The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity
Norman Borlaug - Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1970
Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved,
nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Yet food is something
that is taken for granted by most world leaders despite the fact that
more than half of the population of the world is hungry. Man seems to
insist on ignoring the lessons available from history.
Man's survival, from the time of Adam and Eve until the
invention of agriculture, must have been precarious because of his inability
to ensure his food supply. During the long, obscure, dimly defined prehistoric
period when man lived as a wandering hunter and food gatherer, frequent
food shortages must have prevented the development of village civilizations.
Under these conditions the growth of human population was also automatically
limited by the limitations of food supplies.
In the misty, hazy past, as the Mesolithic Age gave way
to the Neolithic, there suddenly appeared in widely separated geographic
areas the most highly successful group of inventors and revolutionaries
that the world has ever known. This group of Neolithic men and women,
and in all probability largely the latter, domesticated all the major
cereals, legumes, and root crops, as well as all of the most important
animals that to this day remain man's principal source of food. Apparently,
nine thousand years ago, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains1, man
had already become both agriculturist and animal husbandry-man, which,
in turn, soon led to the specialization of labor and the development of
village life. Similar discoveries and developments elsewhere soon laid
the groundwork from which all modern agriculture and animal industry and,
indeed, all of the world's subsequent civilizations have evolved. Despite
the tremendous value of their contributions, we know none of these benefactors
of mankind by name. In fact, it has only been within the past century,
and especially within the last fifteen years - since the development of
the effective radio-carbon dating system - that we have begun even vaguely
to understand the timing of these epochal events which have shaped the
The invention of agriculture, however, did not permanently
emancipate man from the fear of food shortages, hunger, and famine. Even
in prehistoric times population growth often must have threatened or exceeded
man's ability to produce enough food. Then, when droughts or outbreaks
of diseases and insect pests ravaged crops, famine resulted.
That such catastrophes occurred periodically in ancient
times is amply clear from numerous biblical references. Thus, the Lord
said: "I have smitten you with blasting and mildew."2 "The
seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns
are broken down; for the corn is withered... The beasts of the field cry
also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath
devoured the pastures of the wilderness."3
Plant diseases, drought, desolation, despair were recurrent
catastrophes during the ages - and the ancient remedies: supplications
to supernatural spirits or gods. And yet, the concept of the "ever-normal
granary" appeared in elementary form, as is clear from Pharaoh's
dreams and Joseph's interpretation of imminent famine and his preparation
for it, as indicated by this quotation from Genesis: "...And the
seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and
the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread..."4
For his time, Joseph was wise, with the help of his God.
But today we should be far wiser; with the help of our Gods
and our science, we must not only increase our food supplies but also
insure them against biological and physical catastrophes by international
efforts to provide international granaries of reserve food for use in
case of need. And these food reserves must be made available to all who
need them - and before famine strikes, not afterwards. Man can and must
prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with
pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so
often done in the past. We will be guilty of criminal negligence, without
extenuation, if we permit future famines. Humanity cannot tolerate that
Alfred Nobel was also very conscious of the importance of
food, for he once wrote: "I would rather take care of the stomachs
of the living than the glory of the departed in the form of monuments."
The destiny of world civilization depends upon providing
a decent standard of living for all mankind. The guiding principles of
the recipient of the 1969 Nobel Peace Prize, the International Labor Organization,
are expressed in its charter words, "Universal and lasting peace
can be established only if it is based upon social justice. If you desire
peace, cultivate justice." This is magnificent; no one can disagree
with this lofty principle.
Almost certainly, however, the first essential component
of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral
right of all who are born into this world. Yet today fifty percent of
the world's population goes hungry. Without food, man can live at most
but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are
meaningless. Therefore I feel that the aforementioned guiding principle
must be modified to read: If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but
at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise
there will be no peace.
The recognition that hunger and social strife are linked
is not new, for it is evidenced by the Old Testament passage, "...and
it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret
themselves, and curse their King and their God..."5
Perhaps no one in recent times has more pungently expressed
the interrelationship of food and peace than Nobel Laureate Lord John
Boyd Orr6, the great crusader against hunger and the first director-general
of the Food and Agriculture Organization, with his famous words, "You
can't build peace on empty stomachs." These simple words of wisdom
spoken twenty-one years ago are as valid today as when they were spoken.
They will become even more meaningful in the future as world population
skyrockets and as crowding, social pressures, and stresses increase. To
ignore Lord Orr's admonition would result in worldwide disorders and social
chaos, for it is a fundamental biological law that when the life of living
organisms is threatened by shortage of food they tend to swarm and use
violence to obtain their means of sustenance.
It is a sad fact that on this earth at this late date there
are still two worlds, "the privileged world" and "the forgotten
world". The privileged world consists of the affluent, developed
nations, comprising twenty-five to thirty percent of the world population,
in which most of the people live in a luxury never before experienced
by man outside the Garden of Eden. The forgotten world is made up primarily
of the developing nations, where most of the people, comprising more than
fifty percent of the total world population, live in poverty, with hunger
as a constant companion and fear of famine a continual menace.
When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee designated me the recipient
of the 1970 award for my contribution to the "green revolution",
they were in effect, I believe, selecting an individual to symbolize the
vital role of agriculture and food production in a world that is hungry,
both for bread and for peace. I am but one member of a vast team made
up of many organizations, officials, thousands of scientists, and millions
of farmers - mostly small and humble - who for many years have been fighting
a quiet, oftentimes losing war on the food production front.
During the past three years spectacular progress has been
made in increasing wheat, rice, and maize production in several of the
most populous developing countries of southern Asia, where widespread
famine appeared inevitable only five years ago. Most of the increase in
production has resulted from increased yields of grain per hectare, a
particularly important development because there is little possibility
of expanding the cultivated area in the densely populated areas of Asia.
The term "The Green Revolution" has been used
by the popular press to describe the spectacular increase in cereal-grain
production during the past three years. Perhaps the term "green revolution",
as commonly used, is premature, too optimistic, or too broad in scope.
