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June 2003: (II)S124S134

An Historical Perspective from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution

W Paul Davies, M.Sc, Ph.D.

Since the 1960s conventional crop breeding has increased food production commesurate with the growing population. For agricultural development to continue, the exploitation of greater genetic diversity and modern biotechnology are becom- ing increasingly important. This article reviews the milestones achieved by the Green Revolution and many of the recent breakthroughs of modern biotechnoiogy.

Key words: crop improvement, genetios, food supply

© 2003 International Life Sciences Institute doi: 10.131 /nr.2003.jun.S124-S134

Advances in agriculture and food production have been supported by many factors during the last 50 years or so, of which the application of modem science and technol- ogy to crop improvement has probably been the most important.^ A great deal has been achieved. Between 1960 and 1990, cereal yields, total cereal production, and total food production in developing countries doubled and, as a result, have kept pace overall with population growth. Daily calorie supply improved by more than 25%, much of which was provided by cereals.

The overlap, and increasing integration, of different scientific approaches to crop improvement is recog- nized.^ Although conventional breeding will continue to make a major contribution,^ the exploitation of greater genetic diversity and modern biotechnology are becom- ing increasingly important to agricultural development. All of this requires continuing and substantial investment in agricultural research to deliver future food needs. This account reviews some key milestones in crop improvement from the 1960s, from the outset of the historic "Green Revolution," to more recent break- throughs in agricultural biotechnology. Significant achievements are placed in the context of food supply, and future challenges and concerns are highlighted.

Professor Davies is with the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, United King- dom, GL7 6JS.

The Green Revolution

William Gaud (of USAID) is said to have coined the term "Green Revolution"^ to describe the breakthrough in food production in Asia resulting from the introduc- tion of new wheat and rice varieties developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico, and the International Rice Re- search Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. Although several traits are associated with the sig- nificant increases in yield potential of green revolution varieties of wheat and rice, the most important factor was plant height reduction achieved through the incorpora- tion of specific genes (rht and dwg) for short stature."^ Improved partitioning of the products of photosynthesis to grain yield gave a higher harvest index (of grain to straw) in these new semi-dwarf varieties.^ The new varieties had 50% grain by contrast to approximately 30% of earher cultivars, and because of their smaller stature were more responsive to nitrogen fertilizer with- out lodging. Yield potential doubled as a result of this most significant architectural change to the morphology of these high-yielding varieties (HYVs). Several other traits were also improved. In rice, the incorporation of genes for photoperiod insensitivity al- lowed planting at any time of the year, regardless of day length. Together with the reductions in growth duration, this allowed cropping intensity to be increased to two or three crops a year. Traditional rice varieties took 150 to 180 days to mature and the new varieties initially took 130 days (IR8) and some later-developed types (e.g., IR 72) took 100 days. New varieties of wheat were also selected for wider adaptability to growing conditions and insensitivity, in particular, to changes in day length and date of planting.*^ Photo-insensitive wheat genotypes were selected uncon- sciously initially in the "shuttle" breeding program adopted by CIMMYT, but this trait has since been incorporated more specifically in new varieties.^ Yield stability was also subsequently improved through the incorporation of genes for greater pest and disease resistance, in particular, to races of stem, leaf, and stripe rust in wheat, and to blast, bacterial blight.

tiiDgro virus, grassy stunt vims, and green and brown plant hoppers in rice. Greater adaptability and yield stability in poorer growing conditions has also been provided by breeding successes for some abiotic stresses, such as salinity, alkalinity, and iron and boron toxicities in rice soils. Particular success was achieved with the breeding of tolerant wheat varieties for acid soil conditions with high aluminum content in a joint breeding program between CMMYT and the Brazilian national research organiza- tion (EMBRAPA). These tolerant wheat varieties are now grown extensively in the aluminum-toxic cerrado soils of Brazil. New varieties of rice with greater toler- ance of low temperature and salinity were released in 1995 by IRRL'' The higher yield responses of the HYVs can prob- ably be best described as a "revolution," a sudden and dramatic change, in areas of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, where irrigation provision strongly supported the intro- duction of the higher-yielding Mexican wheat varieties.* Although extremely important, the issues of crop yield potential, yield stability, and crop adaptability alone are insuflicient from a consumer perspective. Par- ticular attention is also being given to grain quality improveiiieiit, SeiectioB for cooking qualities and taste in rice, and milling and baking properties in wheat, feature strongly in more recent new variety selection. Fischer and Cordova^ describe different phases of green revoiution rice technology development as fol- lows:

Phase t Tn& Gmen Revolution—Improved Seed and ^Increased input Use




IRS aad the beginning of high-yielding varieties


Investment in irrigation

® Policies to support inputs of nutrients and pesticides


Seed multiplicatioo infrastructures and seed distribu-


tion by extension systems Training of rice scientists

Rice genetic resources collected and conserved

Phase II: The Green Rewolution—Increasing Input Use Intensity


e Shorter duration, photoperiod-insensitive rice culti- vars B Protecting yield gains from pests e Increased mechanization for land preparation and threshing » Introduction of the farming systems methodologj' «> International sharing and testing of rice germplasm The Green Revolution era took off in the late 1960s with the dissemination and wider adoption of new HYVs in Phase 17 Earlier maturing varieties encouraged double

