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Miracle Farm Blueprint

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High-yield agriculture is a 20th-century invention. The first major impact was the hybrid maize revolution that began in the United States in the late 1930s, and was driven by the need to help feed allies during World War II. Fueled by the


Land used



Land used





1990 1999

Figure 3.1 Land that farmers throughout the world spared in cereal production by raising yields. (From authors' calculations based on selected Food and Agriculture Organization Production Yearbooks, 1950-1960 and FAOSTAT.)

combination of high-yielding hybrid varieties, markedly increased fertilizer use, chemical pest control, and improved mechanization, maize production in the United States and later Europe and Canada, expanded at unprecedented rates. Attempts after WWII to transfer the high-yield temperate-zone maize technology to other nations met with mixed results, especially in tropical and subtropical environments where the U.S. technology performed poorly. However, pioneering agricultural research and development programs of the Rockefeller Foundation, which began in Mexico in 1943 and later spread to other developing countries during the 1950s, began supplying new classes of varieties that were adapted to subtropical and tropical production conditions.

By the mid-1960s, International Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) scientists — successor organizations to former bilateral programs supported by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations — had developed rust-resistant, semidwarf wheat and rice varieties with radically improved yields. The new short wheat varieties drew on dwarfing genes found in the Japanese Norin wheat germ plasm. When crossed to the high-yielding, disease-resistant tall wheat varieties developed in Mexico, the new semidwarf progenies were much more efficient than their tall predecessor varieties in converting sunlight and nutrients into grain production. Furthermore, their superior plant architecture provided resistance against lodging (falling over) in heavy winds and under improved conditions of soil fertility and moisture. In the case of rice, IRRI scientists used dwarf strains first selected by Japanese breeders in the 1920s in Taiwan (then a Japanese colony) to shorten plant height. By crossing tropical (indica) and temperate (japonica) rice germ plasm, they created new types of high-yielding varieties that combined the best traits of both gene pools.

Under most conditions, even when farmers used traditional methods of cultivation without fertilizer, the new wheat and rice varieties yielded more grain than the traditional local cultivars. However, when these new varieties were grown with adequate moisture and under higher soil fertility, they yielded up to four times as much. Nevertheless, many agricultural scientists and extension workers were skeptical about the willingness of farmers to accept the new varieties. Not only did they look different from traditional types, they required substantially different care, especially in depth of planting, fertilizer application, water management, and weed control.

Despite the misgivings of many national researchers, government leaders in India and Pakistan (and somewhat later in Turkey and China), who faced desperate and deteriorating food situations and growing prospects of widespread famine, decided to introduce the new varieties and crop management techniques as quickly as possible. Extensive farm demonstrations were established, and once farmers saw the results themselves, they became the major spokesmen for the new methods.

In the beginning, Pakistani and Indian leaders authorized the purchase of large quantities of the new seeds and massive amounts of fertilizer. But they also radically changed national investment policies to build up domestic seed and fertilizer production facilities and to ensure farmers a harvest price for their grain similar to that prevailing on the international market. All these policy changes were critical for sustained growth in food production. The gamble taken by courageous leaders in India and Pakistan — and later in other Asian countries — paid off handsomely. Within 10 years, wheat and rice production had increased by 50% (FAOSTAT, 2003).

Over the past four decades, FAO reports that in the developing countries of Asia, irrigated area more than doubled to 175 million hectares, fertilizer consumption increased more than 30-fold and now stands at about 70 million metric tons of nutrients, and tractors in use increased from 200,000 to 4.8 million (Table 3.1).

Many Green Revolution observers have tended to focus too much on the high-yielding wheat and rice varieties, as if they alone can produce miraculous results. Certainly, modern varieties can shift yield curves higher due to more efficient plant architecture and the incorporation of genetic sources of disease and insect resistance. However, modern varieties can only achieve their genetic yield potential if systematic changes are also made in crop management, such as in dates and rates of planting, fertilization, water management, and weed and pest control. Moreover, many of these changes must be applied simultaneously if the genetic yield potential of modern varieties is to be fully realized.

In describing the rapid spread of the new wheat and rice technology across Asia, William Gaud, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in a talk given in March 1968 to the Society for International Development in Washington, D.C., said: "These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets or the White Revolution in Iran. But rather, I call it a Green Revolution."

Thus, the term "Green Revolution" was coined. To us, it symbolizes the process of applying agricultural science to develop modern techniques for Third World food production conditions.

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Table 3.1 Changes in Factors of Production in Developing Asia 5

Adoption of Modern Varieties 5

Fertilizer Nutrient 5

Wheat Rice Irrigation Consumption Tractors ¡3

(million ha/% area) (million ha/% area) (million ha) (million metric tons) (millions) 53

Source: From FAOSTAT, April 2000; adoption of modern varieties based on authors' calculations derived from International Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat and International Rice Research Institute data.

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