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Page added on January 30, 2007

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How Much Did the Green Revolution Matter?

Can We Feed the World Without Industrial Agriculture?

There are many questions that have come up for me in writing a book about food, energy and climate, but the one that I find most engaging is the question of exactly what was gained and lost in the transition to industrial agriculture and the green revolution. While there have long been critiques of the Green Revolution, many, many people assume that without the work of Norman Borlaug and the other scientists who brought us new hybrids and who convinced much of the world to convert to nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides based on fossil fuels, we cannot feed the world. I am suspicious of this claim, and have been musing on it for some time. It is certainly true that grain yields rose dramatically during the Green Revolution, but how much does and did that actually matter?

Now some of this, all of us interested in the subject already know. We all know that the introduction of massive quantities of fertilizer, the replacement of traditional staple crops with hybrids and the rest of the Green Revolution meant total grain yield increase of 250% over 35 years, with an increase in fossil energy inputs of 50% over traditional agriculture. It would seem that that rate of return was quite gratifying

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