The Green Revolution in Retrospect

A new paper authored by Prabhu Pingali of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, details the achievements and limitations of the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution was a product of investment in and diffusion of agricultural research and its largest success was that cereal crop production outpaced population growth, with only a small increase in land area cultivated. As examples, between 1960 and 2000 wheat yields in developing countries increased 208% while between 1960 and 1990 food supply in developing countries grew 12-13%.

Building on the work of developed countries to improve staple crops, the Green Revolution, largely through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, took high yielding varieties and adapted them to thrive in the conditions of developing countries. Indeed it is estimated that without the efforts of the CGIAR and national programmes world food and feed prices would have been 35-65% higher and average calorie availability would have declined by 11-13%. While these successes sparked further investment in agricultural research and its delivery from both public and private institutions, the post Green Revolution period saw investment in agriculture decline.

As the author points out investment in agricultural innovation is equally important now, particularly if we are to ‘sustain productivity gains, enhance smallholder competitiveness and adapt to climate change’. Evidence shows the returns to agricultural research are as high now as they were during the Green Revolution and in a recent meta-analysis have been estimated at a median annual rate of return of 40-60%.

The Green Revolution, however, was not without its shortcomings. As One Billion Hungry states, we need a new Revolution that addresses the limitations of the first, a Revolution in which there is renewed international interest due to the recent food price spikes. [Read more…]