Assessing The Impact Of The Green Revolution, 1960 To 2000
We summarize the findings of a recently completed study of the productivity impacts
of international crop genetic improvement research in developing countries. Over the
period 1960 to 2000, international agricultural research centers, in collaboration with
national research programs, contributed to the development of “modern varieties”for
many crops. These varieties have contributed to large increases in crop production.
Productivity gains, however, have been uneven across crops and regions. Consumers
generally benefited from declines in food prices. Farmers benefited only where cost
reductions exceeded price reductions.
the development of modern or highyielding crop varieties (MVs) for developing countries began in aconcerted
fashion in the late 1950s. In the mid-1960s, scientists developed MVs of rice and wheat that were subsequently released to farmers in Latin America and Asia. The success of these MVs was characterized as a “Green Revolution.”
Early rice and wheat MVs were rapidly adopted in tropical and subtropical regions with good irrigation systems or reliable rainfall. These MVs were associated with thefirst two major international agricultural research centers
(IARCs): the International Center for Wheat and Maize Improvement in Mexico (CIMMYT) and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines (IRRI). There are now 16 such centers that operate under the auspices
of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) (1). These centers currently support about 8500scientists and scientific staff, and the annual budget of the CGIAR is currently around $340 million.
A recent study initiated by the Special Project on Impact Assessment (SPIA) of the CGIAR’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has compiled the most extensive data yet assembled on the breeding, release, and diffusion of MVs (2). The SPIA study allows for a detailed analysis of the impact ofinternational research for 11 major food crops, by region and country, for the period 1960 to 2000 (3). Here we summarize and report the major findings of the SPIA study. In focusing on the impact of international research, we do not in any sense disparage the work of national agricultural research systems (NARS), which played a crucial role in creating varieties suitable for farmers. Strong nationalprograms have provided effective research in many developing countries, and some are leaders
in the science and technique of plant breeding. The SPIA study specifically considers the interaction between IARC plant-breeding programs and NARS plant-breeding programs and finds that the two generally fill complementary
Breeding of Modern Varieties
The early successes in breeding rice and wheatMVs reflected the advanced state of research on those crops in the late 1950s. Researchers at IRRI and CIMMYT had access to rich stocks of genetic resources and drew on extensive breeding experience in developed countries. For both crops, breeders incorporated dwarfing genes that allowed the development of shorter, stiffstrawed varieties. These varieties devoted much of their energy to producinggrain and relatively little to producing straw or leaf material. They also responded better to fertilizer than traditional
varieties. Farmers adopted the new semidwarf MVs rapidly in some areas—chiefly those with access to irrigation or reliable rainfall— and the new varieties yielded substantially more grain than previous varieties (5, 6). The early success of these MVs was widely referred to asthe “Green Revolution,” and popular accounts have tended to equate the Green Revolution with the initial wave of MV releases in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Our findings suggest, however, that this early episode of MV adoption was only the beginning of the Green Revolution. Over the following years, the Green Revolution achieved broader and deeper impacts, extending far beyond the original...
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