Too often it seems to convey the impression of a general revolution in
yields per hectare and in total production of all crops throughout vast
areas comprising many countries. Sometimes it also implies that all farmers
are uniformly benefited by the breakthrough in production.
These implications both oversimplify and distort the facts.
The only crops which have been appreciably affected up to the present
time are wheat, rice, and maize. Yields of other important cereals, such
as sorghums, millets, and barley, have been only slightly affected; nor
has there been any appreciable increase in yield or production of the
pulse or legume crops, which are essential in the diets of cereal-consuming
populations. Moreover, it must be emphasized that thus far the great increase
in production has been in irrigated areas. Nor have all cereal farmers
in the irrigated areas adopted and benefited from the use of the new seed
and the new technology. Nevertheless, the number of farmers, small as
well as large, who are adopting the new seeds and new technology is increasing
very rapidly, and the increase in numbers during the past three years
has been phenomenal. Cereal production in the rain-fed areas still remains
relatively unaffected by the impact of the green revolution, but significant
change and progress are now becoming evident in several countries.
Despite these qualifications, however, tremendous progress
has been made in increasing cereal production in India, Pakistan, and
the Philippines during the past three years. Other countries that are
beginning to show significant increases in production include Afghanistan,
Ceylon, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Malaya, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, and
Before attempting to evaluate the significance of the green
revolution one must establish the point of view of the appraiser. The
green revolution has an entirely different meaning to most people in the
affluent nations of the privileged world than to those in the developing
nations of the forgotten world. In the affluent, industrialized nations
giant surpluses of wheat, maize, and sorghum are commonplace; cattle,
swine, and poultry are fed and fattened on cereal grains; meat, milk,
eggs, fruits, and vegetables are within the economic reach of most of
the population; well-balanced diets are more or less automatically achieved,
and cereal products constitute only a modest portion of the "daily
bread". Consequently, most of the people in such societies have difficulty
in comprehending and appreciating the vital significance of providing
high-yielding strains of wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, and millet for the
people of the developing nations. Understandably then, the majority of
the urbanites in the industrialized nations have forgotten the significance
of the words they learned as youngsters, "Give us this day our daily
bread". They know that food comes from the supermarket, but only
a few see beyond to the necessary investments, the toil, struggle, and
frustrations on the farms and ranches that provide their daily bread.
Since the urbanites have lost their contact with the soil, they take food
for granted and fail to appreciate the tremendous efficiency of their
farmers and ranchers, who, although constituting only five percent of
the labor force in a country such as the United States, produce more than
enough food for their nation.
Even worse, urbanites often vociferously criticize their
government for attempting to bring into balance the agricultural production
of its farmers with the domestic and foreign market demands for farm products,
and attempting thereby to provide the consumer an abundant food supply
at reasonable cost and also to assure a reasonable return to the farmer
Contrasting sharply, in the developing countries represented
by India, Pakistan, and most of the countries in Asia and Africa, seventy
to eighty percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, mostly
at the subsistence level. The land is tired, worn out, depleted of plant
nutrients, and often eroded; crop yields have been low, near starvation
level, and stagnant for centuries. Hunger prevails, and survival depends
largely upon the annual success or failure of the cereal crops. In these
nations both under-nutrition and malnutrition are widespread and are a
constant threat to survival and to the attainment of the genetic potential
for mental and physical development. The diet consists primarily of cereals,
which provide from seventy to eighty percent of the calories and sixty-five
to seventy percent of the protein intake. Animal proteins are so scarce
and expensive as to be beyond the economic reach of the vast majority
of the population. Although many of these nations were self-sufficient
and some were exporters of cereals before the Second World War, they are
now net importers, victims of population growth's outrunning agricultural
production. There is little possibility in these countries of expanding
the cultivated area to cope with the growing demand. The situation worsens
as crop yields remain stagnant while human numbers continue to increase
at frightening rates.
For the underprivileged billions in the forgotten world,
hunger has been a constant companion, and starvation has all too often
lurked in the nearby shadows. To millions of these unfortunates, who have
long lived in despair, the green revolution seems like a miracle that
has generated new hope for the future.
The significance and magnitude of the impact of the so-called
green revolution are best illustrated by changes in cereal production
in India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. In both India and Pakistan the
rapid increase in yields per hectare of wheat has been the major thrust
of the green revolution. Increases in rice yield also have played a major
role in West Pakistan, but hitherto only a minor role in India. Increases
in maize production have played a modest but significant role in expanded
cereal production in both India and Pakistan; and increases in rice yields
and production have been largely responsible for the change in cereal
production up to now in the Philippines, Ceylon, and Indonesia.
The green revolution in India and Pakistan, which is still
largely the result of a breakthrough in wheat production, is neither a
stroke of luck nor an accident of nature. Its success is based on sound
research, the importance of which is not self-evident at first glance.
For, behind the scenes, halfway around the world in Mexico, were two decades
of aggressive research on wheat that not only enabled Mexico to become
self-sufficient with respect to wheat production but also paved the way
to rapid increase in its production in other countries. It was in Mexico
that the high-yielding Mexican dwarf varieties were designed, bred, and
developed. There, also, was developed the new production technology which
permits these varieties, when properly cultivated, to express their high
genetic grain-yield potential - in general, double or triple that of the
best yielders among older, tall-strawed varieties.
There are no miracles in agricultural production. Nor is
there such a thing as a miracle variety of wheat, rice, or maize which
can serve as an elixir to cure all ills of a stagnant, traditional agriculture.
Nevertheless, it is the Mexican dwarf wheat varieties, and their more
recent Indian and Pakistani derivatives, that have been the principal
catalyst in triggering off the green revolution. It is the unusual breadth
of adaption combined with high genetic yield potential, short straw, a
strong responsiveness and high efficiency in the use of heavy doses of
fertilizers, and a broad spectrum of disease resistance that has made
the Mexican dwarf varieties the powerful catalyst that they have become
in launching the green revolution. They have caught the farmers' fancy,
and during the 1969-1970 crop season, fifty-five percent of the six million
hectares sown to wheat in Pakistan and thirty-five percent of the fourteen
million hectares in India were sown to Mexican varieties or their derivatives.
