The development of biofuels on a global basis has been a direct assault on the food supply of the most vulnerable populations of the world. These are, in reality, only the most recent chapters in a long history of manipulation and abuse of the agricultural systems of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. The historical development of the international trade in foodstuffs during the Atlantic slave-trade and the subsequent re-organization of tropical agricultural production to favor “cash crops” under colonial domination has led to the current stark division of agricultural production on a global scale. Grains are shipped in bulk to the “Global South” in exchange for “tropical cash crops” shipped to the “Global North” through what was for a long time justified in terms of “the economics of comparative advantage.”
The most recent phase of this global reorganization of agriculture on the Earth’s surface occurred in a remarkably short period of time — effectively less than the life-time of an average adult in the Western World in the post-World War II era. Because of the innovations introduced by Norman Borlaug and promoted by the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and agricultural organizations that they funded including IFPRI and CGIAR the world food system was transformed in essence from a “solar sustainable” system into one that has become entirely “petro-dependent.” The so called “Green Revolution” was in this respect both a “breakthrough” and phenomenal success story, on the one hand, and a truly breath-taking failure or “wrong turn” in the historical evolution of agriculture, on the other.
The reason for the starkly contrasting assessments of the “Green Revolution” becomes apparent when the “energetics” of agriculture are analyzed in detail. In the post-World War II era, it seemed that the costs of the “inputs” to agriculture were phenomenally cheap. Land was available, water seemed plentiful, especially with the adaptation of irrigation technology and the “cost” of petroleum was even cheaper than that of water — or so it seemed. The so called “Green Revolution” succeeded precisely because of these “cheap” inputs.
In the final decades of the 20th century, however, it has become apparent that those “cheap inputs” were squandered in the rush to expand immediate production levels. The expansion of human food supplies was truly phenomenal, resulting in a tripling of Earth’s human population between 1945 and 2018. But while production increased dramatically, productivity actually declined as the system as a whole came to depend upon 1) non-renewable inputs (fossil fuels, ammonia-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.) or 2) renewable inputs that were exploited beyond the point of their capacity to be renewed (fossil water from aquifers, natural topsoil fertility, biogenetic diversity, etc. )
In reality, hidden from view in assessing the “costs” and “benefits” of this transformation was the total miscalculation in the equations of the subsidies provided to the emerging global system from fossil fuels and natural ecosystemic cycling systems that were destroyed in the frantic rush to promote petro-intensive agriculture.
and the works of:
as well as:
While all the achievements of the Green Revolution were impressive in fueling the fastest growth spurt of the human population in the history of the world, they did so by sacrificing the future sustainability of agriculture on the Earth’s surface. Civilizations that transform their solar sustainable systems to a permanent dependence upon non-renewable resources cannot and will not themselves be renewed. They will collapse in the future as surely as they have in the past.
For further background material see:
as well as: