When the Green Revolution spread from the U.S. to the Third World in the 1960s and 70s, it also spread a paradigm for thinking about agriculture. This paradigm excluded all natural factors , such as soil nutrients and organisms, the effects of crop rotation and intercropping, and plant-insect symbiosis from consideration.  The Green Revolution replaced traditional crop varieties with hybrid varieties; these hybrids require intensive irrigation, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and increasingly intensive mechanization in order to produce a good harvest. All of these needed to be purchased from agribusiness companies or provided by governments, but in both situations farmers became dependent on external inputs.

The idea used to legitimate the Green Revolution was that the world did not have enough food to feed its people, and in order to meet the needs of growing populations, nations needed to invest in agriculture. Few, if any, economists and government advisers believed that small farmers had the knowledge or the skills to increase yields. Instead, small farmers were disempowered, and countries around the world built national systems of agriculture based on the Green Revolution technologies sold by agribusiness companies in the United States and Europe. The first hybrid seeds were developed in the 1940s in Mexico, and spread through Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle-East soon after, almost eliminating seed diversity even in places of original domestication. Although in each of these places the Green Revolution occurred a bit differently, they all had in common a type of thinking that separated the people and local ecology from agriculture.

The results of this spread have been thoroughly documented, and they have been disastrous for small farmers around the world, hands down. Farmers have been burdened by debt; their fields have been destroyed; they have been poisoned by chemicals; and many have uprooted and left rural areas all together. Consumers have also been forced to eat more restricted diets. This video called Harvesting Hunger provides a heartbreaking picture into the elements of India’s Green Revolution and how they produce hunger in rural communities:

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/48506148]

From these beginnings, the Green Revolution has had a constant presence in agriculture around the globe. The international research network established by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations during the original Green Revolution, CGIAR, is still a significant player in the insidious game of agricultural imperialism. Recently, CGIAR has teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to implant Green Revolution agriculture in Africa. In 2006, they founded the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). As their website states, AGRA supports projects “to develop and deliver better seeds, increase farm yields, improve soil fertility, upgrade storage facilities, improve market information systems, strengthen farmers’ associations, expand access to credit for farmers and small suppliers, and advocate for national policies that benefit smallholder farmers.”

Just like the original Green Revolution, the Gates Foundation is trying to force agribusiness technology into Africa, empowering agribusiness interests and excluding small farmers all together.

Because the Green Revolution is still so strongly with us, it’s important that we continue to tell the stories of its consequences, and to advocate for alternative systems of agriculture built by and for the world’s small farmers.