This rapid increase in wheat production was not based solely on the use
of Mexican dwarf varieties; it involved the transfer from Mexico to Pakistan
and India of a whole new production technology that enables these varieties
to attain their high-yield potential. Perhaps seventy-five percent of
the results of research done in Mexico in developing the package of recommended
cultural practices, including fertilizer recommendations, were directly
applicable in Pakistan and India. As concerns the remaining twenty-five
percent, the excellent adaptive research done in India and Pakistan by
Indian and Pakistani scientists while the imported seed was being multiplied,
provided the necessary information for modifying the Mexican procedures
to suit Pakistani and Indian conditions more precisely.
Equally as important as the transfer of the new seed and
new technology from Mexico to India and Pakistan was the introduction
from Mexico of a crop-production campaign strategy. This strategy harnessed
the high grain-yield potential of the new seed and new technology to sound
governmental economic policy which would assure the farmer a fair price
for his grain, the availability of the necessary inputs - seed, fertilizers,
insecticides, weed killers, and machinery - and the credit with which
to buy them. Collectively these inputs and strategy became the base from
which the green revolution evolved.
Never before in the history of agriculture has a transplantation
of high-yielding varieties coupled with an entirely new technology and
strategy been achieved on such a massive scale, in so short a period of
time, and with such great success. The success of this transplantation
is an event of both great scientific and social significance. Its success
depended upon good organization of the production program combined with
skillful execution by courageous and experienced scientific leaders.
Experimentation with dwarf Mexican varieties was initiated
in both India and Pakistan in 1963 and continued in 1964. Results in both
countries were highly promising. Consequently, in 1965, 350 and 250 tons
of seed of the Mexican dwarf wheat varieties were imported into Pakistan
and India, respectively, for wide-scale testing on farms. Again, the results
were highly promising, and India reacted by importing eighteen thousand
tons during 1966. A year later Pakistan imported forty-two thousand tons.
With these importations, the revolution in wheat production got under
way in both countries. It was the first time in history that such huge
quantities of seed had been imported from distant lands and grown successfully
in their new home. These importations saved from three to five years'
time in reaping the benefits from the green revolution.
During the past three years, wheat production has risen
spectacularly in both countries. Using as a base the pre-green revolution
crop year 1964-1965, which produced an all-time record harvest in both
countries, the production in Pakistan increased from the 1965 base figure
of 4.6 million tons to 6.7, 7.2, and 8.4 millions of tons, respectively,
in 1968, 1969, and 1970. West Pakistan became self-sufficient in wheat
production for the first time in the 1968 harvest season, two years ahead
of our predictions. Indian wheat production has risen from the 1964-1965
pre-green revolution record crop of 12.3 million tons to 16.5, 18.7, and
20.0 million tons during 1968, 1969, and 1970 harvests, respectively.
India is approaching self-sufficiency and probably would have attained
it by now if rice production had risen more rapidly, because, with a continuing
shortage of rice, considerable wheat is being substituted for it.
The introduction into West Pakistan of the high-yielding
dwarf rice variety IR 8, developed by the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, together with the new technology
that makes it highly productive, has also resulted in phenomenal increases
in yield and production during the past two years. Unfortunately, this
variety has been less well adapted to climatic conditions in the monsoon
areas of India and in East Pakistan, and therefore has had only a modest
and occasional impact there. Newer varieties which are now being multiplied
promise to correct this situation.
The revolution in wheat and rice production in India and
Pakistan has not only greatly increased food production, but it also has
had many indirect effects on both the farmer and the economy. It is estimated
that Indian and Pakistani farmers who are cultivating the new Mexican
dwarf-wheat varieties under the recommended management practices have
increased their net income from thirty-seven dollars per hectare with
the local varieties to 162 dollars with the dwarf Mexican varieties. During
the past three harvests, a total of 1.4 billion dollars and 640 million
dollars have been added to the gross national product (G. N. P.) of India
and Pakistan, respectively, from the increase in wheat production above
the record 1965 base. The injection of this large increase in purchasing
power into the economies has had many effects.
Large numbers of tube-wells are being sunk by farmers in
both India and Pakistan in order to expand the irrigated area and improve
the control of irrigation water. It is estimated that a total of seventy
thousand private tube-wells were sunk during the 1969-1970 crop season
in India, which brings about 1.4 million hectares of additional land under
controlled irrigation, thereby greatly expanding the food production potential.
It is estimated that at present less than half of the irrigation potential
of India has been developed.
If the high-yielding dwarf wheat and rice varieties are
the catalysts that have ignited the green revolution, then chemical fertilizer
is the fuel that has powered its forward thrust. The responsiveness of
the high-yielding varieties has greatly increased fertilizer consumption.
The new varieties not only respond to much heavier dosages of fertilizer
than the old ones but are also much more efficient in its use. The old
tall-strawed varieties would produce only ten kilos of additional grain
for each kilo of nitrogen applied, while the new varieties can produce
twenty to twenty-five kilos or more of additional grain per kilo of nitrogen
applied. Consumption of nitrogen fertilizer in India has increased from
fifty-eight thousand metric tons of nutrients in 1950-1951 to 538 thousand
and 1.2 million metric tons in 1964-1965 and 1969-1970 crop cycles, respectively;
and about sixty percent of this amount was produced domestically. Phosphate
consumption is approximately half that of nitrogen. A large part of the
fertilizer currently being used is for wheat. The targeted consumption
and domestic production needs of nitrogen for 1973-1974 are three million
and two and a half million metric tons, respectively, a fantastic threefold
increase in consumption and a fivefold increase in production. These fertilizer
targets must be attained if the targeted production of 129 million metric
tons of cereal is to be realized.
Mechanization of agriculture is rapidly following the breakthrough
in wheat production. Prior to the first big wheat crop in 1968, unsold
tractors accumulated at the two factories then in production; at present,
prospective purchasers must make written application for them and wait
one or two years for delivery. Although five factories, with an output
of eighteen thousand units per year, are now producing tractors, thirty-five
thousand units were imported in 1969-1970.
