Another Green Revolution?

For the virtuous circle to work, productivity has to grow. So how do we achieve this? Some have argued that we need a repeat of the Green Revolution; that is, introduction of new technologies similar to those of the semi-dwarf cereal varieties that will deliver a quantum leap in yields and production. For a number of reasons this is unlikely to be an effective strategy. The ideal environments for the Green Revolution varieties are already fully exploited. The poor and hungry live today in very different circumstances. Moreover, the technologies of the first Green Revolution were developed on experiment stations favored with fertile soils, well-controlled water sources, and other factors suitable for high production. There was little perception of the complexity and diversity of farmers’ physical environments, let alone the diversity of their economic and social environments.

The Green Revolution, it is often said, “passed Africa by,” either because some of Africa’s principal staple crops, such as sorghum, millet, and cassava, were not targeted or because the environment—physical, socioeconomic, and political—was not conducive. Yet Africa was not alone; for example, even though the Green Revolution was successful in India, much of that country, too, has been passed by. At the end of the 1980s growth in Indian agricultural GDP per annum had increased from 1.4 percent, at the beginning of the Green Revolution, to 4 percent, but it has subsequently slowed to around 2 percent over the 1990s, with rain-fed areas being hardest hit.12 From 2000 growth slowed even further. Yields stagnated, and by 2004 per capita food grains production was back to 1970s levels.13

Indian farmers are increasingly vulnerable to declining water tables, aging, and poorly managed transportation and irrigation infrastructure as well as to unstable markets. The size of farms is also decreasing: in 1960—1961, the percentage of cultivated area operated by farms over 4 hectares (ha) in size was about 60 percent, but this had fallen to 35 percent by 2002-2003, and the proportion of farms under 1 ha in size has risen from about 40 percent to nearly 70 percent in the same period.14

Thus, in both South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa the challenge today is to develop interventions appropriate for relatively small farmers in more diverse, poorly endowed, risk-prone environments. This will require a variety of locally adapted interventions targeted on specific needs.

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