After experiencing two world wars in less than 50 years, the world was at a turning point. Food shortages were becoming common even in countries that had viable agricultural infrastructure in place. There was also an increase in drought and famine that would occur over the two decades after World War II that would decimate entire countries because of how it changed their growing seasons.
There was a need to find a solution to this problem and fast. That was how the Green Revolution would start.
The Green Revolution was a time when crop production increased dramatically in developing countries because of changes that occurred in the agricultural technological processes. This new approach used herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers to treat specific conditions found in the soil that prevented maximum crop growth.
It was an effort that allowed farmers to create more significant yields during each growing season when they follow the techniques provided by the Green Revolution.
The focus of this effort was to improve food access by improving the growing processes for the most popular crops consumed in the world at the time. Wheat and rice were able to grow at three times the amount that they did in the past because of the techniques introduced by this event.
List of the Pros of the Green Revolution
1. The Green Revolution allows us to produce more food than at any time in history.
The technological advances which occurred during the Green Revolution made it possible to feed a growing population despite the presence of challenging weather conditions and changing growing seasons. Some farmers were able to achieve yields that were even higher than what the averages offered when the new techniques were introduced to the developing world. As the idea spread to other countries, the same benefits began to be experienced by everyone.
2. The Green Revolution makes food access easier for everyone.
When farmers are able to grow more food on their croplands each season, then it becomes possible for the world to have more access to the nutrition that they require. The result of this work is so profound that we can produce more food on our current agricultural lands then what our current populations require. That means if we are going to have a second Green Revolution, then we will need to find ways to improve shipping and transportation infrastructures to reduce the amount of food waste we generate.
3. The Green Revolution improved the quality of crop structures.
The Green Revolution helped us to create several new strains of crops which are more resistant to pests and disease. This benefit is one of the primary reasons why farmers are able to achieve such consistent gains in productivity. It creates a product that is plentiful, healthy, and affordable to grow in virtually any country. The techniques behind this process don’t even require the use of GMO’s to create a successful result.
4. The Green Revolution creates predictable harvest schedules.
Farmers have always been dependent upon the quality of a growing season to maximize their potential profits. Thanks to the Green Revolution, there is more predictability in the income levels that are possible for agricultural workers in any environment. The threat of a poor season doesn’t go away entirely, but it can help farms find ways to produce the crops they need to get to the next year without going out of business. That means we have a predictable food chain that everyone can use to reduce scarcity issues as well.
5. The Green Revolution makes it possible to grow crops in different locations.
What we learned through this period of technological evolution is that it is possible to grow food products almost anywhere on our planet. There are no longer issues with poor soil or challenging weather conditions because farmers can use the ideas presented by the Green Revolution to maintain productivity levels. This process even makes it possible to create farms in places where it would be impossible before, such as above the Arctic Circle or in Antarctica.
6. The Green Revolution promises higher yields for the crops involved.
Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize because of his contributions to the Green Revolution. He earned his bachelor’s degree in forestry in 1937, and then a doctorate from the university of Minnesota in 1942. Because of his work on wheat varieties, Mexico went from being a net importer to a net exporter of this crop by 1963. In a 5-year period, he was also able to double the yields that were coming out of India and Pakistan to reduce food security issues around the world. This work is credited with saving at least 1 billion people from starvation.
7. The Green Revolution made it cheaper to purchase food.
Another significant advantage of the Green Revolution is that the higher levels of availability made it possible for consumers to spend less on the foods that they need. Farmers are still able to make more money despite the lower costs because of the increase in yields they can achieve consistently.
In 1900, the average cost of food for the American household was 40% of their income. In 1950, that figure dropped to less than 30%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics now estimates that the average household in the United States spends 10% of their total budget on food. That means the total cost per year is $6,602. With inflation taken into consideration, it isn’t just income value that is going up. Costs are also going down.
8. The Green Revolution works with the environment.
Because we can use croplands more efficiently thanks to the processes introduced by the Green Revolution, there is no longer a need to transform landscapes into farming communities. Agricultural workers can meet food demands with the technologies and techniques offered on the current infrastructure, which reduces tree consumption and carbon release concerns.
Although natural lands were converted to croplands at a rate of 10% in the past 50 years, human population numbers have doubled during that time, while food production rates have managed to triple.
