The Green Revolution refers to the dramatic increase in crop production that is achievable within the developing world. This increase was made possible through the use of soil-specific fertilizers, pesticide and herbicide application, and the genetic modification of crops to produce higher yields during every growing season.
Some of the largest increases in crop production have come in the world’s most important staple foods: rice and wheat.
The Green Revolution was something that needed to happen. Following the years of global war in the 1940s, food shortages were abundant. Over the next 20 years, severe famine would strike numerous regions. We needed to have consistent food sources producing and we needed it fast.
Now with higher yields and consistent harvests, farmers and other agricultural workers in the developing world have more food at their disposal. They have more money at their disposal as well, which can help pull households out of extreme poverty. At the same time, however, the farmers who have been unable to use the products and techniques implemented by the Green Revolution have found it difficult to compete in the marketplace.
Here are some of the big pros and cons of the Green Revolution to consider.
List of the Biggest Pros of the Green Revolution
1. It has allowed us to produce more food.
The Green Revolution has made it possible for the world’s croplands to become more productive. The added food quantities from higher yields makes it possible for our growing human population. By 2050, human population levels are expected to exceed 10 billion. The United Nations estimates that food production would need to rise by 70% from 2005 harvest levels to meet the hunger needs of such a high population level.
2. Higher yields can become consistent, even in challenging conditions.
One of the most famous contributors to the Green Revolution is a man named Normal Borlaug. In the 1940s, Borlaug worked to produce a new strain of wheat. His work produced a type of wheat that produced large seed heads, was short enough to reduce wind damage, and was naturally resistant to disease. This strain of wheat was introduced in Mexico and wheat production levels tripled in just 20 years. Borlaug would eventually win a Nobel Peace Prize for this work.
3. It creates cheaper prices for food.
The Green Revolution did more than provide consistency in the harvest yields. It also made the world’s croplands become more productive without increasing the number of acres planted. Larger yields could be produced through a similar amount of labor. That makes it possible for production costs to be lower, which means consumer costs become lower. When households are spending less of their budget on their basic needs, their discretionary spending can power multiple components of the local economy.
4. The Green Revolution protects the environment.
According to Margaret Cunningham, an instructor who publishes on Study.com, the Green Revolution is also beneficial because it is protective of the environment. Fewer forests or other types of natural land needed to be converted into agricultural land for food production purposes because of the higher yields. From 1961-2008, Cunningham notes that human population levels doubled, food production rates tripled, while natural lands were converted at rate that was just 10% higher.
5. It has furthered the disease-resistance and pest-resistance of plants.
The Green Revolution has helped to create numerous strains of plants that are resistant to disease and pests. Through genetic modification and improved farming techniques, we have access to foods that are healthier, even though they are also more plentiful. That means people can receive their required basic nutrition by eating less overall food, which extends the supply even further.
6. Farmers no longer need to worry about fallowing.
In regions of the world where annual precipitation rates are less than 20 inches per year, dryland farming techniques are often used. Before the Green Revolution, a field may be required every other growing season to allow soil moisture levels to recharge. Because of the presence of irrigation, fertilizer, and other modern growing techniques in the developing world, farmers can have more of their land be consistently productive, which further adds to their possible income potential.
7. It has helped to create harvests that are more predictable.
Before the Green Revolution, the quality of a harvest was dependent upon the quality of the growing season. A poor season would always produce a poor harvest. After the Green Revolution, there has been more consistency with the annual harvest because the fields are worked in a similar way each year. Issues with moisture, nutrients, or temperature can be managed on-site, reducing the impact a poor growing season has on the crop.
8. We are able to grow crops almost anywhere.
Thanks to the Green Revolution, we have discovered that crops can grow almost anywhere if farming techniques can counter the local environmental conditions. In April 2018, engineers and scientists were able to harvest foods that were grown in a greenhouse in Antarctica for the first time. Using vertical farming techniques and LED lighting, the climate-controlled farm produces crops even when it is -100F outside. According to Business Insider, the first harvest included 8 pounds of greens, 18 cucumbers, and 70 radishes. Each month, up to 11 pounds of fruits and vegetables are expected per week.
9. It created more employment opportunities.
The agricultural sector is one of the largest areas of employment in the world today. In the developing world, where the Green Revolution has made the largest impact, up to 67% of the population may be employed in agricultural work. In the developed world, just 5% of the population may be employed in farming or agriculture-related positions. More employment opportunities mean there are more ways to fight hunger. There is more food and there is more money available for everyone involved.
10. The Green Revolution has reduced poverty levels in low-income nations.
Thailand is one of the best examples of the advantages offered by the Green Revolution. Since modern techniques have been implemented, cereal production has more than doubled since the 1960s. Hybrid crops have introduced healthier foods into distribution channels. Thailand has become the largest exporter of rice in the world on a consistent year-by-year basis. More importantly, the poverty rate in the country has dropped from 27% to under 10% because of the improvements made.
11. It allows farmers to harvest multiple yields in the same season.
India has also benefitted from the Green Revolution, especially since the famine years of the 1960s. The growing season only allowed for one crop to be grown each year because of the pattern of rainfall which occurs in that region of the world. With irrigation and new farming methods, farmers could double their production because they could grow a second crop each season. The end result was higher yields of millet, corn, wheat, and rice of the same quality because of the second harvest.
