Green Revolution in Asia: Lessons for
Asia, which adopted
the 'Green Revolution' model in the 1960s, has invaluable lessons to
offer to an
In any case, yield increases, while certainly important, do not go to the heart of the problem. The real challenge facing the developing world is achieving food security at the national and household levels. The two tables below show that it is the food security situation that needs further scrutiny.
Table 1 shows there
are about 500 million people in
The GR package of high-yielding crop varieties (HYVs), irrigation and agrochemicals is often seen as mainly a technological intervention to boost food production. But as experience has shown, GR is also a socio-economic and political construct. It also has an environmental dimension as agriculture is mainly based on natural resources.
Many valuable lessons
can be drawn from the GR experience in
The main achievement
of GR in
The increase in production is, however, not sustainable over a long period. As early as 1976, a report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) noted that the growth rate in rice yields between 1963-67 and 1971-75 was less than 1.5% per annum for South and Southeast Asia as a whole and below 1% for several countries. And this was for irrigated (or wet) rice fields; there was no evidence of a major breakthrough in dry land agriculture (Morgan, 1978). Another study reported that rice yield growth in Asia declined sharply in the 1980s, from an annual growth rate of 2.6% in the 1970s to 1.5% during the period beginning in 1981 (Pingali and Rosegrant, 1994). Disregarding the discrepancy in figures, the conclusion is that the increase in yield is not sustainable.
An interesting example
The decline in yield,
but increase in the price of inputs, also has an adverse impact on economic
welfare of rural communities. This has led to an urban drift and the
creation of increasing numbers of urban poor. The Indonesian experience
with GR indicates that it was focused on increasing rice production
rather than farmers' income and that the programme was not cost-efficient
and required huge funding (Pribadi, 2001 in Jhamtani, 2008).
One of the most important
features of GR is the use of agrochemicals (fertiliser, pesticides,
herbicides), a feature that was non-existent before then. Agrochemicals
are used because HYVs were constructed to be responsive to chemical
fertilisers and were more susceptible to pest outbreaks. In developing
countries, these chemicals are costly. And, over a few years, more chemicals
have to be used to achieve the same yields. In
Thus the increase
in yield is offset by the increase in costs associated with increased
use of chemicals. In the Central Plains of
Agrochemicals not only increase production cost but also have health and environmental impacts, whose costs have not been properly internalised in the calculation of yields and production costs under the GR system. For example, the cost associated with agrochemical pollution of water systems and soils has never been taken into account. Accidents, and even deaths, of farmers and agricultural labourers due to lack of knowledge on safe use of chemicals have also been underreported. A study showed that poisoning episodes occur largely during spraying, mixing, and diluting of pesticides or due to the use of malfunctioning or defective equipment among agricultural workers (Jeyaratnam, 1993). Most farmers are not well educated on this and not enough information was given to them on safe handling of the chemicals.
Easy access to pesticides has also meant that these chemicals have become a common means of committing suicide among farmers when they go bankrupt or are embroiled in debts that they cannot repay. In many cases debts were incurred when they borrowed money to buy expensive inputs such as seeds and agrochemicals; when the harvest failed or prices dropped, they could not pay back their debts. These are externalities that can cancel out the benefits arising from increased yields.
At the consumer level,
pesticides have contaminated food, leading to health problems. In
It is interesting
to note that since at least 2000, the International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) has recognised that high dependence on agrochemicals may not
be the solution to the challenges confronting agriculture. In a press
release in July 2004, IRRI said that 2,000 poor rice farmers in
This was a finding
from the Livelihood Improvement Through Ecology (LITE) project, a joint
project between IRRI and the UK Department for International Development
(DFID),which has demonstrated that insecticide can be eliminated and
nitrogen fertiliser (urea) applications reduced without lowering yields.