9. The Green Revolution reduces concerns about fallowing.
Arguably the most significant advantage of this agricultural transformation was a reduction in the need to fallow croplands. In regions where precipitation is scarce, farmers would need to let their land be left vacant every other year (and sometimes for two years after a growing season) to allow the soil to build up enough moisture to support crops. Now farmers can keep their croplands productive every season, making it possible to increase their income levels.
List of the Cons of the Green Revolution
1. The Green Revolution has led to an increase of artificial fertilizers.
The most significant disadvantage of the Green Revolution is that it can only be successful when artificial enhancers are added to the soil to support continued crop growth. If farmers were to grow the new strains of crops without pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers helping the process, then they would experience lower yields compared to the varieties that were grown traditionally. The new strains of wheat and rice were not as adaptive to local factors as the “normal” crops that were grown.
2. The Green Revolution has created high levels of food waste.
The world is actually growing more food than it can consume right now. 40% of the losses that we experience happens during processing or after agricultural workers harvest the fields. Most of the waste in the developed world where the Green Revolution was unnecessary occurs at the retail or consumer level instead. We will lose up to 50% of the foods that are grown each year in some categories. That means over 1.3 billion tons of food is grown and not consumed annually.
One of the most significant factors for food waste is the cost of it. Even though prices are moving downward for several crops, households living in poverty still struggle to make ends meet. About 20% of kids in the United States live in a food insecure household despite the high median income of the country.
3. The Green Revolution uses items that can harm the environment.
Because we have started using more synthetic chemicals and fertilizers to encourage larger yields on existing croplands, there are new issues with erosion and pollution that farmers must deal with every day. These components can pollute water systems that surround the fields where agricultural workers are producing food products. The items move downstream to expose other land areas that are not being worked. There are just as many concerns with the Green Revolution reducing soil quality levels as there are in the advantages that improve it.
4. The Green Revolution has created a growing resistance to synthetic chemicals.
One of the primary reasons that organizations are researching GMO’s for crops is that the plants and soil are developing a resistance to modern pesticides and herbicides. The Green Revolution forces us to continue looking at ways to involve plant chemistry so that we can maintain the increased yields that are possible. Although genetic modifications are generally treated as being safe, we do not have any long-term information about how these changes could impact human health.
5. The Green Revolution comes at a steep price.
Even though the addition of fertilizer and other synthetic additives can increase crop production, there are some farmers in the developing world who cannot afford these products. Some soil conditions are so poor that the number of additives necessary to produce a crop would cost more than the yields that were possible. In extremely poor conditions, a farmer may need $145 of product to produce less than $40 in returns per acre. Agricultural workers in the developed world may be able to handle this cost thanks to subsidies, but it may also put the hope of an income out of reach for those in poor countries.
6. The Green Revolution shifted our focus on cropland use.
According to information published by Vox in 2014 with National Geographic, about 55% of the world’s crop calories are consumed by humans. 36% of the croplands are currently being used for animal feed across the globe. That means the remainder is used as a cash crop for biofuels. In the United States, where cropland potential is at its highest, only 27% of the crap calories are directly consumed. Almost 2/3 of the crops grown in the U.S., including almost all of the soybeans, goes to animal feed.
7. The Green Revolution only solved some of the hunger crisis.
Although there are undoubtedly more people in the world today who are living in households that are food secure because of the Green Revolution, there is still a lot of hunger that we must solve. About one in four people are currently undernourished in the world today. Almost half of the children across the globe under the age of 5-years-old die because they lack access to proper nutrition. When the statistics of malnutrition and hunger are put together, roughly 10,000,000 people have their lives placed at risk because they lack access to food.
8. The Green Revolution can make the land become unusable.
The Green Revolution did make it possible for farmers to improve their yields thanks to soil management improvements. They are also discovering that the soil can become unusable faster because there are such high demands of productivity placed on it. Roughly 7.5 million acres of croplands are taken out of production because of degradation issues that are directly related to the overuse of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Even in the United States, roughly 350 million acres of land has been lost to this change in farming techniques in the past 30 years.
The pros and cons of the Green Revolution suggest that it is always possible to meet our need to have food when we allow creativity and ingenuity to be our guides. We already produce more food than we need right now, so our next effort must be to improve our usage of what we have. That means we must develop a food delivery system that sits outside of a political agenda to ensure the people who need this resource the most can have it. We must also set aside socioeconomic barriers that stop people from having access to food.
Natalie Regoli is our editor-in-chief. The goal of ConnectUs is to publish compelling content that addresses some of the biggest issues the world faces. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.