12. The Green Revolution stimulated the manufacturing sector.
With farmers being more productive, there became a need for new farm equipment. The manufacturing sector was called upon to produce new tools that could maximize the productive capabilities of each agricultural worker. That created more income to spend in the economy as well, helping non-farm workers to gain access to new jobs and resources as well.
List of the Biggest Cons of the Green Revolution
1. The crops of the Green Revolution require fertilizer.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, many farmers began to grow the newly modified crops in their fields because the new strains were the only option available. The new strains, if grown without fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides, often created lower crop yields when compared to the older strains of crops that were previously grown. This problem occurs because the older strains were more adapted to the local growing conditions and had natural resistance levels to disease or pests. The new strains did not have these adaptive factors.
2. Fertilizers and synthetic chemicals can harm the environment.
Cunningham also notes that the increase use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides influenced the environment in two key areas: erosion and pollution. Adding the fertilizers and chemical components to the soil polluted it and the water systems that surround the croplands being worked. These chemicals then flow downstream, exposing workers and consumers to them when older farming methods would not. In time, this creates a lower soil quality, which then increases erosion risks.
3. It has created high levels of food waste.
Food production has become so effective because of the Green Revolution that we are creating more food than we can consume. In the developing world, where the Green Revolution has made the greatest impact, 40% of the losses occur at the processing or post-harvest level. In comparison, 40% of losses in the developed world happen at either the retail or consumer levels. According to the FAO, more than 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted each year. Up to 50% of all root crops are wasted.
4. Resistance to herbicides and pesticides is growing.
Although we have benefitted from higher yields with the Green Revolution in past decades, production levels in some regions are decreasing. The cause is an increased resistance to the herbicides and pesticides being applied to the fields. As nature adapts to the changes that farmers are making, the way we’ve adapted is to increase the amount of chemicals being applied to the crops. Genetic modifications have even caused some crops to produce their own pesticides. Without change, we may see lower food yields in the future because of this issue.
5. It may cause seed sterility.
To be clear: GMO crops do produce seeds that germinate and grow into new crops. The concern here is that there is a patent, owned by Monsanto, for a terminator gene. This technology has reportedly not been commercialized, though the threat of its existence could change how the Green Revolution operates. If a farmer produces a crop with sterile seeds, then they would be forced to purchase their next set of seeds to plant from the owner of the patent. Depending on the price set, agricultural workers could find their increased profits being taken by the companies supplying them with seeds to grow.
6. The Green Revolution hasn’t been cheap.
Adding fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide to a growing crop doesn’t happen for free. Farmers are the ones who pay for these costs. Not every farmer has been able to use these items because they don’t have the money to do so. According to the Noble Research Institute, if 60 pounds of potassium, 60 pounds of phosphorus, and 60 pounds of nitrogen are required for farming, then the cost to farm becomes over $145 per ton of forage to produce less than $35 in returns.
7. It has placed a focus on cash crops over stable crops.
There have been more opportunities for farming because of the Green Revolution. There are also more opportunities to grow cash crops instead of staple crops because of these improved growing methods. Even though we’re producing more crops than ever before, crops like tobacco, oil palm, cacao, and pineapple are expanding more than rice, wheat, or corn. The goal of cash crops is to maximize household income levels, yet higher incomes have led to higher levels of food insecurity.
8. Green Revolution techniques can make the land unusable.
Adding fertilizers and chemicals to the soil drains it of its ability to produce crops over long periods of time. Not only do these practices drain the soil of its nutrients, the erosion caused can create a loss of land. That forces farmers to grow a decreased variety of crops as their harvest profile shrinks. About 3 million hectares of land are lost each year because of soil degradation. Over the last 30 years, more than 140 million hectares have been lost in the U.S. alone.
9. It has created an unequal rise in production levels.
Thailand may have experienced several benefits from the Green Revolution, like an improved economy and lower levels of food insecurity. They have also encountered some issues as well. The Green Revolution primarily supports agricultural efforts in regions where environmental conditions make growth difficult. In areas where the growing season is consistent, there have been minimal changes to the yields produced. Rice yields in Thailand using natural resources have remained consistent, while irrigated areas have seen large production increases.
10. We have not yet solved the hunger crisis.
According to the Food Aid Foundation, 25% of people are undernourished. Poor nutrition is the cause of death in 45% of children under the age of 5 every year. More than 3 million children die because they don’t get enough food to eat, despite food productivity levels being much higher because of the Green Revolution. In total, about 9 million people die of hunger or malnutrition each year.
The big pros and cons of the Green Revolution show us that it is possible, through human ingenuity, to solve food production problems. Oxfam estimates that we already produce about 20% more food than everyone needs right now. That means there is no excuse for anyone to be hungry. With added food comes added money, however, and more money means more politics are involved. When food supplies can be controlled, then populations can be controlled. We have over 1 billion tons of food waste per year, yet in the U.S., arguably the wealthiest nation on the planet, 20% of children live in food insecure households.
The Green Revolution helped us to solve our hunger crisis. Now we must ensure that foods get shipped to the people who need it the most.