An In-depth Introduction to Green Revolution Technologies

by Rajan Kundra

Introduction

A crucial aspect to the success of the Green Revolution was the various scientific technologies developed by Borlaug, which included new farming irrigation methods, stronger and more resistant pesticides, more efficient fertilizers, and newly developed seeds for more proficient crop growth. As a result of such new improvements in agricultural methods, countries worldwide, such as India, experienced drastic increases in crop production. This eventually led to countries becoming more self-sufficient and avoiding mass famine and starvation. The focus of the paper will surrounded the concept of how new technologies that evolved during the era of the Green Revolution improved crop variety and production globally.

Irrigation

Agricultural sustainability depends heavily on water resources, which can affect the ability to farm and grow crops efficiently. One of the main problems that countries faced during the Green Revolution era was drought and water inefficiencies caused by pollution. The primary causes of drought and the lack of water can generally be attributed to climatic and geography restrains of certain regions as well as the fact that the agricultural system used in farming consumes a high rate of water. Furthermore, poor irrigation techniques can actually cause water droughts rather than improve water inefficiencies (Liverman 4). During the start of the Green Revolution movement, many irrigation systems depended primarily of using surface water or aquifers to support farming. This significantly reduced the availability of water for other agricultural uses, resulting in water scarcity. Furthermore, this type of irrigation method led to the “depleting [of] underground aquifers faster than they can be recharged. In other cases, agriculture depends upon ‘fossil aquifers’ that mostly contain water from the last ice age. These ancient aquifers receive little or no recharge, so any agriculture that depends upon them is inherently unsustainable” (Horrigan 4). Another inefficiency in irrigation techniques that became evident at the start of the Green Revolution was the lack of drainage. “Irrigation without arrangements for drainage would result in soils getting alkaline or saline” (Kesavan 3). The creation of soil pollutants often degraded and stunted crop growth, resulting in a low production yield. In order to combat such problems, new irrigation methods began to arise which lowered the effects of droughts and protected crops while yielding a higher crop production. One new irrigation method that was created was drip irrigation. This new system focused on saving water as well as fertilizer by allowing water to drip at a slow and steady pace to the roots of plants. This technique brought about several advantages in agricultural sustainability as it minimized weed growth and soil erosion while reducing energy costs (Kesavan 8). Other modernizing irrigation techniques, such as sprinkler, center pivot, lateral move, and sub-irrigation, also provided advances in cultivating crops during the winter as it seemed to “reduce the impact of low rainfall on yield” (Liverman 11). These new systems are focused on localized irrigation in which water is distributed to plants and crops in small amounts through the use of a low pressure pipe arrangement. Such improvements made in the area of irrigation during the Green Revolution era has drastically impacted crop variety and production around the world in a positive manner.

Fertilizers

One of the primary focuses of the Green Revolution was to increase the production of foods, such as cereal, wheat, and grain, more efficiently and effectively. This was achieved largely due to advancements made in fertilizers and pesticides. The main change in the use of fertilizers was the shift to inorganic and chemical based fertilizers. During the Green Revolution era, the use of synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers became very popular and commonly used in new agricultural methods that were being adopted. This was because it was concluded through trial and error that “Nitrogen is the most important mineral nutrient for cereal production, and an adequate supply is essential for high yields, especially with modern cultivars” (Mulvaney 1). With this new biological knowledge, farming techniques improved drastically. As discussed previously, new and improved irrigation methods were developed to enhance and conserve water supplies as well as increase the yield of crop production. However, without the knowledge and use of better agricultural fertilizers, specifically synthetic nitrogen, “irrigation does not give very different results as between local and high-yielding varieties.” However, with “controlled irrigation with balanced fertilizer application gives the full potential of high-yielding varieties many times higher than that of local varieties (Kanwar 1). This scientific breakthrough advanced agriculture and played a huge role in the success of the Green Revolution. Countries that were on the verge of famine began to face a major turnaround as crop production and yield of cereal and wheat became “2-3 times that of varieties available prior to the Green Revolution” (Khush 1). As a result of such efficient production, “Worldwide fertilizer use increased rapidly from 14 million tons in 1950 to 140 million tons in 1990, or a 10-fold increase” (Khush 3). This new strategy for more effective agricultural production also created a profound impact in the industrial section of the Green Revolution as well. Various manufacturing plants producing such chemical fertilizers became to spring up across nations as the need for them drastically increased, thus making the Green Revolution era even more successful (Posgate 3).

Pesticides

In addition to fertilizers, the use of pesticides became crucial to agricultural success during the Green Revolution. Pesticides became commonly used in order to prevent the high levels of pest and disease damage that occur during vast crop production on farming lands. There are various types of pesticides that became developed during this time, but the most commonly used were insecticides and fungicides. “Insecticides account for the major share of pesticides consumption… that includes both preventive treatments, which are applied before infestation levels are known, and intervention treatments, which are based on monitored infestation levels and expected crop damages. Fungicides are mostly used on fruits and vegetables to control diseases that affect the health of the plant or quality and appearance of fruit” (Bag 2). Furthermore, such new technology helped  “affect the branching structure of plants, to control the time of maturity or ripening, to aid mechanical harvesting, to defoliate plants before harvest, and to alter other plant functions” (Bag 3). These pesticides in addition to fertilizers boosted crop production and improved both the quality and yield tremendously as they acted as growth regulators, desiccants, and harvest aids.

