The Green Revolution & Dr Norman Borlaug: Towards
the "Evergreen Revolution"
The Norman Borlaug Institute For Plant Science Research
The term "Green Revolution" was coined by William
Gaud whilst Director of the United States Agency for International Development
(USAID). He was describing the spectacular increases in cereal crop yields
that were achieved in developing countries during the 1960s. The key to
this revolution were new plant varieties which fully utilised improved
fertilisers and other new agrochemicals that had become available during
this period. When planted using improved irrigation and crop management
techniques, these new varieties gave dramatic increases in yield.
The origins of the "Green Revolution" can be traced back to
the middle of the 1940s when US Vice-President Henry Wallace toured Mexico
as a special ambassador. He was appalled by the state of Mexican agriculture
and, upon returning to Washington, urged the Rockefeller Foundation to
look at ways of helping the Mexicans. Independently, the Foundation had
begun to realise that it's health improvement programmes for developing
countries were pointless if those people it saved, then died of starvation
or malnutrition. It was decided to send a team of four dedicated scientists
to help the Mexican Agricultural Ministry. Headed by J. George Harrar
the team also comprised, Dr John Niederhauser (in charge of potato improvement),
Dr Edwin Wellhausen (maize improvement) and in charge of the wheat improvement
programme, a young scientist from Iowa called Dr Norman Ernest Borlaug.
Norman Borlaug set about the task with his customary energy and instigated
a wheat-breeding programme that many thought unworkable. In an effort
to speed up the programme Norman Borlaug came up with the idea of "shuttle
breeding". By growing his breeding plants in central Mexico during
the summer and then in Northern Mexico during the winter he was able to
double the rate of the wheat breeding programme. A further outcome was
that due to the differing conditions at the two locations the resulting
plants proved extremely adaptable. That Norman Borlaug's efforts were
successful is undeniable as by 1948 Mexico was self-sufficient in grain
and by 1965, in spite of a dramatic population increase, had become a
net exporter of wheat. The new wheat varieties were made available to
other countries notably the Indian sub-continent. Chief architect of the
Indian "green revolution" was Dr Monkombu Swaminathan, who was
awarded the World Food Prize in 1987 . In 1970 Dr Borlaug's achievements
were recognised with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The success of the Mexican programme prompted the setting-up of a similar
programme for rice. It was based at purpose built research centre, the
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in The Philippines and funded
jointly by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. Firstly Dr Henry Beachell,
and subsequently Dr Gurdev Khush, succeeded in producing new varieties
of rice with increased yields. Their contributions to the "Green
Revolution" were recognised with the joint award of the World Food
Prize in 1996.
In spite of these remarkable advances, the continuing increase of the
world's population has brought two further crop production problems into
focus. In the developed countries crops are cultured so successfully as
to yield "food mountains" but at the expense of very high inputs
and with the consequence of very high environmental impacts. In contrast,
in many developing countries insufficient funds are available to provide
the fertilisers, pesticides and fuel necessary to realise the full potential
of the best cultivars, and starvation is rife. These problems are related.
The staff of the Norman Borlaug Institute for Plant Science Research are
committed to developing low input/low environmental impact/high yield/high
quality strains of crops. These crops will satisfy the need for efficient
sustainable agricultural production in both developing and developed countries.