The traditional method of threshing by treading out of the
grain with bullocks, followed by winnowing, is now inadequate for threshing
the increased volume of wheat before the onset of the monsoon rains. Consequently,
hundreds of thousands of small threshing machines have been produced and
sold by hundreds of small village machine shops during the past three
years, thus avoiding the loss of much of the crop after harvest and also
providing additional employment in many new small-village industries.
Moreover, mechanization has had another very important indirect
effect on the intensification of cereal production. When small mechanical
threshers replace bullocks for threshing, the bullocks are released for
use in the timely preparation of the land for the next (summer) crop.
This need for timely preparation of land is also one of the main reasons
for the surge in demand for tractors. Before the adoption of the new wheat
and rice varieties, in combination with heavy applications of chemical
fertilizer, the time of sowing was relatively unimportant because yields
were limited primarily by the low level of available plant nutrients.
Most farmers would expect to harvest about one metric ton of wheat during
the winter (rabi) season and about one and a half metric tons of rice
during the summer (kharif) season, or a total of two and a half metric
tons of grain per hectare per year. But by using the high-yielding varieties,
fertilizing heavily, sowing at the right time, and managing the fields
properly, the same farmer can now harvest five tons of wheat and seven
tons of rice per hectare from the same land, a total of twelve metric
tons of food grain per hectare per year, as contrasted with the two and
a half tons which he obtained with the old varieties and methods. If plantings
are not done at the optimum time, however, the yield of wheat may drop
to three tons and that of rice to four tons per hectare, a total production
of seven tons per year instead of the twelve tons when all operations
are proper and timely. A few of the most progressive farmers now use triple
cropping, involving wheat - mung beans - rice, or wheat - rice - potato,
or three consecutive crops of rice during the same year. By increasing
the intensity of cropping, both food production potential and employment
are increased. Yields must then be calculated on the basis of kilos per
hectare per year rather than on the basis of kilos per hectare per crop.
The increased mechanization in cereal production has tended
thus far to increase rather than decrease the employment opportunities
for labor, and above all it has helped to reduce drudgery and increase
the efficiency of human energy, especially in India.
Millions of farmers who have successfully grown the new
wheat, rice, and maize varieties have greatly increased their income.
And this has stimulated the rapid growth of agro-industry by increasing
the demand for fertilizers, pumps, machinery, and other materials and
Farmers in many villages are investing in better storage
facilities. In some locations, brick houses are beginning to replace those
made of rammed earth. More electricity is being used to light the houses
and to drive the motors on the wells. There also has been a rapid increase
in demand for consumer goods. The purchase of transistors and radios for
use in the villages has increased rapidly, and thereby the government
for the first time can effectively reach the remote villages with educational
programs. Sewing machines, bicycles, motor scooters, and motorcycles are
coming to the villages, and truck and bus service between villages is
The green revolution has forced the Indian government to
improve many of its public services. Although there was an extreme shortage
of storage space for the first record-breaking wheat crop in 1968, the
government improvised satisfactorily and very little grain was lost. During
the past two years, stimulated in part by criticism by farmers and the
press, warehouse capacity has been expanded greatly to provide adequate
storage for the increasing grain production. The villages are demanding
better roads, better public transportation, and better schools; and they
are beginning to get them. Thus the divorce between intellect and labor,
which the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi over forty years ago regarded
as the bane of India's agriculture, is coming to an end.
The changes wrought by the green revolution, which I have
illustrated by the vast improvement of wheat production in India, have
had similar effects in West Pakistan, Ceylon, the Philippines, and Thailand,
although the effects in different countries were produced by changes in
different crops or combinations of crops.
Although the contributions of the green revolution to increased
food production are considerable and highly significant, they are nonetheless
modest in comparison with the magnitude of present global needs. The greatest
obvious achievements are the rapid increase in cereal production during
the past three years and the generation of a climate of confidence in
the developing nations with regard to their capabilities of achieving
food self-sufficiency. Perhaps even more significant, however, is the
change in organizations and attitudes which has accompanied the increases
in cereal production.
The All-India Coordinated Wheat Improvement Program, which
is largely responsible for the wheat revolution in India, has developed
one of the most extensive and widely diversified wheat research programs
in the world. Its success has generated confidence, a sense of purpose,
and determination. The current agronomic research on wheat in India equals
the best in the world. The breeding program is huge, diversified, and
aggressive; already it has produced several varieties which surpass those
originally introduced from Mexico in 1965. The first group of new Indian
varieties, already in extensive commercial production, were derived from
selections made in India from partially selected materials received from
Mexico. A second group of varieties, now being multiplied, are selections
from crosses made in India between Indian and Mexican varieties. The rapidity
of creation and distribution of these new varieties has already diversified
the type of resistance to diseases and therefore minimizes the menace
of destructive disease epidemics if and when changes occur in parasitic
races of the pathogens.
Contrary to a widespread and erroneous opinion, the original
dwarf wheat imported from Mexico definitely carried a wider spectrum of
disease resistance than the local Indian types that they replaced. But
the newer Indian varieties are even better in resistance and of a different
genetic type than the original introductions. This greater diversity reduces
the danger from disease epidemics but cannot completely eliminate the
dangers of disease epidemics, as has become vividly evident from the unexpected
and destructive epidemic of southern leaf blight of maize over vast areas
of the U. S. A. during the summer of 1970. The only protection against
such epidemics, in all countries, is through resistant varieties developed
by an intelligent, persistent, and diversified breeding program, such
as that being currently carried on in India, coupled with a broad disease-surveillance
system and a sound plant pathology program to support the breeding program.
From such a program a constant flow of new high-yielding disease-resistant
varieties can be developed to checkmate any important changes in the pathogens.
The Indian program is also developing competence in research on the biochemical,
industrial, and nutritional properties of wheat.
