The Green Revolution: Out with the Old in with the New
Updated: Jan 11, 2021
Steve Maxwell from Vancouver, BC
American operatic singer, Beverly Sills, once said, “There is no shortcut to anywhere worth going.” Perhaps, to some extent she’s right, but I don’t imagine she was referring to efficiency in agriculture. Shortcuts aren’t always bad, especially when they achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense and that’s the narrative imbrued in the evolution of agriculture.
The Old Green Revolution
India is often credited as the cornerstone of the green revolution. Prompted by a lackluster agricultural sector in a country heavily agriculturally dependent, the government, along with the assistance of Indian geneticist, M.S. Swaminathan, launched the Green Revolution. It was “a period (1965-1990s) when the productivity of global agriculture increased drastically as a result of new advances”. The movement led with the use of High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds to reignite farming and make the country self-sufficient in food production. The HYV seeds, paired with proper irrigation, were particularly successful for grained foods such as wheat and rice and, upon recognizing its growth potential, the Indian government started testing HYV seeds in different states around the country to assess growth patterns. High yielding crops were not the only gems to come out of the Green Revolution; neither did the revolution remain in India. Other productive and efficient advances included the development of new chemical fertilizers that safely provided more nutrients to crops and synthetic herbicides and pesticides that took care of “agricultural waste” such as weeds, insects and diseases that would threaten the increase of crop yield. Multi-cropping was also introduced, which facilitated the growth of various crops in the same field allowing for food production at all times. Many countries around the world benefited from these technological advances in agriculture.
The advantages of the Green revolution of the 1960s and 1970s included an increase in the total agricultural output and food production, a rise in agricultural employment, and agricultural independence. Farmers saw a significant rise in their wages and income and more countries engaged in self-sufficiency, relying less and less on imports. The old Green Revolution is emblematic of the duality between politics, science, and agriculture, a necessary communal force for fostering agricultural advancement. Farmers still reflect on the old Green Revolution as a success story for the industry.
The New Green Revolution
Due to present agricultural climate, experts believe that we are entering a new or the next Green Revolution. The combined diabolism of climate change, water scarcity, and reduced energy resources has onset a serious concern for the growing food crisis. According to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world, or 10.7%, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016. Food security is an endangered entity and experts believe that a new wave of the Green Revolution might be the only saving grace. For many communities around the world, agriculture is a primary resource. Thus, environmental threats that are triggered by natural and human causes have a direct impact on livelihood and the quality of life. The National Geographic focused on one such story wherein a farmer in Tanzania lamented over his cassava crop that was ransacked by whiteflies. “The pinhead-size flies transmit two viruses: one which ravages cassava leaves and the other which destroys the starchy, edible root—a catastrophe that usually isn’t discovered until harvest time.” The journalist, curious about the implications of these whiteflies for the community, visited several other farms in the area and one chorus was repetitive: no one had ever heard of the viral disease. The farmers of Tanzania wrongly concluded that their unsuccessful crop yield was a result of too much water or too much sun. This story from Tanzania is not uncommon. Current agricultural forecast suggests that the unpredictable weather, global warming, and receding water are just a few of the factors that could problematize crop yield, making food security impossible.
The New Green Revolution is heavily relying on technology to propel agricultural evolution forward. A new sustainable paradigm should be the old one on steroids, or it should “supercharge the tools of the old one”, as Robert Farley, winner of the prestigious World Food Prize in 2013, puts it. It’s a move from manual labour to automation. The New Green Revolution focuses on how to gather more information about crops before their yield to predict growth and quality optimization. It also consists of the implementation of carbon neutral practices to decrease or alleviate the reliance of fossil fuels.
It is one that dives deeper into science, engaging in things like the manipulation of plant genes to make them immune to and/or defensive to factors like disease and drought. Surely genetically modified crops have already been developed, but not in a manner than is wholly environmentally friendly and safe. Met by a lot of criticism it is an area desperately needing reform. Experts largely endorse the agricultural paradigm of agroecology as a means to resolve the concern that looms in this revolution. Agroecology is the application of ecological science to the study, of sustainable agriculture. It champions natural ecological processes, and it emphasizes the importance of improving the entire agricultural system, not just the plant. According to the pioneers of the field, this holistic approach is premised on five key areas: (1) recycling biomass and balancing nutrient flow and availability (2) securing favorable soil conditions for plant growth through enhanced organic matter; (3) minimizing losses of solar radiation, water, and nutrients by way of microclimate management, water harvesting, and soil cover; (4) enhancing biological and genetic diversification on cropland; and (5) enhancing beneficial biological interactions and minimizing the use of pesticides.*
Agrotech has a duty to fulfill the mandate of eradicating food insecurity, by finding ways to implement the above into workable and practical tools and instruments that can simply life for the farm, the farmer, livestock and crops. The United Nations forecasts that by 2050 the world’s population will grow by more than two billion people. There is an intermingled dialogue that must occur between all the agents of change, such as agriculturists, agroecologists, environmentalists, government and consumers, to ensure that the New Green Revolution can materialize in a manner that meets the food-related needs of the population.