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close this bookBiotechnology and the Future of World Agriculture (GRAIN, 1991)
close this folderAgriculture in crisis
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe soil and water crisis
View the documentThe productivity crisis
View the documentThrough the looking glass
View the documentThe hidden harvest
View the documentThe problems not addressed
View the documentBiotechnology, the solution?

The productivity crisis

In what seems to be meant as a final response to the Green Revolution critics, the World Bank published in 1988 a major report on the implications of this all-encompassing agricultural modernization scheme." It was drawn up by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which is the umbrella body for various research centres that spearheaded the Green Revolution. Their message is: yes, we made some mistakes in the early years of the Green Revolution, but we learned from them and are now heading in the right direction. The report, based on no less than 26 country and sectoral studies, concludes that a little less than 50% of the Third World's wheat fields and almost 60% of its rice fields are now sown with the Green Revolution varieties, together covering some 125 million hectares. It shows that, since the early 1960s, total wheat and rice production in the Third World increased by over 70%, resulting in $50 billion extra output. Quoting impressive yield increases due to the use of the High Yielding Varieties (HYV), the authors conclude that both small and large farmers are using them and that small farmers even tend to get more yield from the new seeds than their more resource-endowed neighbours. The report argues that the HYVs do better than their traditional relatives even without the use of fertilizer, and that resistance to pests and diseases has been greatly improved in the modern varieties.

But not all studies have found such impressive yield increases from the Green Revolution. In 1977, the Asian Development Bank concluded that

The Green Revolution is not providing the expected impetus to production. . . The growth rate in rice yield between 1963-67 and 1971-75 was less than 1.5 percent per annum for South and Southeast Asia as a whole, and below one percent for several countries. (12)

This observation has been confirmed by many other researchers later. Pierre Spitz talks about disappointing progress in rice production in India. (13) His analysis is that the Green Revolution in that country was largely a 'wheat revolution', and points out that an important part of the increase in wheat output was achieved at the cost of the area sown to pulses - the 'poor person's meat' and the main source of protein for many small farmers. Also, the acreage sown to local oilseeds dimnished considerably. Graph 2.1 shows how this process took place in the Punjab, one of the focus areas of India's Green Revolution. Ademar Romeiro wonders why there is increasing food scarcity in Brazil with two and a half times more agricultural land and onefifth of the population of India, while at the same time huge modernization schemes are restructuring Brazil's agriculture. (14) Vandana Shiva shows that the Green Revolution is actually destroying agricultural productivity at the local level and denounces 'the crisis mind' behind it. (15) And virtually all studies agree that Africa has been completely left out of this 'miracle' development.

Changes in cropping patterns Punjab (India), 1966-1986

Apart from the statistics-war about the yield increases actually achieved with the Green Revolution technology, there is even more concern about how sustainable the alleged production increases are. One of the Green Revolution's success stories is the Philippines, home of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) which was established in the early 1960s. IRRI's Green Revolution technology, with the new rice varieties at its heart, quickly spread to the farmers' fields resulting in the doubling of the average rice yields of the country. The CGIAR claims that between 1968 and 1977 the modem rice varieties in the Philippines out-yielded their traditional counterparts by 30%. (16) By 1977, President Marcos was proud to announce the country's self-sufficiency in this staple crop. The Philippines began exporting rice rather than importing. The first official dissonant note, however, came from the abovementioned study of the Asian Development Bank and subsequent publications of the United Nations' Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), (17) along with many different NGO reports. Where yields rose dramatically, it was often at the cost of expensive chemical inputs and sophisticated irrigation schemes. Due to the increased costs, peasants' incomes began declining until they could no longer afford the necessary inputs, and the growth rate of rice production subsequently began to drop in the early 1980s. By 1984, the Philippines again began importing rice. (18) Was this despite or because of the fact that 80% of the country's rice acreage had been fumed over to HYVs in the meanwhile?