Perhaps the most important contribution of all is that the
methods and tactics used so successfully in making the production breakthrough
in wheat, first in Mexico and now in India and Pakistan, can serve as
a model for production programs with many other crops and in many other
West Pakistan has already used the wheat model to revolutionize
its rice production. Although the Indian rice program has not yet achieved
a nationwide breakthrough in production, rapid progress is now being made
in several areas, and it seems probable that the area sown to the new
seed and technology will be large enough to produce a strong impact on
national production within another year. Varieties and new technology
are also available for launching effective campaigns to increase the production
of sorghum, millet, barley, soybeans, and cotton in many developing countries
of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. What is still needed is the will and
commitment of governments to support national production campaigns, both
politically and financially, and the services of a few competent and dedicated
agricultural scientists as leaders.
The quality of scientific leadership is certainly a vital
factor in the success of any production campaign. It is deplorable but
true that many agricultural scientists in some advanced countries have
renounced their allegiance to agriculture for reasons of expediency and
presumed prestige. And some institutions have furnished them a curtain
behind which to hide. Some educational and research institutions have
even restricted the amount of basic research that can be done under the
aegis of its agricultural departments, however basic these researches
may be to progress in increasing and insuring food production. Let the
individuals live with their own motivations; let them serve science and
themselves if they wish. But the institutions have the moral obligation
to serve agriculture and society also; and to discharge that obligation
honorably, they must try to help educate scientists and scientific leaders
whose primary motivation is to serve humanity.
I want to reiterate emphatically that there now are available
materials and techniques of great potential value for expanding the green
revolution into additional fields of agriculture. But to convert these
potential values into actual values requires scientific and organizational
leadership. Where are those leaders? Where are the leaders who have the
necessary scientific competence, the vision, the common sense, the social
consciousness, the qualities of leadership, and the persistent determination
to convert the potential benefactions into real benefactions for mankind
in general and for the hungry in particular? There are not enough of them
now; therefore we must try to identify and develop them in our educational
systems and we must utilize them in our campaigns for food production.
We need them and need them badly, for it is tragic to let potential values
languish for want of leadership in capitalizing the potential. This is
not theory; this is reality, as illustrated by the fact that the leadership
has been the determining factor in the relative success of parallel but
different crop production programs within the same country.
But let no one think that we can relax our efforts in research.
All successful action programs must be preceded and accompanied by research.
It has been pointed out that the rapid change in wheat production in both
India and Pakistan was in part made possible by two decades of research
in Mexico. How did this come about?
In 1943, several years before the establishment of the Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a cooperative
agricultural research and training program was launched in Mexico. This
was a pioneer cooperative project between the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture
and the Rockefeller Foundation, initiated at the request of the Mexican
government for assistance in increasing the production of maize, wheat,
At that time Mexico was importing more than fifty percent
of the wheat that it consumed, as well as a considerable percentage of
its maize. Wheat yields were low and static, with a national average yield
of 750 kilos per hectare, even though most of the wheat was grown on irrigated
land. This situation was very similar to that in India and Pakistan before
the recent advent of the green revolution. Mexican soils were impoverished
and chemical fertilizer virtually unknown.
Mexico's need was urgent, and so a simple research program
was started to increase production. The philosophy of the Rockefeller
Foundation was "to help Mexico to help itself" in solving its
food production problems, and in the process work itself out of a job.
I have had the privilege and good fortune to have been associated with
the wheat program almost from the beginning, and have remained a part
of it for the past twenty-six years. From the outset all factors limiting
wheat production were studied; consequently, there were interdisciplinary
researches between genetics and plant breeding, agronomy, soil fertility,
plant pathology, and entomology. Cereal chemistry and biochemistry were
After preliminary work in 1943, plant breeders, soil scientists,
plant pathologists, and entomologists working as a team, began a concentrated
attack on the various aspects of wheat production in 1944.
An in-service (intern) training component was added to the
research program to train a new generation of Mexican scientists while
they were assisting with the development of the research program. Provision
was also made for fellowships to enable the most promising of these young
scientists to study abroad for advanced degrees, hopefully in preparation
for positions of leadership in Mexican agriculture.
Research from the outset was production-oriented and restricted
to that which was relevant to increasing wheat production. Researches
in pursuit of irrelevant academic butterflies were discouraged, both because
of the acute shortage of scientific manpower and because of the need to
have data and materials available as soon as possible for use in the production
To accelerate progress in varying development, two generations
of all segregating materials were grown each year. One generation was
sown close to sea level in Sonora at twenty-eight degrees north latitude
in the fall when the days were progressively shorter; the second was sown
near Toluca, at eighteen degrees latitude and 2,500 meters above sea level
during the summer when days were progressively longer. Through the use
of this technique, we developed high-yielding, day-length-insensitive
varieties with a wide range of ecologic adoption and a broad spectrum
of disease resistance - a new combination of uniquely valuable characters
in wheat varieties.
These characters were valuable in increasing wheat production
in Mexico and neighboring countries, but were to prove even more valuable
twenty years later when the Mexican varieties were introduced into Pakistan
and India. Without this combination of characters the successful transplantation
of the Mexican varieties into Pakistan and India would have been impossible;
and the advent of the green revolution would almost certainly have been
delayed many years.
In Mexico, as soon as significant improvements were made
by research, whether in varieties, fertilizer recommendations, or cultural
practices, they were taken to farms and incorporated into the production
programs. We never waited for perfection in varieties or methods but used
the best available each year and modified them as further improvement
came to hand. This simple principle is too often disregarded by scientific
perfectionists who spend a lifetime searching for the unattainable in
biological perfection, and consequently during a lifetime of frustration
contribute nothing to increasing food production.
Farm demonstrations of new varieties and technology were
made by the research scientists who had developed them. Indeed, the revolution
in wheat production in Mexico was accomplished before the extension service
came into being. This forced the research scientists themselves to consider
the obstacles to production that confronted the farmers. The same philosophy
and tactic were used effectively to bring researchers in contact with
the farmers' problems in the early years of the wheat improvement programs
in India and West Pakistan. Later, however, the extension services were
brought into the production programs in both countries.
Mexican wheat yields began to climb by 1948 and have continued
their upward trend to the present time. During the past twenty-six years,
the national average has risen from 750 kilos per hectare to only slightly
less than 3,000 kilos during the past harvest, approximately a fourfold
increase. During the same period, total production has increased sevenfold.
