ISIS Report 14/01/08
Beware the New “Doubly Green Revolution”
The fake moral crusade to feed the world with genetically
modified crops promoted as the second “Doubly Green Revolution” is doing even
more damage than the first. The bad genetics involved in has failed the test
in science and in the real world. Dr.
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Bad genetics kills
When James Watson, who shared
the 1962 Nobel Prize for the double-helix structure of DNA, came to the UK
in October 2007 to promote his new book and autobiography, Avoid Boring People: Lessons From A Life In Science,
he sparked outrage among fellow scientists. He said to a newspaper reporter
that  he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africans” because
“all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is
the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really.” That was not the
first time Watson abused his position to promote what the Federation of American
Scientists condemned as “personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and
unsupported by science” . On a previous occasion, he suggested that people
with low IQ had genes for stupidity, and he would like to prevent them from
being born or give them gene therapy  (Why Genomics Won't Deliver, SiS 26).
Within a week of
this latest transgression, Watson was suspended, and subsequently resigned,
from his post as chancellor of the prestigious Cold Spring Harbour Molecular
Nonetheless, it was
precisely such eugenicist, genetic determinist propaganda that Watson had
used so effectively in promoting the Human Genome Project in the 1980s. And
if anything significant had come out of sequencing the human and other genomes,
it was to explode the myth of genetic determinism once and for all  (see
Living with the Fluid Genome,
ISIS publication). Some of us had been arguing all along that genes and environment
are inseparable well before the Human Genome Project was conceived. The surprise
is how readily the environment could specifically mark and change genes and
genomes to influence later generations. ‘The inheritance of acquired characters’
is nowhere as evident as in molecular genetics  (see Life After the Central Dogma
series, SiS 24). It is part of the ecological genetics of
the ‘fluid genome’ emerging since the 1980s that has made genetic determinism
obsolete . Unfortunately, our political leaders are still being ill advised
by famous scientists adhering to the old discredited paradigm.
Another Nobel laureate
(Nobel Peace Price 1970) who should know his genetics better is Norman Borlaug,
father of the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution was a reductionist approach
to agriculture based on using genetics to breed genetically uniform high yielding
varieties (HYVs), which has brought short-term increases in crop yields, but
at tremendous environmental and social costs.
Borlaug has persisted
in promoting this failed approach, especially in its later incarnation of
genetically modified (GM) crops, as made clear in a Nature editorial published in October 2007,
“Feeding a hungry world” .
Far from suffering disgrace, Borlaug is showered with
awards, the most recent being the US Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest
civilian honour . At the presentation event, M.S. Swaminathan, father of
the Green Revolution in India, gave the keynote address.
meanwhile, is caught in a worsening epidemic of farmers’ suicide. Its agricultural
minister acknowledged in the Indian Parliament that an estimated 100 000 farmers
have taken their own lives between 1993 and 2003. The introduction GM crops
to the country has escalated the suicides to 16 000 a year  (Stem
Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS
Borlaug is doing
a great deal more damage to the world than Watson based on their bad genetics.
The difference is that while Watson is now a liability in attracting grants
and investments for genomics and related post-human genome endeavours, Borlaug
serves as the ideal mouthpiece for the biotech industry’s fake moral crusade
of feeding the world under the banner of the second, “doubly-green” revolution
of genetically modified crops.
Lessons from the Green Revolution
The failures of the Green
Revolution are widely acknowledged , and even by Swaminathan himself ,
who referred to “a fatigue” of the Green Revolution: a sharp drop in the yield
of grain per unit of fertilizer applied as well as a drop in yield. In India, grain yield per unit of fertilizer applied decreased by two-thirds
during the Green Revolution years. And the same has happened elsewhere.
and 2000, the annual growth of fertilizer use on Asian rice has been 3 to
40 times the growth of rice yields
. In Central Luzon, Philippines,
rice yield increased 13 percent during the 1980s, but came at the price of
a 21 percent increase in fertilizer use. In the Central Plains, yield went
up only 6.5 percent, while fertilizer use rose 24 percent and pesticides jumped
by 53 percent. In West Java, a 23 percent yield increase was accomplished
by 65 and 69 percent increases in fertilizers and pesticides respectively.
