The Green Revolution began in the 1940s and describes a series of technological developments in farming including plant breeding and use of fertilisers and pesticides. It aimed to solve the growing problems of food shortages and overpopulation. Norman Borlaug, the scientist at the forefront of the Green Revolution, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work helping the world’s hungry, yet as the techniques he helped develop became widespread, critics of the Green Revolution have emerged, suggesting that it has had a number of harmful effects.
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Environment and health
Environmental concerns have been raised by farmers in India, some of whom are returning to organic farming methods. Farmers argue that decades of chemical usage have damaged the soil as well as polluting local water. In Punjab state, locals have blamed chemical pollution for causing cancer, birth defects and other diseases. The Green Revolution boosted India’s agricultural production in the 1960s, making the country self-sufficient, yet the long-term effects of the changes are now being questioned.
One of the key benefits of the Green Revolution was thought to be that it would eventually eradicate hunger across the world. Evidence is now emerging that this is not the case. Increased food production does not alter the concentration of economic power to wealthy countries and so the poor are still often left without the resources to buy the food produced. In South America, food production rose by 8 percent from 1970 to 1990, yet the amount of hungry people went up by 19 percent. In China, where there has been huge economic growth, levels of hunger have dropped significantly.
There is growing evidence that the Green Revolution is making farm land ecologically unsustainable. Studies in countries including China, Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan indicate that yields have been levelling off in areas where Green Revolution farming methods have been used. One of the causes of this is thought to be long-term soil degradation caused by chemicals.
The Green Revolution has had implications for women farmers, particularly in parts of Africa. Women have traditionally maintained small plots of land to produce food for their family or community, whilst men focus on higher production cash crops. Some Green Revolution programmes encourage farmers to purchase seeds each season, removing the control that women farmers had on seed planting on their own land. The result is that women have become increasingly removed from decision making in agricultural areas.
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