Mexico became self-sufficient in wheat production for the first time in
1956 and has remained self-sufficient since. This "quiet revolution"
in wheat production in Mexico became the progenitor of the green revolution
in India and Pakistan a decade later.
As the use of fertilizer increased and yields climbed to
four and a half thousand kilos per hectare, lodging (falling over of the
plant) began to limit further increases in yields. A search was therefore
made among wheat from different areas of the world to locate a suitable
source of genetic dwarfness to overcome this barrier. Norin 10, an extremely
dwarf wheat from Japan, proved to be a suitable source. Through a series
of crosses and re-crosses begun in 1954, dwarfness was incorporated into
the superior, new-combination Mexican types, finally giving rise to a
group of so-called dwarf Mexican wheat varieties. With this new development,
the potential yield of the new varieties, under ideal conditions, increased
from the previous high of four and a half thousand kilos per hectare to
nine thousand kilos per hectare. The dwarf Mexican wheat were first distributed
in Mexico in 1961, and the best farmers began to harvest five, six, seven,
and even eight tons more per hectare, and within seven years the national
average yields doubled. It was these same dwarf Mexican wheat from the
quiet revolution that served as catalysts to trigger off the green revolution
in India and Pakistan.
From the outset the Mexican Agricultural Program was watched
with interest by many other countries. As progress became evident, the
Rockefeller Foundation was besieged by requests from many countries for
assistance in agricultural improvement programs. The Cooperative Mexican
Agricultural Program had become a model. The Cooperative Colombian Agricultural
Program, devoted largely to maize, wheat, potatoes, forage, and livestock,
was established in 1950. Similarly, the Cooperative Chilean Agricultural
Program was established in 1955 to work on wheat and forage. The Cooperative
Indian Agricultural Program was established in 1956 to improve maize,
sorghum, and millet production and to assist in the development of postgraduate
agricultural education. Each of these programs subsequently played an
important role in improving agricultural production and education in different
parts of the world.
Meanwhile, back in Mexico, the program that had originally
been confined to maize, wheat, and beans, and soon thereafter potatoes,
was expanded to include many other crops. Larger numbers of young Mexican
scientists were added to the research and training programs. Progress
in research was generally good, and the training program also bore fruit.
Between the years 1943-1963, a total of 550 interns participated in the
overall agricultural research and training programs, of whom about 200
received a Master of Science degree and about thirty the Doctor of Philosophy
degree while on fellowships for study abroad. With this corps of trained
scientists a new National Institute of Agricultural Research was born
in 1961. The Rockefeller Foundation "had worked itself out of a job",
which was one of its original objectives.
The Mexican experience indicated that one of the greatest
obstacles to the improvement of agriculture in the developing countries
is the scarcity of trained people. This experience indicated clearly that
training is a slow process. Where no corps of trained scientists exists,
as was the case in Mexico twenty-seven years ago and remains the case
in many countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America today, it requires
eighteen to twenty-five years to develop enough competent research scientists
and educators to meet a country's needs. So great is the urgency of the
food shortage in many underdeveloped and emerging countries that there
is not enough time to develop an adequate corps of scientists before attacking
food production problems. A shortcut and organizational change had to
be invented to meet the needs. And so was born the first truly international
research and training institute, the International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) at Los Baños, the Philippines, in 1960, to work exclusively
on the regionally all-important but too-long-neglected rice crop. The
institute was jointly financed by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations
in collaboration with the government of the Philippines.
The research activities on wheat, maize, and potatoes in
Mexico were informally internationalized in 1959 and organized as a second
international center in 1963. This International Center for Maize and
Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) is supported also by the Ford and Rockefeller
Foundations in collaboration with the government of Mexico. More recently,
additional financial support has been provided by the U.S. Agency for
International Development (U.S.AID), United Nations Development Program
(UNDP), and the Inter-American Development Bank (BID).
A third center, the International Center of Tropical Agriculture
(CIAT) in Colombia, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
(IITA) in Nigeria, the most recent, have been established to study problems
and stimulate production of certain tropical crops and animal species,
as well as to help train scientific specialists. CIAT is financed by the
Ford, Rockefeller, and W. K. Kellogg Foundations in cooperation with the
government of Colombia. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the Canadian
International Development Agency (CIDA) are supporting IITA in collaboration
with the government of Nigeria.
These four international institutes represent a significant
but modest start toward the construction of a worldwide network of international,
national, and local research and training centers. This network will help
solve problems and disseminate the benefits of science to all mankind
in the shortest possible time and at minimum cost.
The impact of such an integrated approach is already evident
in the green revolution. New varieties and the new technologies that make
them highly productive have been the thrust behind the green revolution.
In the Philippines, Ceylon, Malaysia, and West Pakistan, it was IR8 rice,
developed at the International Rice Research Institute. The dwarf Mexican
wheat, partly produced by CIMMYT, have provided the thrust in India and
Pakistan, and this is now spreading to Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, Morocco,
and Tunisia. Contributing equally, or perhaps even more, to the evolution
of the green revolution was the talented supporting leadership that has
been provided by the centers to the national programs through temporary
assignments of mature scientists skilled in organizing crop production
programs to assist in the development of the national production campaigns.
The international centers were developed to supplement national
agricultural research, production, and training programs, not to replace
them. The centers are but one link in the worldwide network of organizations
attacking basic food-crop production problems on a worldwide, regional,
national, and local level. The backbone of this network is now and must
continue to be the national programs. These must be given greater financial
support and strengthened staff-wise to meet the challenge of rapidly expanding
food needs for the future.
The international centers, however, are in a unique position
to assist the national programs. They are independent, nonpolitical international
organizations, which, although originally funded by private foundations,
now receive support from many diverse sources. Their scientific staffs
are also international and comprise outstanding scientists representing
the various scientific disciplines affecting crop production. Included
on their staffs are a number of crop production experts who have the scientific
competence and broad experience to assist national agencies in organizing
and launching crop production programs.
The centers collaborate not only with the national agencies
from many different countries but also with other international organizations
such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations,
the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and international development
banks. Each year the centers have been collaborating with an increasing
number of countries of all political spectra.
