The Green Revolution – Agriculture to Prevent War
After World War II and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, officials in the U.S. government, the philanthropies and the sciences turned their attention to the rest of the world. Agriculture became an instrument of global power as the U.S. tried to counter communism in the Cold War. In the process, the U.S. exported agricultural technology and kept billions of people alive.
This series of related scientific and educational efforts collectively became known as the Green Revolution.
It started with two seemingly unrelated concerns –
- How does the world prevent World War III at a time when there are two super powers that are ideological opposites?
- How does world respond to massive population increases – billions of more mouths to feed – when all of the easily exploited agricultural lands were already developed?
For many of those who thought about these questions, the answer seemed to come from a careful reading of history and by putting the two questions together. They remembered how a worldwide depression during the 1930s was one of the contributing factors to the world war of the 1940s. A spiraling German population – who felt like they didn’t have enough land to feed themselves and faced with severe depression – were willing to turn to a fascist government that promised to put food on the table.
Would that same sequence of events happen in developing countries around the world as population experts predicted massive increases? Add to the equation a communist government in the Soviet Union that was trying to export its brand of government and influence around the world, and the mixture was volatile.
For many, there seemed to be a direct potential sequence of events –
- Overpopulation leads to…
- Exhaustion of resources, which leads to…
- Hunger, which leads to…
- Political instability, which leads to…
- Communist insurrection, which leads to…
- Danger to American interests, which leads to…
As early as 1946, President Harry S. Truman warned about a coming “famine of half the world.” In his 1949 Inaugural Address, Truman expanded his concern into a plan of action. He said that in order to stop the spread of Communism, America was prepared to transfer its technology, especially agricultural technology, to hungry countries around the world.
“More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate… Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas… Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. And the key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of modern scientific and technical knowledge.”
Because it was the fourth major subject of his speech, Truman dubbed the initiative the “Point Four” plan. It became the American program of foreign aid that continued through the administrations of succeeding presidents and that had a tremendous influence on the creation and spread of high-yielding agriculture around the world.
Actually, Truman was on the successful experience of the Mexican Agricultural Program (MAP). Suggested in 1940 by former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, and driven by the brilliance of plant breeder Norman Borlaug, the MAP had already transformed Mexico from a wheat-importing country through self-sufficiency to a wheat-exporting nation.
In this section, you’ll find out how Norman Borlaug and his colleagues doubled the amount of wheat that Mexico was producing. They also trained several generations of plant scientists who took what they learned in Mexico back to their countries around the world. Borlaug, himself, went on to work with India and Pakistan, Asia and Africa. He is credited with starting the Green Revolution and is the only agricultural scientist to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to him in 1970.
Norman Borlaug says he believed his work helped defuse what some called the Population Bomb. “Nobody was more concerned about population than I was,” he says. “I want to cut down on human misery.” He says that misery “is the most fertile ground for planting all kinds of extremism, including terrorism.”
Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First published in 2007. A partial bibliography of sources is here.