The Failings of the Green revolution puts Hunger back on the Priority Agenda.
It was born and developed to boost agricultural production and feed the world’s growing population. Four decades later as hunger, particularly in the Asia- Pacific region climbs, the Green Revolution is unable to meet new demands, unable to feed new mouths.
Launched in the late 1960s, the Green Revolution was a series of initiatives aimed at increasing agricultural production and feeding the world’s population affected by hunger. The initiatives, which included making grants and loans available to farmers to buy additional seeds, machinery and fertilizers to achieve increased yields and multiple cropping, was essentially a success, accounting for a 300% increase of rice yields in the subsequent 40 years. This rise led to a deduction in food prices by 40% and helped to ‘reduce the proportion of hunger from 34% in 1970 to 16% in 2006.’ So what went wrong with a predominantly successful revolution designed to revolt against world hunger?
In 2009, the number of people facing chronic hunger rose to a staggering 18% in the Asia-Pacific region, an increase of 2% since 2006. This increase is being increasingly blamed on the failings of the Green Revolution, with the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) repeatedly citing the figures and warning that a repeat success of the Green Revolution’s achievement is now in question, the world has to do more to help populations battling hunger.
Talking in a recent press conference in Bangkok, Hiroyuki Konuma, the FAO’s regional head, caused alarm bells to ring to the world’s public and private investors to help ‘rescue’ those dying of chronic hunger, the majority of whom are in Asia.
“This is unacceptable!” said Konuma. “Out of the 1.02 billion hungry people in the world, 642 million live in this region . Food security and agriculture are back as a priority agenda for the first time after the Green Revolution.”
Konuma, despite his best efforts to whip up frenzy and alarm to help the victims of chronic hunger, failed to point out why hunger in Asia is on the increase for the first time in 40 years, and why the Green Revolution is failing to maintain its achievements.
A rise in human population has a lot to do with the demise of the Green Revolution’s success and the subsequent increase in hunger. Ironically although the farming initiatives that were introduced in the 1960s did what they were intended to do and increased life expectancy by over 10 years in many nations across the world, this growth in life expectancy allowed many people who would have been unable to have children to conceive and produce children, hence the growing population.
Some argue that, rather than being kind, the Green Revolution, from a global perspective, may have been cruel. The argument that although the Green Revolution is humane in the short term, it is inhumane in the long term and has only exacerbated long term suffering, was suggested by Garret Hardin, author of “Tragedy of the Commons”, who referred to the rising population as essentially starving themselves, as “life boat ethics.” Garret’s and others views are extremely challenging ethical arguments, which suggest that each region should support only as large a population as its own resources will allow so it does not rely on food subsidies from other regions, as the agricultural practices of these so-called ‘donor regions’ or nations are likely to be unsustainable.
There are other less ‘ethical’ issues regarding the Green Revolution, namely the ‘unsustainable’ nature of many of the farming techniques. The planting of less diverse and varied crops came as a result of the Green Revolution so farmers could concentrate solely on using high yielding crops. Less diverse crops are more susceptible to disease as the use of a new crop variety, which are resistant to most crop diseases, are often used as a plant breeders strategy to resist disease. Therefore focusing on just high yielding crops, a trait of the Green Revolution, has implications to the long-term effects of agriculture. A reliance on a relatively limited number of crops leads to a permanent loss of well-adapted, genetically variable varieties. In India, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan there have been tremendous losses in yields, sometimes as much as 85% in recent years – a crucial but often ignored fact, which is arguably resulting in an increase in the number of hungry mouths across the world.
So what is the solution? FAO believes greater investments from public and private investors is the solution to prevent chronic hunger from spiraling any further out of control. But FAO is facing a huge challenge as the number of investments in agriculture in the developing world have dropped dramatically in the last three decades. Corresponding to this decrease of investment in agriculture are governments in Asia, which is home to the majority of farmers worldwide, who are practicing systematic neglect to farmers. According to the FAO:
“The proportion of agriculture expenditures to total expenditures declined from about 8.5% in 1990 to less than 2% in 2001. This declining trend in the share of agriculture expenditures on agriculture in Asia is symptomatic of neglect of the sector.”
The UN Food Agency (FAO) reiterates that a much greater investments are needed to combat chronic hunger in developing countries. The UN states that gross annual investments of 209 billion U.S dollars are needed in primary agriculture in developing nations to meet global food needs by 2050.
The rising price of food has affected nearly all of us. In developed countries people can be regularly heard grumbling their way through supermarkets as the price of their weekly shopping bill has almost doubled with no explanation other than the fact that the price of food has rocketed in recent years. But in developing countries the rising cost of food does not merely cause the population to gripe and grumble but has condemned millions to chronic hunger to the point of starvation. A recent edition of the magazine ‘Development Asia’ stated that in Cambodia, nearly 71% of a families expenses go to food, a similar amount is spent on food in Myanmar, Georgia and Azerbaijan. These figures are somewhat ironic as most of these people most affected by food insecurity live in rural farming regions but sadly the crops farmers produce only have to be replaced with other food.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s may have cut human hunger by raising crop yields but its success seems to be waning, and is arguably assisting the contemporary swelling prices of food. The UN and FAO are right to publicize the depressing truth that world hunger is on the rise in an attempt to drum up greater investments into the plight. But the strategies and techniques of agriculture, of the Green Revolution, need to be rethought and reborn so that societies can essentially help themselves out of destitute times.
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