Similar studies in the Central Luzon province of the
In a similar manner, the use of HYVs is also not sustainable mainly due to their characteristic of being genetically uniform. The FAO has warned of a large-scale loss of plant genetic diversity and the erosion of biodiversity. This happens at two levels. First, genetic diversity is reduced when monocultures of rice and wheat replace mixtures and rotation of diverse crops such as wheat, maize, millets, pulses, and oil seeds. Secondly, genetic diversity is reduced because the HYV varieties of rice and wheat come from a narrow genetic base. As the genetic background of HYV crops is narrow, their ability to resist diseases and pests has declined relative to the ability of diseases and pests to overcome the resistant traits that have been bred into the seeds (Fitzgerald-Moore and Parai, 1996). Each new HYV that has become susceptible to pests and diseases has to be replaced, which involves costs.
Although HYVs are
bred to resist insects, diseases and environmental stresses, when planted
over a large area, they are in fact more vulnerable to pests. When single
cultivars, such as the IR 36 rice, cover large numbers of fields, infestation
can spread like wildfire, as was the case in
The lesson to be learnt
is that intensive double or triple monocropping of rice has caused degradation
of the paddy micro-environment and reductions in rice yield growth in
many irrigated areas in
The GR system has
shown that increase in yields does not necessarily translate into food
security; a 'one size fits all' technological strategy does not guarantee
food security or even social equity. But it has also shown that when
governments act, they can make a difference. The so-called success of
the GR system was due to heavy government intervention in terms of providing
subsidies, building infrastructure and providing guarantee for credits.
Yet even at the government level, there is lack of policy coherence
and sustainability of implementation to sustain agricultural development.
This is true not only in
Disengagement from environmental and natural resource management
Agriculture is based
on natural resources, whether soil, water or seeds. But agricultural
policies are often disengaged from management of natural ecosystems
that would sustain water supply, prevent erosion of topsoil and provide
genetic diversity for crops. Millions of dollars that have been pumped
into the GR system are wasted when environment-associated disasters
(floods, landslide, water shortage) occur due to lack of policy coherence
between the agriculture and the environment/natural resource sectors.
Dams and irrigation systems built as part of the GR system are rendered
useless when forests are allowed to be cleared, causing soil erosion
and damage to the water supply system. Whatever agriculture revolution
Disengagement from industrial and other development policies
With industrial development,
which is usually more rapid than agricultural development, an imbalance
is created between urban and rural development. This leads to urbanisation,
especially among the younger generation. The Green Revolution could
not solve this in
Disengagement from social issues
The GR system is often thought of only as technological innovation. It has, however, a social construct that is against small-scale production and has impacts on food security. For instance, increased production happens more in larger farms because small farmers cannot afford to buy the expensive inputs. In fact, in many countries studies have shown that GR has displaced large numbers of smallholder farmers. This has led to increased concentration of land ownership and more intensive urbanisation.
The disparity in the
distribution of benefits is very clear, even at national level. The
ADB report in 1976 said that the GR technology covered much of the irrigated
GR has also taken
away the independence of farmers over management of resources and makes
them dependent on external inputs. It has also negated their role as
'field scientists', as seed developers and as water managers. Farmers
also become dependent upon government price support and the market system.
When this support was dismantled during the economic crisis of
The lessons of Asia
in GR can be used by
The most vital consideration
may be about local agro-ecosystems and what they can offer, rather
than applying technologies that are developed detached from the local
system. Agro-ecosystem development may be more important than any revolution.
The world has changed
compared to the 1960s when GR was adopted in
The above was written
for the Conference on Ecological Agriculture: Mitigating Climate Change,
Providing Food Security and Self-Reliance for Rural Livelihoods in Africa,
which was held in
Fitzgerald-Moore, P. and Parai, B.J, 1996. The Green Revolution. Research paper in progress. http://www.ucalgary.ca/~pfitzger/green.pdf.
Jeyaratnam, J., 1993.
Acute Pesticide Poisoning in
Jhamtani, H, 2008.
Putting Food First. Towards community-based food security system. Insist
Press Policy Paper Series.
Lim, L.C., 2008. Sustainable
Agriculture: Meeting Food Security Needs, Addressing Climate Change
Morgan, J.P., 1978.
The Green Revolution in
Pingali, P.L and Rosegrant,
M.W., 1994. Confronting the Environmental Consequences of the Green
Sharma, D, 2004. The collapse of Green Revolution.31 July 2004. www.stwr.org.
*Third World Resurgence No. 223, March 2009, pp 27-30