Genetically Developed Seeds

A key technological innovation that transformed the Green Revolution was the development of improved seeds through the High Yielding Variety Seed Program (H.V.P.). This new biological innovation can be attributed to the increased amounts of fertilizers farmers began to use in their agricultural methods. As discussed above, nitrogen fertilizer, which effectively controlled the spread of weeds and pests, became a huge success during the Green Revolution era. “In response to increased amounts of fertilizers” cultivators sought techniques that would lead to the production of seeds with “greater genetic potential” (Quiroga 3). Though it was unsuccessful at first, the High Yielding Variety Seed Program eventually served as a crucial element in starting the Green Revolution in several countries around the globe. Improved seeds produce unique hybrid crops that have five distinguished qualities that separate them from crops produced from regular seeds. These five qualities are: “they are more responsive to fertilizers, the yields per unit of fertilizers are higher, the heads do not topple when heavy with matured grains…they are drought resistant and adapted to a wide latitudinal range, their shorter growing period sometimes enables the cultivation of a second major crop, and they can give two to four times the yields of the indigenous varieties” (Chakravarti 3). Results of the H.V.P. program were positive for the most part as “Between 1950-51 and 1969-70 total foodgrain production approximately doubled, from fifty million tons to a hundred million tons, with a noticeable rise since 1966-67” (Chakravarti 3). Because of this the adoption of the idea of using improved seeds became rapidly accepted, which lead to the reduction of famine and a significant economic increase as well. Such success from the H.P.V. program caught the attention of several agencies as it gained worldwide support from “international aid agencies, developed by crop-breeding science, backed by multi-national agribusiness capital… and promoted by an army of trained extension workers” (Yapa 12). The introduction of high-yielding variety seeds, or improved seeds, has drastically improved farming, specifically grain farming, all around the world and has also furthered advances in other areas of agricultural such as fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation methods.

Food Production

During the Green Revolution, various research and experiments were conducted in order to improve agricultural techniques as well as to produce a greater amount of crops in a more efficient manner. In doing so, various new technologies such as the” introduction of hybrid strains of wheat, rice, and corn (maize) and the adoption of modern agricultural technologies, including irrigation and heavy doses of chemical fertilizer” (Lobb 1) were created in order to meet results that showed better irrigation methods were needed as well as pesticides and fertilizers. “Thus, the ‘green revolution’ can be viewed as part of the continuing evolution of a more intensive system of agricultural production based on advances in biological and chemical technology” (Quiroga 3). With the development of new scientific advances spreading across the world, numerous countries began to face agricultural growth at outstanding numbers. The most notable increases in food production was evident in primarily Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. “By the 1969–1970 crop season…55 percent of the 35 million acres of wheat in Pakistan and 35 percent of India’s 35 million acres of wheat were sown.” This was a direct result of “a greater reliance on chemical fertilizer and pesticides and the drilling of thousands of wells for controlled irrigation” (Lobb 1). Furthermore with the introduction of the High Yielding Variety Seed Program in India, which also became prevalent in Pakistan, ” Wheat production in Pakistan nearly doubled in five years, going from 4.6 million tons in 1965 (a record at the time) to 8.4 million tons in 1970. India went from 12.3 million tons of wheat in 1965 to 20 million tons in 1970.” As a result, “Both nations were self-sufficient in cereal production by 1974” (Lobb 1). Another nation with similar production escalation was Mexico. Because of their unique climate that allowed for the growth of various vegetation, the effort to become self-sufficient was somewhat easily achieved. With the help of “heavy doses of chemical fertilizer…Wheat yield per acre rose fourfold from 1944 to 1970. Mexico, which had previously had to import wheat, became a self-sufficient cereal-grain producer by 1976” (Lobb 2).

However, not all countries faced such success during the Green Revolution. The majority of countries in Africa did not face much, if any, agricultural sustainability. This was due to the horrible climates as well as the unfavorable landscapes that did not favor farming and cultivation of crops. Furthermore, because “governments were unstable and roads and water resources were less developed” (Lobb 2), the ability to obtain and implement the new scientific technology that were evident in other countries, such as India, proved to be very difficult. As a result of such underdevelopment,  “Africa benefited far less from the Green Revolution than Asian countries and is still threatened periodically with famine” (Lobb 2).

Conclusion

The Green Revolution, led by Norman Borlaug, can be credited to ending worldwide famine and saving numerous lives in the process. During this era, several new scientific advances were made to improve agricultural methods and to increase farming efficiency. Such advances include improvements in irrigation techniques, new types of fertilizers and pesticides, and the introduction of high-yielding variety seeds, all of which drastically increased crop variety and crop production. Without such technological breakthroughs, countries around the world, such as India and Mexico, may not have had the ability to escape a massive food shortage.

 

Works Cited

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Chakravarti, A. K., ” Green Revolution in India.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Sep., 1973): 319-330. Jstor.org. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.

Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert, S., & Walker, Polly, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture.” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 110, No. 5 (May, 2002): 445-456. Jstor.org. Brogan & Partners. Web. 7 Apr. 2013.

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Lobb, Richard L., “Green Revolution.” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 1 May. 2013<http://www.encyclopedia.com&gt;.

Mulvaney, R. L., Khan, S. A., & Ellsworth, T. R, “Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal Production.”  Journal of Environmental Quality, Vol. 38, No. 6 (2009): 2295-314. Proquest.com. Web. 6 Apr. 2013.

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