it is the absolute drop in yields despite high inputs of fertilizer that finally
punctured the Green Revolution bubble. By the 1990s, after dramatic increases
in the early stages of the Green Revolution, yields began falling. In Central
Luzon, Philippines, rice yields rose steadily during the 1970s, peaked in
the early 1980s, and have been dropping gradually since. Similar patterns
emerged for rice-wheat systems in India and Nepal.
were not actually declining, the rate of growth has been slowing
rapidly or leveling off, as documented in China, North Korea, Indonesia, Myanmar,
the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
yields have fallen further, to the extent that in six out of the past seven
years, world grain production has fallen below consumption. And consumption
is increasing not as much by growing population as by by rising demand for
biofuels in recent years  (see Chapter x). As a result, world grain stocks
have dropped to their lowest since records began 30 years ago, and food prices
have shot up worldwide.
The Green Revolution was an industrial style agriculture that packaged HYVs
with fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation. And given optimum inputs, these
HYVs did indeed increase yields dramatically, especially in the short term.
In the longer term, Green Revolution agriculture depleted and degraded the soil,
yields fall even as more and more fertilizers are used. Similarly, pests develop
resistance to pesticides, and greater amounts have to be applied. Farmers and
the general public become increasingly at risk from the toxic effects of pesticides
and fertilizers that contaminate ground water.
At the same time, heavy irrigation resulted in widespread salination of agricultural
land, while aquifers are pumped dry. It is estimated that 6 percent of India’s
agricultural land has been made useless as a result of salination , and nearly
a fifth of the sub-continent is withdrawing more water than is being replaced
by rain . In the Punjab, home of the Green Revolution, nearly 80 percent
of groundwater is now “overexploited or critical.”
The high costs of fertilizer and pesticide put small farmers at a disadvantage
right from the start, driving them off the land while big farmers grow bigger,
thereby deepening the divide between rich and poor.
But even for those
farmers who manage to keep going, the spiralling costs of more fertilizers
and pesticides, and diminishing income due to falling yields, or massive crop
failures from drought, pests, and diseases, to which the genetically uniform
HYVs are especially susceptible, soon plunged farmers deeper and deeper into
debt. For many of these farmers, the only exit from debt is suicide. This
sorry tale has been told over and over again .
It is clear that
the Green Revolution’s success in raising yields has failed to reduce poverty
or hunger. India’s 26 m ton grain surplus in 2006 could feed
the 320 million hungry people in its population, but starving villagers are
too poor to buy the food produced in their own countryside .
The Green Revolution
also led to the loss of indigenous agricultural biodiversity. This severely
compromises food security for small farmers, as the indigenous varieties are
more resistant to pest, disease, and drought than the genetically uniform
HYVs. Monoculture HYVs also reduce the nutritional value of foods as soils
become depleted of essential micronutrients. In Bangladesh,
the promotion of Green Revolution rice led to a loss of nearly 7 000 traditional
rice varieties and many fish species. In the Philippines, more than 300 traditional
Instead of learning from the failures of the Green Revolution, Borlaug, Swaminathan,
and the biotech industry are offering the world a second “doubly green” revolution
 in GM crops, and they are taking it to Africa with the help of corporate
charities that are doing more harm than good in the world  (Philanthropy Gates Style,
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
Bill & Melinda Gates
and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a joint $150 million Alliance
for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The creators of AGRA claim the initiative
will bring benefits to the Africa’s impoverished farmers who have been bypassed
in the first Green Revolution. Bill Gates is a confessed enthusiast for biotechnology
, while the Rockefeller Foundation is notorious for having invested in
creating The 'Golden Rice' , genetically modified
to produce pro-Vitamin A, and aggressively promoted “to salvage a morally
as well as financially bankrupt agricultural biotech industry” .
But, as pointed out
by the Food First Institute , the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which brings together the key Green Revolution
research institutions, has invested 40 to 45 percent of their £350 million
annual budget in Africa; if not in the Green Revolution, in
what? And if in the Green Revolution, it must have failed Africa, and not
The Green Revolution failed because it did not address the main causes of poverty
and hunger, on the contrary it contributed to increasing hunger and poverty
in the midst of plenty.
and hunger requires the redistribution of land and resources to enable farmers
to grow food; they also need a fair and stable market, and ecological farming
systems that free farmers from the shackles of expensive inputs of fertilizers
and pesticides  (Organic
Farmer Who Values His Freedom Above All , SiS
28). This is especially true for sub-Saharan African countries like Ethiopia,
Sudan, Somalia and Mali where the area of unused, good quality farmland is
many times greater than the area actually farmed. It is also the case in Zimbabwe
and South Africa where the majority of farmers have been excluded from access
to minimally acceptable farmland .
