Term Paper: Green Revolution vs. Gmos

Pages: 5 (1538 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Topic: Agriculture  ·  Buy This Paper

Green Revolution vs. GMOs

As the world population grows, humans face new challenges regarding how to feed the population. This problem is not new and industrialized nations led the race to develop crops that were more productive, disease resistant and that have more uses. During the 1960s and 1970s producers began an intensive program to develop crops that met the changing requirements of society. This is referred to as the "green revolution." This revolution was responsible for increases in food production in industrialized nations, but there are limitations as to what can be accomplished through these programs. The following will explore the Green Revolution and its ability to feed the world, as compared to recently developed GMOs.

The green revolution is an outcropping of plant improvement practices that have been around for centuries. Long before humans understood Mendelian Genetics, they selected plants for propagation that had certain desirable characteristics. They artificially bred those that were desirable and did not allow those that were undesirable to reproduce. Therefore, they were able to change the crops that they reproduced by careful selection. The green revolution is an organized extension of this practice that was carried out by individuals for thousands of years.

The first crops grown by selective breeding were from wild stock. These ancient agronomists selected the plant material that would survive to become the basis of today's food supply (FAO). Biodiversity plays an important role in selective breeding programs. The breeder must first obtain a plant that has the desired characteristics before they can begin producing more of the same. During the green revolution, farmers were provided seeds that had the desired characteristics from approved breeding agencies (FAO).

Early Methods

During the green revolution hand pollination and seed saving were the primary mechanisms used to produce plants with desired traits (FAO). Plants were selected that could withstand disease outbreaks and climate changes. Early attempts concentrated on providing plants with excessive water and fertilizer. However, these early attempts produced plants that would grow too quickly and then topple over before they produced (FAO). It then became apparent that hardier varieties were needed that could sustain rapid growth, while remaining strong and able to withstand stresses.

Wheat and rice were the first plants to be mass-produced through breeding programs. During the 1960s a population boom in India threatened to cause mass starvation. These crops were developed in an attempt to ward off impending starvation in economically depressed areas. The production of more productive and disease resistant wheat and rice solved the starvation problem in India (FAO). The government then began providing these improved hybrid strains to other depressed populations in the world including Mexico and Pakistan (FAO).

Grains were the first crops to be produced in mass quantity, followed by potatoes and other staple crops. Russia and the U.S. were the first mass producers to enter the world trade using modified grains. Industrialized nations were able to take advantage of the new crops. The introduction of more productive hybrid strains also meant the need for equipment that could aid in the harvest and production of these crops. Human labor was far too limited to keep up with the production levels that these new breeds required. This limited the ability of less industrialized nations to produce their own food using these methods.

Helping to Curb Starvation

Developing nations lacked the technology needed to take advantage of these new, more productive crops. Therefore, industrialized nations became the major agricultural producers of the world, and third world countries became dependent on them for their food. The technological rift meant that some countries, such as Africa, were not able to take advantage of the technology and faced mass starvation. Supplying food to these countries has become a priority of industrialized nations.

The green revolution and new genetic engineering techniques are necessary in order to feed humans in the future. By 2025 the world population is expected to exceed 8.3 billion people (FAO). More people means fewer spaces to devote to crop production. Humans will need to feed more people with fewer resources available to do so. Norman Borlaug, who won a Nobel Prize in 1970 for launching the green revolution to curb world hunger, claims that without chemical fertilizers, millions would have starved already (Taylor, p. 1).

Limitations of Current Practices

Improving productivity and the ability of plants to produce under changing environmental conditions is needed in order to sustain an increasing global population. Green revolution crops were the early answer to India's starvation problem. Hybrid rice was the key to avoiding disaster in China. However, there are limits to what the green revolution can accomplish. More aggressive production methods will be needed as the population continues to increase (Taylor, p. 1).

Hybridized crops led to technological advances in crop production. As this happened, agriculture moved from small family production to the factory farms of today. On the factory farm machines replace hand labor and chemical fertilizers aid organic fertilizers. Soils are analyzed in laboratories in order to determine what is needed to sustain the new crops that will be grown in them. Modern farms are managed more like a production facility than an agricultural enterprise.

While the green revolution has led to higher levels of food production, it has also had some undesirable effects. The green revolution led to unsustainable practices, such as heavy use of agrochemicals and production methods that depleted the soil (FAO). Monocropping means the necessity of disease and pest control, as a single incident can wipe out an entire segment of the food supply. The system cannot sustain itself without direct human input and influence. Hybrid crops deplete soils more rapidly than a diverse plant mix of slower growing, less productive crops. Organic fertilizers are often insufficient to replace nutrients to the levels needed by these new "supercrops." This had led to criticisms of the products of the green revolution. Environmentalists and agricultural scientists are divided as to whether the new agricultural practices are the answer to a global problem, or whether they will be a boon in the end by destroying the natural balance.

Green Revolution Crops and GMOs.

The green revolution produced crops that were better suited to changing climate conditions and production levels. However, recent advances such as genetic engineering have improved on traditional plant breeding methods. Genetic modification of plant material makes things possible that could not have been accomplished in the past using natural breeding methods. For instance, one can insert the genetic code of one species into the genetic code of another species that could not breed naturally, thus altering the genetics of the plant in such as way that would be impossible in nature.

By finding the genetic code that produces a certain trait, scientists can insert that code into other crops. They no longer need the complete plant in order to alter the disease resistance, or capabilities of the species. Genetic engineering gives scientists the ability to transfer traits between species that would not be able to breed naturally (FAO). GMOs mean that man is no longer limited by the laws of nature in their ability to invent new plant materials. It is expected that both conventional crop improvement and GMOs will be needed in order to supply the world's growing population (FAO).

Conservation will take a coordinated effort in order to meet the needs of humans in the next several decades. Location specificity is an important consideration in the development of new crop research. This is particularly true in the case of Africa, which until now has not been able to take advantage of new production practices (Evenson, p. 1). Coffee producers have begun to explore ways to enhance traditional methods of production, while continuing to take advantage of technology at the same time (Deitsch et al., p. 625b). This spirit cooperation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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