The Green Revolution is a misnomer: it sounds like a radical environmental movement when it’s the exact opposite of that. It is a movement led by corporations (including the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation) to further reinforce the class-based heierarchy, while spreading an ecocidal practice across the world.
The Green Revolution has promoted the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides; hybridized seeds and high yielding crop varieties; expansion of irrigation infrastructure, and modernization of management techniques. It started in late 1950s and has been credited as the movement that saved the world from mass starvation. (The mass starvation seemed imminent due to the human population overshoot. The population was 3 billion at the time and since then has increased by more than 5 billion – an almost threefold increase!) Norman Borlaug, the father of Green Revolution, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for saving a billion people from starvation.
Currently a second wave of Green Revolution is on the way. Influential people like Bill Gates are pushing the use of Genetically Modified Crops (GMOs) in countries of Africa as a new solution to the upcoming starvation.
This is the dominant narrative regarding the Green Revolution. There are some important points missing from this perfect little story.
Lets delve into the history of the agricorporations first.
The agricultural corporations have an intertwined history history with the wars. During World War II, the agricultural corporations (then chemical corporations) produced explosives and poisons. Monsanto operation the Dayton Project and the Mound Laboratories, and was involved in the development of the first nuclear weapons. During the Vietnam War, Monsanto also poisoned Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with Agent Orange. The effects on human health and ecology can be felt to this day.
The war legacy of these corporations extends beyond this. According to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals, Bayer had purchased 150 healthy women from the Auswitch concentration camp for experiments with sleep-inducing drugs. All of these women died during the experiments.
It is hard to believe that the companies that had no qualms in actively profiteering from wars, conducting war crimes, or purchasing humans, would simultaneously be sensitive to the sufferings of humanity. These corporations have proven time and again that they are willing to poison and exploit the oppressed (the poor, the women, those from the Global South) in pursuit of profit. It is ironical that proponents of GMOs use images of starving children in Africa to build a case in favor of these corporations.
Lets take a case of the state of Punjab in India.
The Green Revolution was introduced in Punjab in 1965. It has been credited for pulling India out of starvation.
In reality, there was no starvation in India in 1965.* A nationwide drought had increased the food prices, creating a need to import food grains. However, the US government and the World Band imposed a condition on the import of food grains and forced synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and genetically redesigned crops to the farmers of Punjab. These synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were produced using the same chemicals that had been used to produce poisons and explosives during the Second World War. Native crops all over rejected these chemicals. So, the agriculture corporations genetically altered crops so that they would accept (and be dependent on) the synthetic chemicals. These crops later became known as the high yielding varieties and the hybridized seeds.
The Green Revolution has had serious implications in Punjab. The native biodiversity has been destroyed. Once, Punjab used to produce 41 varieties of wheat and 37 varieties of rice. Since the Green Revolution, all of this has been replaced by monocultures of imported crops.
These crops require further use of chemicals. It has toxified the entire ecology. A 2014 study found pesticide residue in 25% of breast milk sample collected from Punjab. In a culture where breast milk stands for purity and love of a mother for her child, a quarter of mothers cannot express this love toward their infants without simultaneously poisoning them.
The number cancer cases are so high in Punjab that a special train carries people suffering from pesticide-related cancer to Rajasthan (another state in India). This train is called the “cancer train.”
Technology transfer or wealth transfer?
The Green Revolution has been credited for technology transfer from the corporations to the farmers. In fact, it has resulted in a massive wealth transfer from farmers to corporations. The farmers in India are dying from an inability to pay the massive loans they have accrued. Since the 1990s, farmers suicide has been a national catastrophe in India. It is estimated that more than 10 farmers commit suicide every day. Ironically, or perhaps symbolically, most kill themselves on their fields by drinking pesticides.
I was once asked why the movement is called the Green Revolution. I said, “Because poison-your-land movement would have sounded less appealing.” It would definitely have been more accurate though!
“Genetically modified” is an industry propaganda term. “Genetically engineered” is the correct term. For some reason, people don’t have as strong of a negative reaction to the former as they do to the latter, so the industry replaced GE with GMO.
“Green” revolution type of stuff actually began around 1920 with the invention and use of artificial fertilizer (there’s nothing actually green about any of it). This unnatural and toxic stuff produced an even larger unnatural abundance of food than agriculture did thousands of years earlier, which caused human population to increase from 2 billion to the 7.8 billion that it is today.
Food, starvation, and overpopulation are difficult issues to discuss because of anthropocentrism, which doesn’t allow people who abide that attitude to see the world objectively. Instead, they consider all human life sacred, while caring little if at all for any other life. Objectively, we all die and all species that overpopulate experience substantial starvation among their members. Humans have unnaturally and very harmfully circumvented the natural population control of food availability, starting with agriculture 10-12,000 years ago, then with use of artificial fertilizer and industrial farming. None of this is sustainable in the long run, but far more important is that human overpopulation is so bad that humans, their agriculture, and their infrastructure now occupy most terrestrial land on Earth, and the rest is mostly uninhabitable by all but the most primordial species. Basically, non-humans have nowhere to live because there are so many humans everywhere! Human overpopulation is the biggest cause of the current extinction crisis, and for obvious reason.
A good discussion of food, population, and starvation begins with the first use of agriculture, not in the 1950s or ’60s. By then, the planet was grossly overpopulated, despite the fact that it is even more so now.