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The Second Green Revolution

Beyond the Green Revolution: New Approaches for Third World Agriculture. (Woridwatch Paper 73) Edward C. Wolf, Woridwatch Institute, Washington, DC, 1986. 46 pp. $4. Directed by Lester R. Brown, recent winner of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Worldwatch Institute analyzes and focuses attention on global problems through a series of papers "written for a worldwide audience of decision makers, scholars, and the general public." This one, written by senior researcher 'Edward Wolf, a Willia

By | March 9, 1987

Beyond the Green Revolution: New Approaches for Third World Agriculture. (Woridwatch Paper 73) Edward C. Wolf, Woridwatch Institute, Washington, DC, 1986. 46 pp. $4.


Directed by Lester R. Brown, recent winner of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Worldwatch Institute analyzes and focuses attention on global problems through a series of papers "written for a worldwide audience of decision makers, scholars, and the general public." This one, written by senior researcher 'Edward Wolf, a Williams College graduate in biology and environmental studies, argues that failure of the "first" Green Revolution to reach millions of farmers on marginal lands or those too poor to purchase modern inputs can be corrected by a "second" Green Revolution combining biotechnology and traditional farming techniques.

The key theme is sustainable agriculture, which is to be based on "principles of permanence" and "internal resources" rather than on short-run profitability and purchased inputs from outside the agriculture system. Biotechnology will make this possible by creating new plant varieties uniquely suited to the hostile ecological environments cultivated by the 230 million farmers that, according to Wolf, have not seen improvement in their yields or incomes from modern agricultural technology. But he argues that most biotechnology research is controlled by the private sector, which has no incentive to work on the problems of poor farmers in the Third World. Hence substantial increases in public funding are needed, but only if the research strategy incorporates the lessons of sustainable agriculture observed in traditional farming techniques, such as the slash-and-burn and intercropping practices of some farmers in Africa.

Unfortunately, the call for a new agricultural development strategy that will solve simultaneously the economic inequities and ecological distortions of the old approach is not very convincing. The author describes ongoing work in this area at agricultural research centers around the world, but he fails to diagnose problems or assess tradeoffs facing agricultural scientists and policy-makers.

Sustainable agriculture is essential, of course, but how independent can it be of industrial inputs? What are the opportunity costs relative to short-run output? What are the assumptions about future productivity in other agricultural environments? Research on low-productivity farms has uncertain and future benefits; how should policy-makers evaluate these relative to the certain and present costs of diverting resources away from their current, most productive uses?

Beyond the Green Revolution does not even recognize that these are real problems, much less offer any solutions.

Timmer is John D. Black Professor of Development Studies, at large,
Harvard Institute for International Development, Cambridge, MA 02138.

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