I am convinced that the international agricultural research
institutes are developing a bond of understanding among nations, based
upon the common need for increasing food production. We must all strive
to strengthen this bond in the spirit of Alfred Nobel "to promote
brotherhood among the nations".
The international centers are uniquely equipped to do fundamental,
longtime researches of worldwide importance. For example, the opportunity
for plant breeders, pathologists, and entomologists to operate on a worldwide
basis permits them to develop well-conceived, diverse gene pools of the
important crop species. The final crop varieties are not currently generally
selected at the centers but sent to collaborators in national programs
in many parts of the world, who in turn make the selections that best
suit their needs; and many eventually become commercial varieties. Similarly,
the centers prepare a series of international crop yield tests, which
include representatives of the best commercial varieties from the world
and a few of the most promising experimental lines from collaborators.
These are sent to collaborators in thirty-five countries for growing at
eighty locations. The data from collaborators are returned to CIMMYT for
summarizing and for subsequent distribution to scientists in all parts
of the world. The data obtained on yield, adaption, disease, and insect
resistance in one year in such tests are often more meaningful and valuable
to scientists engaged in crop research and production programs than data
obtained by independent testing at one location for a period of ten or
The international centers also are in a unique position
to contribute to practical or internship type of training in all of the
scientific disciplines affecting crop production. This type of training
is particularly valuable for young scientists from the developing countries
because it prepares them for initiating research work upon return to their
native country and will also be of value if they subsequently continue
their education at the graduate level.
In summarizing the accomplishments of the green revolution
during the past three years, I wish to restate that the increase in cereal
production, rice, maize, and wheat, especially in wheat, has been spectacular
and highly significant to the welfare of millions of human beings. It
is still modest in terms of total needs. Recalling that fifty percent
of the present world population is undernourished and that an even larger
percentage, perhaps sixty-five percent, is malnourished, no room is left
for complacency. It is not enough to prevent the currently bad situation
from getting worse as population increases. Our aim must be to produce
enough food to eradicate all present hunger while at the same time striving
to correct malnutrition. To eliminate hunger now in the developing nations,
we would need to expand world cereal production by thirty percent. If
it were, however, as simple as increasing the total world production by
thirty percent, regardless of where the production is to be expanded,
it could be accomplished rather rapidly by expanding it in the United
States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Russia. But this would not necessarily
solve the hunger problem of the developing world because their weak economies
will not permit them to expand their food imports by thirty percent. Worse
still, even if present production could be expanded rapidly by thirty
percent in the developing countries - which I believe is possible based
on recent progress of the green revolution - so as theoretically to eliminate
hunger, the hunger problem as it now exists still would not be solved.
There remains the unsolved social-economic problem of finding effective
ways to distribute the needed additional food to the vast underprivileged
masses who have little or no purchasing power. This is still the great
unsolved problem with which the economists, sociologists, and political
leaders must now come to grips.
I am convinced that if all policymakers would take sufficient
interest in population control and in aggressively employing and exploiting
agricultural development as a potent instrument of agrarian prosperity
and economic advancement, many of the social ills of the present day could
soon become problems of the past. The tropics and subtropics have abundant
sunlight and other great biological assets, and it will be criminal to
delay further the conversion of these assets into wealth meaningful to
the poor and hungry.
Some critics have said that the green revolution has created
more problems than it has solved. This I cannot accept, for I believe
it is far better for mankind to be struggling with new problems caused
by abundance rather than with the old problem of famine. Certainly, loyalty
to the status quo in food production - when being pressured by population
growth - cannot break the chains that have bound the peasant to poverty
and hunger. One must ask: Is it just to criticize the green revolution,
with its recognized accomplishments, for failure to correct all the social-economic
ills of the world that have accumulated from the days of Adam and Eve
up to the present? Change we must, or we will perish as a species, just
as did the dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous.
The green revolution is a change in the right direction,
but it has not transformed the world into Utopia. None are more keenly
aware of its limitations than those who started it and fought for its
success. But there has been solid accomplishment, as I have already shown
by concrete examples. I have also tried to indicate the various opportunities
for capitalizing more fully on the new materials that were produced and
the new methods that were devised. And, above all, I cannot emphasize
too strongly the fact that further progress depends on intelligent, integrated,
and persistent effort by government leaders, statesmen, tradesmen, scientists,
educators, and communication agencies, including the press, radio, and
But progress is continuous, and we can and must make continuous
progress. Better varieties of wheat and other cereals with not only higher
yield potential but also with higher content of protein are already in
the process of creation.
We need also to explore more fully the feasibility of producing
new manmade cereal species with greater production potential and better
nutritional quality than those now in existence. Triticale, a man-made
species, derived from a cross between wheat and rye, now shows promise
of becoming such a crop.
During the past six years, the International Corn and Wheat
Center in Mexico, cooperating with the University of Manitoba, has developed
a large breeding program to improve Triticale. Within the past three years
we have developed highly fertile lines, and the results up to the present
indicate the possibility of combining the desirable characteristics now
present in different lines into a single line, thereby creating a new
kind of cereal that is superior to wheat in productivity and nutritional
The rapid progress achieved in Triticale improvement suggests
the desirability of initiating basic studies to determine the feasibility
of developing other cereal species from wide crosses between different
existing species or their wild relatives. Recent improvements in individual
cell, tissue and embryo-culture techniques, in the development of culture
media with additions of hormones and nutrients that foster cell and tissue
differentiations, in achieving hybridization between somatic cells, and
in the methods of inducing polyploidy and mutations, offer many fascinating
possibilities of achieving crosses between species that were formerly
uncrossable. Even the possibility of using protoplasmic and cell hybridization,
followed by manipulation to promote cell differentiation for plant improvement,
appears to be nearer.
I propose therefore that a bold program of wide crosses
be initiated to improve both cereals and legumes (pulses). It should include
attempts to make numerous intergeneric crosses among cereals, employing
all of the modern techniques to consummate fertilization, and propagate
the hybrids. If a series of new combinations can be made and doubled,
as, for example, between maize and sorghum, wheat and barley, or wheat
and rice, it would open the door to the possibilities for vast subsequent
improvement by conventional methods.
Unfortunately, all cereals are deficient in one or more
of the essential amino acids, especially lysine, which is essential for
normal body growth and for the maintenance of health. Protein malnutrition
is widespread, especially among children, and many of its victims die
or are maimed both physically and mentally for life.
Although food supplements can alleviate this situation,
the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains that have
high levels of protein and better amino acid balance would be the ideal
solution, since this would not involve added expense or special educational
efforts, and there are good possibilities of producing them. The now famous
opaque-2 gene in maize doubles the production of the amino acid lysine
which is essential to growth and health in man and many other animals.
Similarly, an Ethiopian strain of barley, and some lines of Triticale
have genes for extraordinary production of essential nutrient materials.
Plant breeders are trying to combine such genes with the best genes now
available for productivity and other desirable characters, thus increasing
not only the tonnage of food, but also its essential nutrient quality.
As we are now striving to emancipate ourselves from dependence on artificial
food supplements, I have a dream that we can likewise emancipate ourselves
to some extent from our dependence on artificial nutrients for the cereal
plants themselves, thus lightening the financial burden that now oppresses
the small farmer and handicaps his efforts to participate fully in the
In my dream I see green, vigorous, high-yielding fields
of wheat, rice, maize, sorghums, and millets, which are obtaining, free
of expense, 100 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare from nodule-forming,
nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These mutant strains of Rhizobium cerealis were
developed in 1990 by a massive mutation breeding program with strains
of Rhizobium sp. obtained from roots of legumes and other nodule-bearing
plants. This scientific discovery has revolutionized agricultural production
for the hundreds of millions of humble farmers throughout the world; for
they now receive much of the needed fertilizer for their crops directly
from these little wondrous microbes that are taking nitrogen from the
air and fixing it without cost in the roots of cereals, from which it
is transformed into grain...
Then I wake up and become disillusioned to find that mutation
genetics programs are still engaged mostly in such minutiae as putting
beards on wheat plants and taking off the hairs.
If we are to capitalize fully on the past biological accomplishments
and realize the prospective accomplishments, as exemplified in my dream,
there must be far greater investments in research and education in the
future than in the past.
Few investments, if any, can match the economic and social
returns from the wheat research in Mexico. The investment from 1943 to
1964 was estimated to have yielded an annual return of 750 percent. This
study was made prior to the full impact of dwarf wheat on the national
production. If the benefits were calculated now, with the inclusion of
the returns from the increased wheat production in Pakistan, India, and
other Asian and African countries, they would be fantastically high.
Nevertheless, vast sums are now being spent in all countries,
developed and developing, on armaments and new nuclear and other lethal
weapons, while pitifully small sums are being spent on agricultural research
and education designed to sustain and humanize life rather than to degrade
and destroy it.
The green revolution has won a temporary success in man's
war against hunger and deprivation; it has given man a breathing space.
If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance
during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction
must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will
be ephemeral only.
Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace
of the "Population Monster". In the beginning there were but
two, Adam and Eve. When they appeared on this earth is still questionable.
By the time of Christ, world population had probably reached 250 million.
But between then and now, population has grown to 3.5 billion. Growth
has been especially fast since the advent of modern medicine. If it continues
to increase at the estimated present rate of two percent a year, the world
population will reach 6.5 billion by the year 2000. Currently, with each
second, or tick of the clock, about 2.2 additional people are added to
the world population. The rhythm of increase will accelerate to 2.7, 3.3,
and 4.0 for each tick of the clock by 1980, 1990, and 2000, respectively,
unless man becomes more realistic and preoccupied about this impending
doom. The ticktock of the clock will continually grow louder and more
menacing each decade. Where will it all end?
Malthus signaled the danger a century and a half ago. But
he emphasized principally the danger that population would increase faster
than food supplies. In his time he could not foresee the tremendous increase
in man's food production potential. Nor could he have foreseen the disturbing
and destructive physical and mental consequences of the grotesque concentration
of human beings into the poisoned and clangorous environment of pathologically
hypertrophied megalopoles. Can human beings endure the strain? Abnormal
stresses and strains tend to accentuate man's animal instincts and provoke
irrational and socially disruptive behavior among the less stable individuals
in the maddening crowd.
We must recognize the fact that adequate food is only the
first requisite for life. For a decent and humane life we must also provide
an opportunity for good education, remunerative employment, comfortable
housing, good clothing, and effective and compassionate medical care.
Unless we can do this, man may degenerate sooner from environmental diseases
than from hunger.
And yet, I am optimistic for the future of mankind, for
in all biological populations there are innate devices to adjust population
growth to the carrying capacity of the environment. Undoubtedly, some
such device exists in man, presumably Homo sapiens, but so far it has
not asserted itself to bring into balance population growth and the carrying
capacity of the environment on a worldwide scale. It would be disastrous
for the species to continue to increase our human numbers madly until
such innate devices take over. It is a test of the validity of sapiens
as a species epithet.
Since man is potentially a rational being, however, I am
confident that within the next two decades he will recognize the self-destructive
course he steers along the road of irresponsible population growth and
will adjust the growth rate to levels which will permit a decent standard
of living for all mankind. If man is wise enough to make this decision
and if all nations abandon their idolatry of Ares, Mars, and Thor, then
Mankind itself should be the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize which is
"to be awarded to the person who has done most to promote brotherhood
among the nations".
Then, by developing and applying the scientific and technological
skills of the twentieth century for "the well-being of mankind throughout
the world", he may still see Isaiah's prophesies come true: "...
And the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose... And the parched
ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water..."7
And may these words come true!
* The laureate delivered this lecture in the auditorium
of the Nobel Institute. The text, which in actual delivery was considerably
shortened, is taken from Les Prix Nobel en 1970.
1. In what is now West Iran.
2. Amos 4:9.
3. Joel 1:17, 20.
4. Genesis 41:54.
5. Isaiah 8:21.
6. Lord John Boyd Orr (1880-1971), recipient of the Nobel
Peace Prize for 1949.
7. Isaiah 35:1, 7.