The Green Revolution has been a much-debated subject. The initial euphoria during the late 1960s of the high-yielding wheat and rice varieties — and more intensive crop production practices — was followed by a wave of criticism. Some criticism reflected a sincere concern about social and economic problems in rural areas that were not — and cannot — be solved by technology alone. Some criticism was based on premature analyses of what was actually happening in areas where the Green Revolution technologies were being adopted. Some criticism focused on issues of environmental damage and sustainability. Many of these criticisms have some element of truth to them. Obviously, wealth has increased in irrigated areas, relative to less-favored rainfed regions, thus increasing income disparities. Cereals, with their higher yield potential, have displaced pulses and other lower-yielding crops. Farm mechanization has displaced low-paid laborers. High-yielding cereal varieties have replaced lower-yielding land races.
For those whose main concern is protecting the "environment," what would the world have been like without the technological advances that have occurred? Had the global cereal yields of 1950 still prevailed in 1999, we would have needed nearly 1.2 billion ha of additional land of the same quality — instead of the 660 million that was used.
Obviously, such a surplus of land was not available, and certainly not in Asia, where the population increased from 1.2 to 3.8 billion over the time period. Moreover, if more environmentally fragile land had been brought into agricultural production, the impact on soil erosion, loss of forests, grasslands, and biodiversity, and extinction of wildlife species would have ensued.
The debate on benefits and shortcomings of the Green Revolution must be framed within the larger context of population growth. The continuing decline in the real price of cereals also needs to be considered. Lower food costs benefit everybody in society, but especially the poor consumer. Finally, the very strong growth linkages between Green Revolution technology and industrial development are also apparent. Indeed, much of Asia's spectacular economic development in industry and services over the past 20 years has followed in the wake of the agricultural revolutions that preceded them.
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