Borlaug claims to have reduced hunger in the world through the Green Revolution,
and many of his critics are willing to give him credit for that. But this too
turns out to be a myth.
two decades from 1970 to 1990 spanning the Green Revolution, the total food
available per person in the world rose by 11 percent while the estimated number
of hungry people fell from 942 m to 786 million, a 16 percent drop.
if China is left aside, the number of hungry people in the rest
of the world actually went up
by more than 11 percent, from 536 to 597 million.
In South America,
while per capita food supplies rose almost 8 percent, the number of hungry
people went up by 19 percent. In South Asia, there was 9 percent more food
per person by 1990, but there were also 9 percent more hungry people.
In China, the number
of hungry dropped dramatically from 406 million to 189 million (a fall of
54.4 percent). As Food First Institute says , “ [it] almost begs the question:
which has been more effective at reducing hunger-the Green Revolution or the
Revolution, where broad-based changes in access to land paved the way for
rising living standards?”
The real causes of hunger in Africa
The growing hunger in Africa
is largely due to the increased impoverishment of the rural people who once
grew food, but have now left farming. Today’s African farmers could easily
produce far more food than they do, if they can get credit to cover production
costs, or find buyers or obtain fair prices to give them a minimum profit
Rural Africa has
been devastated by 25 years of ‘free trade’ policies imposed by the World
Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, the US
and EU . The forced privatisation of food crop marketing boards - which
once guaranteed African farmers minimum prices and held food reserves for
emergencies - and rural development banks - which gave farmers credit to produce
food – left farmers without financing to grow food and without buyers for
their produce. Free trade agreements have made it easier for private traders
to import subsidized food from the US and EU than to negotiate
with thousands of local farmers. This effective dumping drives local farm
prices below the costs of production and puts local farmers out of business.
A new technology
package with GM crops is not going to make any difference to the social and
structural problems, and judging by India’s recent experience,
it would make things much worse . It will further narrow the genetic base
of indigenous agriculture, increase farmers’ indebtedness in paying for patented
seeds, increase farmers’ vulnerability as GM varieties are more susceptible
to crop failures, and bring extra environmental and health risks (see GM Science Exposed.
, ISIS CD book). The “doubly green” revolution can only exacerbate poverty
and hunger in Africa
So what does Africa
need instead? This has been so obvious it hardly needs saying, as all forms
of sustainable, agro-ecological farming systems around the world, including
Africa have been staging a successful revival since the late 1980s  (The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World,
ISIS Publication). But it will be instructive to learn from Cuba’s experience,
particularly in the light of freeing agriculture from its dependence on fossil
Lessons from Cuba: agriculture without fossil fuels
Cuba is where agriculture
without fossil fuels has been put to its greatest test, thanks to the collapse
of trade with the former socialist bloc; and it has passed with flying colours
Cuba was a model Green Revolution farm economy, based on huge production units,
and dependent on vast quantities of imported chemicals and machinery to produce
export crops, while over half of its food was imported. The Cuban government’s
commitment to equity, and favorable terms of trade offered by Eastern Europe,
ensured that Cubans were not undernourished ..
of the socialist bloc and the tightened US trade embargo exposed the vulnerability
of Cuba’s Green Revolution model, and it was plunged into the worst food crisis
in its history. Cuba lost 85 percent of its trade, including
both food and agricultural inputs, and without those inputs, domestic production
fell, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in caloric intake in the early 1990s.
Cuba was faced with a dual challenge of doubling food production with half
the previous inputs.
But by 1997,
Cubans were eating almost as well as they did before 1989, with little food
and agrochemicals imported. Instead, Cuba concentrated on creating a more
self-reliant agriculture: a combination of higher crop prices paid to farmers,
agroecological technology, smaller production units, and urban agriculture.
The way Cuba
responded was an inspiration to the rest of the world. It began with a nation-wide
call to increase food production by restructuring agriculture. It involved
converting from conventional large-scale, high input monoculture systems to
smaller scale, organic and semi-organic farming systems. The focus was on
using low cost and environmentally safe inputs, and relocating production
closer to consumption in order to cut down on transportation costs.
was a key part of this effort. A spontaneous, decentralized movement had arisen
in the cities. People responded enthusiastically to government initiative.
