution circa 1945. This would be important since it would show the first hand effects of the monopolies that the Green Revolution has brought, with regards to the social impact it has made, and whether that impact is positive or negative.
As discussed throughout the essay, the Green Revolution, which has lasted from 1945 until the present day, was originated with a need to secure food production in a starving world. However its effects were not so positive, since today many starve, and the Green Revolution has damaged the environment and widened the gap between the social classes. The setup of crops that have give no benefit to the places in which they are grown, with complete disregard to the ecological balance that was being destroyed have caused issues ranging from soil erosion to water shortages and crops with pest vulnerability.
The Green Revolution has also made the rich farmers richer at the cost of the poor being poorer, since the costs of the new technologies are not easily accessible, but the yields that they provide take the small farmers out of business. In general, although certain governments sponsor the Green Revolution and make it seem positive, it has brought about large changes in the way humans interact with the environment, with a generalized destruction of it to get short-term solutions to the problem of food shortages.