The “Green Revolution” developed largely as a result of the vision and leadership of Norman Borlaug and his supporters, collaborators and followers. This revolution drastically changed the premise and organization of agriculture in human history. In a record short period of time — approximately seven decades — the “Green Revolution” produced enough food to allow the Earth’s human population to triple its total size during the lifetime of a single human being. This, in turn, meant that in the period since World War II, more human souls came to inhabit the planet than had collectively existed during the entire prior history of the species. This was a truly staggering achievement by any metric.
This impressive transformation was only made possible throughout the world by transforming agriculture from a solar-sustainable biological process to a petro-intensive industrial system which came to consume more energy and release more carbon than it captured. On a global scale, agriculture — humanity’s primary production system — had been transformed from a net energy capture system fueling the entire human enterprise into a net energy expending system dependent increasingly upon non-renewable fossilized carbon from the planet’s geological past.
As ecologists have pointed out for decades, this is, to say the least, a precarious circumstance — indeed it is truly alarming. When the production of food in any civilization becomes irretrievably dependent upon non-renewable resources, it, too, will eventually be non-renewable. Momentary spurts in growth enabled by the subsidies of non-renewables may well be possible and produce impressive short range achievements, but in the long run systems based on non-renewables cannot — and, therefore, will not — be renewed. As it turns out, the “Green Revolution” may not have “solved” the world’s hunger problems, but rather — in the long run — postponed them and amplified them in magnitude. It now appears that if advocates and supporters of the “Green Revolution” approach to agriculture cannot make the paradigm shift from a continuous growth model to a solar-sustainable renewable production model, the world is likely to face repeated, rapid and rude “food crises” in the coming decades.
The importance of Norman Borlaug’s achievement and that of his disciples has been assessed by numerous voices in the decades since it began to have an impact on the global scene. In some cases, third parties, interested primarily in promoting the “Gene Revolution,” have sought to characterize his work with the “Green Revolution” as a precursor and early stage development of the genetic modification technology that they were seeking to champion.
Other assessments have been more measured, posing some of the key ethical dimensions raised by the impact of the “Green Revolution” itself. See for example:
- Richard Manning – Interview
Interview of Richard Manning for the documentary “What a way to go – life at the end of empire” from Timothy S. Bennett. Mr. Manning’s account of the context and outcome of Dr. Borlaug’s work raises some very disturbing problems about the long-term impact of the “Green Revolution.”
- Jeffrey Sachs’ speech at the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit (full speech)
- “Just take the case of agriculture…”
- “No Soil. No Growing Seasons. Just Add Water and Technology:” The Recent Evolution & Tragic Trajectory of the World Food System
- “The Truth about the Green Revolution,” contribution to GTI Forum “Technology and the Future,” Great Transition Initiative (February 2022).
- Billionaire Hydroponics, Expanding World Hunger & The Tragic Future Trajectory of Global Food System
- Ignorance, Arrogance, Overshoot & Collapse: The Destructive Power of Enduing Myths In Collapsing Civilizations
- Overcoming the Multiple Legacies of European Colonialism: Can The West Survive Its Most Cherished Historical Myths?
- Misplaced Metaphors in the Anthropocene: Beware of the Devastating Power of Cultural Clichés & Misconstrued Metaphors on a Small Planet
- The Vulnerability of the Global Food System and the Strategies Needed for a Sustainable “Recovery”
Other assessments include:
- The Agribusiness Alliance for a Green Revolution Failed Africa – Tim Wise (GDAE-Tufts University & IATP)
- Reversing the AGRA “meta-narrative” about Africa and the ‘Green Revolution’ – A conversation…
- Failing Africa’s Farmers: An Impact Assessment of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Timothy A. Wise
- Beyond the ‘Green Revolution:’ The Current Paradigm Shift in Global Agricultural Science
- Africa’s land use problem: Is Green Revolution agriculture a solution or a cause? | IATP
- African civil society publicly challenges Green Revolution backers | IATP
- Beyond Africa’s Green Revolution: Time for donors to shift funding to agroecology | IATP
- Soils, Agriculture, Carbon Sequestration and Human Survival
- The mistake of petro-intensive agriculture
- Why Bill Gates is Now the Biggest US Farmland Owner
- Bill Gates: How Gene Editing, AI Can Benefit World’s Poorest – AAAS, 2020
- Why I love fertilizer
- Bill Gates is the biggest private owner of farmland in the United States. Why? | Bill Gates | The Guardian
- ‘Bill Gates is continuing the work of Monsanto’, Vandana Shiva tells FRANCE 24
- Who Really Feeds the World?: The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology: Vandana Shiva
- Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom: Vandana Shiva, Kartikey Shiva
- Vandana Shiva on the Taking Down of Bill Gates’ Empires
As well as:
- How Could Something So Right Turn Out Wrong? How Could Something So Good Go Bad? The Tragic Story of the Modern World’s Love Affair with The “Green Revolution” – Part 1
- The Rise and Forthcoming Demise of Petro-Intensive Agriculture – Some Elements of The Scientific Critique – Part 2
- The Mythology of the Green Revolution – Part 3
- Alternatives to “Green Revolution” Technology for Long-Term Agricultural Sustainability & Survival – Part 4
- The “Green Revolution,” AGRA & the African Agricultural Narrative – Part 5
- A New ‘Scramble for Africa:’ The Resistance to Corporate ‘Landgrabbing’ & the AGRA ‘Meta-Narrative’ – Part 6
- After the “Green Revolution” Who “Owns” Global Agriculture? The Fatal Mistake of Misplaced Metaphors in Our Globalized Agro-ecosystem – Part 7
- Some Troubling Chapters in The Political Ecology & History of West African Agriculture
- The Oakland Institute | The Land Rights Issue
Alternatives to the “Green Revolution” approach involve rethinking agriculture from the vantage point of the ecological sciences and what they can tell us about sustainability and resource conservation. See for example: