The Green Revolution in World History

AHA Session 262
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom A (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level)
Alan Marcus, Mississippi State University
The Green Revolution in South Asia
R. Douglas Hurt, Purdue University
Rethinking Agricultural History in Latin America from the Ground Up
David Carey, Jr., Loyola University Maryland
The Audience

Session Abstract

The Green Revolution in World History

            The Green Revolution seemingly became the scientific solution to hunger, even, famine during the late twentieth century.  The term conveys images of agricultural scientists at work in laboratories and fields breeding new varieties of rice that produced bountiful harvests where only a few meager plants grew before.  The Green Revolution conveys a sense of speed, because revolutions happen quickly and bring dynamic irreversible change.  It conveys images of well-fed people who only a short time before suffered the daily agony of hunger.  It also coveys a belief that science can solve all problems unhindered by the environment, geography and politics.   By the late twentieth century, high yielding varieties of seeds, particularly rice, became synonymous with the Green Revolution.  Early maturing rice plants that supported large heads of grain if irrigated and heavily fertilized could produce bountiful harvests.  Not only could two crops be raised where farmers cultivated only one before, but one crop could be raised where none had been previously cultivated given the right package of "inputs."  Farmers in less developed countries could now harvest more grain to feed hungry people.  Or, so the agricultural scientists contended.

             Yet, as is true with all simple explanations of the past, the causes and consequences of the Green Revolution are more complex and problematic than the comparatively simple analysis of its success based on agricultural science.  Certainly, the Green Revolution based on hybrid wheat and rice varieties as well as the expanded use of irrigation and chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides brought dramatic improvements in food production and income to developing nations in South Asia.  Social scientists, however, were quick to challenge the benefits of the Green Revolution.  They fostered a major debate over its influence on the poor, with some critics claiming that it caused greater inequality between wealthy and poor farmers, forced people from the land, and spawned even more rural poverty as well as damaged the environment and upset traditional agricultural systems, perhaps for all time.  Racism and politics also prevented achievemnt of a Green Revolution for hungry people in many countries, particularlyy South Africa and Guatemala.

This session will initiate a discussion of the causes and consequences of the Green Revolution in India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Guatemala.

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