By 1994, more than 8 000 city farms were created in Havana alone.
Front lawns of municipal buildings were dug up to grow vegetables. Offices
and schools cultivated their own food. Many of the gardeners were retired
men aged 50s and 60s, and urban women played a much larger role in agriculture
than their rural counterparts.
By 1998, an estimated
541 000 tons of food were produced in Havana for local consumption.
Food quality has also improved as people had access to a greater variety of
fresh fruits and vegetables. Urban gardens continued to grow and some neighbourhoods
were producing as much as 30 percent of their own food.
The growth of urban
agriculture was largely due to the State’s commitment to make unused urban
and suburban land and resources available to aspiring urban farmers. The issue
of land grants in the city converted hundreds of vacant lots into food producing
plots, and new planning laws placed the highest land use priority on food
Another key to success
was opening farmers markets and legalising direct sales from farmers to consumers.
Deregulation of prices combined with high demand for fresh produce in the
cities allowed urban farmers to make two to three times as much as the rural
The government also
encouraged gardeners through an extensive support system including extension
agents and horticultural groups that offered assistance and advice. Seed houses
throughout the city sold seeds, gardening tools, compost and distribute biofertilizers
and other biological control agents at low costs.
New biological products
and organic gardening techniques were developed and produced by Cuba’s
agricultural research sector, which had already begun exploring organic alternatives
to chemical controls, enabling Cuba’s urban farms to become completely organic.
In fact, a new law prohibited the use of any pesticides for agricultural purposes
anywhere within city limits.
did not invent urban agriculture. It has been a worldwide movement since the
1970s, and by 1999, an estimated 14 percent of the world’s food was produced
in urban areas. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of sustainable
development, as more and more of the populations worldwide are becoming urbanized.
It presents both a challenge and an opportunity for town planning and design
to transform the concrete jungle into habitats surrounded by open fields and
gardens, which can attract and support wildlife at the same time. Imagine
growing up in cities with urban agriculture instead of existing slums and
soulless housing estates. (See Organic Cuba without Fossil Fuels , SiS 37 for further details.)
Food Sovereignty for all
Today, across Africa,
Latin America and Asia, farmer-to-farmer movements, farmer-led research teams
and farmer field schools have already discovered how to raise yields, distribute
benefits, protect soils, conserve water and enhance ago-biodiversity on hundreds
of thousands of smallholdings in spite of the Green Revolution . A survey
of 45 sustainable agricultural projects/initiatives spread across 17 African
countries covering some 730 000 households revealed that agro-ecological approaches
substantially improved food production and household food security. In 95
percent of the projects, cereal yields improved by 50 to 100 percent, with
additional positive impacts on natural, social and human capital.
The concept of food sovereignty developed by La Via Campesina and brought to
the public debate during the World Food Summit in 1996 has gained tremendous
popularity and support. It is stated as follows : “Food sovereignty is the
right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate
domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development
objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self-reliant; to
restrict the dumping of products in their market; and to provide local fisheries-based
communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources.
Food Sovereignty does not negate trace, but rather it promotes the formulation
of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to food and
to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production. ”
is opposed to patenting seeds ; it also includes agrarian reform, with
limit on the maximum farm size, equitable local control over resources such
as seeds, land, water and forests. The Food Sovereignty approach is increasingly
taken seriously by other sectors such as organisations representing consumers,
urban poor, indigenous peoples, trade unions, environmentalists and human
rights activists, researchers and other experts. It also forms the basis for
collaboration between the FAO and farmers groups and other civil society actors,
as announced by FAO Secretary General Jacques Diouf at the 2002 World Food
land reform and institutional support in finance and marketing, there is no
doubt that farmers in Africa, India and elsewhere can free themselves from
the cycle of indebtedness, increasing poverty, hunger, malnutrition and ill-health,
especially with zero-input organic farming methods based on indigenous crops
and livestocks  (see Dream Farm
2, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, in Food Futures Now,
ISIS Publication). The really green revolution has started in
Ethiopia a few years ago, when the government adopted organic
agriculture as a national strategy for food security. Crops yields have doubled
and tripled while reversing the damages of the failed Green Revolution 
(see Greening Ethiopia for Self-sufficiency
series, SiS 23).