Was the Green Revolution successful? The term refers to the extensive modernization of agriculture in developing nations following the Second World War, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. On the positive side, the selection of more productive varieties and the use of synthetic pesticides resulted in significantly increased yields. The great famines which had ravaged these countries became a thing of the past.
On the negative side, the cost to the environment has been very high. The pesticides contaminated the ground water through to the water table. The dangerous side-effects of these chemicals are now continually being re-evaluated. Pesticides can interfere with the endocrine system and cause cancer, particularly among the farmers who are most exposed. Although some chemicals have been banned in developed countries, all too often they continue to be used in poorer countries.
The Green Revolution also reversed an old principle. For centuries, farmers adapted varieties to their own terrainónotably permitting the development of local varieties whose quality could be controlled and certified. The new agriculture does the opposite: it takes hyperproductive varieties created in the laboratory and adapts the soil to them via the liberal use of fertilizers. But these fertilizers alter our ecosystems and, for example, promote the growth of algae and bacteria, which can spread to become pollutants.
There are two consequences to this last point. Farmers of smallholdings must now buy large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides in order to grow these varieties. They go into debt, and the slightest short?fall in their harvest is disastrous. Moreover, they no longer use the seeds selected over generations and kept from the previous harvest, but purchase them from seed cultivators. They become dependent on them rather than on their ttraditional techniques, which are subsequently lost. The challenge is to enable smallholders to reappropriate their own seed varieties. Several organizations are working to achieve this, but their operations are highly localized and unfortunately sometimes go unnoticed.