Nutrition Reviews'^, VoL 61, No. 6

and/or triple crop rice systems to be developed in Phase II, leading to much greater intensification. This opportu- nity was particularly exploited in parts of Asia, with year round water supply capable of supporting the much higher production, on an estimated 15 million hectares of irrigated land.*

Evenson' refers specifically to the "Green Revolu- tion" era of 1962-1982. Fischer and Cordova' talk of a post-Green Revolution after 1992, witfci the further de- velopment of new types of rice plant. Others believe it is continuing, in many ways, and overlaps with the most recent phases of crop improvement."^

Impacts of the Green Revolution

Gradual replacement of traditional varieties of rice and wheat, by new "Green Revolution" types and supporting inputs, had a dramatic effect on cereal production. World wheat production increased from 308 million tons in 1966 to 541 tnillion tons in 1990, whereas total rice production doubled over the same period from 257 million tons to 520 million tons. Although the rice area harvested has only increased marginally (by 17%) since 1966, the average rice yield has increased substantially (by 71%). The impact of Green Revolution variety adop- tion has been particularly dramatic^ in some countries (Table 1). The increase in per capita aviiilability of rice and wheat, and the decline in the costs of production per ton of output, contributed to a decline in the price, which was of particular benefit to the urban poor and rural landless people. Many argued that the small farmers, who are net consumers of grain, also benefited considerably from the decline in real grain price.'^ The actual benefits, or otherwise, of Green Revolu- tion technologies to poverty alleviation and the well being of the poor, have been much debated. Early adopt- ers of the new HYVs, and initial beneficiaries, were mainly the larger land-owning famaers. The same tech- nologies soon reached small farmers, however, and re- cent studies have revealed a more scale-neutral diffu- sion.' One of the biggest benefits has remained, however.

Table 1. Improvements in Rice Productivity in Parts of Asia between 1966 and 1996

Area of Higher-Yielding Varieties Adoption (%)

Increase in

Production (%)



















Adapted from reference 4.


and that is the greater availability of more abundant grain as a result of the decline in real costs to the poor. Osmani^° concludes that "the Green Revolution has been a friend of the poor" as a result of enhanced entitlement. The higher crop productivities generated additional employment, not only employment opportunities in farming and associated agricultural activities, but also in trade, transport, and construction. The higher farm in- comes stimulated economies more generally. Khush'* has attributed the later economic development miracle in Asia to this period of substantial agricultural growth and to the higher, and more equitable, income distribution. Higher cereal yields per unit area, from the wide- spread adoption of the HYVs on the most productive land, have reduced potential pressures considerably for farming in more fragile and marginal areas. At 1961 yield levels, experts estimate that triple the land in China and double the land in India would have been needed to equal grain production levels in 1992 in these countries. A reduction in the number and diversity of more traditional varieties and the intensification of production systems growing HYVs, significantly increased pest and disease problems, requiring more frequent prophylactic treatments of insecticides and fungicides to protect crops of the early cultivars. As a result, some accuse the Green Revolution of ushering in an era of "chemical farming" to parts of the developing world. More recently, how- ever, the higher levels of multiple resistance bred into newer varieties has reduced the need for frequent pesti- cide applications, which has since stimulated integrated pest management strategies. One might argue, therefore, that the Green Revolu- tion has helped to conserve environmentally sensitive regions by focusing intensive agriculture on the more productive land.'

Exploiting Hybrids

Hybrids, the first generation progeny of genetically dis- tinct and different parents, exhibit increased vigor and yield through heterosis. Hybrids are most commonly exploited among outcrossing commercial crops. In the United States, the relatively static yields of maize between about 1860 and 1930 were improved dramatically with the development of double-cross hy- brids. The yields of maize were further boosted (by 15% on average) in the 1960s with the adoption of new single-cross hybrids.''^ Similar benefits have been derived in sorghum hybrids. Hybrid rice, grown in China since 1976, can have a yield advantage of 15 to 20% over conventionally bred HYVs. Tropical rice hybrids, based on indica line crosses, have shown significant yield increases of over 20% compared with conventional HYVs. The first re- lease of new rice hybrids from IRRI for the tropics was

in 1994. The degree of heterosis is currently being enhanced in IRRI programs by using indica X tropical japonica rice hybrids. Elite hybrids developed by cytoplasmic sterility and fertility restoration systems have been released for com- mercial use in India, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This initiative has focused on high-potential irrigated rice systems with a high labor-to-land ratio, and requires a well established supporting seed industry. The seed is relatively expensive, and not commonly available (with- out appropriate support) to resource poor farmers. Gene pools of rice and wheat are being widened through the hybridization of crop cultivars with wild species and crosses between diverse germplasm groups. Many improved traits can be exploited from these wider gene pools. Rajaram and Braun^ reported improved ge- netic resistance to a number of major diseases, together with both yield and grain quality advances, from bread and durum wheat crosses with Triticum tauschii and Triticum dicoccoides.

Modern Biotechnology

Few issues have excited so many hopes and fears in recent years as new developments in biotechnology. In particular, concerns about the applications of modern biotechnology to agriculture and food production and its potential environmental impact. The continuing debate, for or against these new technologies, is often heated and highly polarized." Release of new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or so-called "genetically improved" products,'^ into the environment and their use in food production has generated a range of public concerns and intense media interest." It has provoked, on occasion, an extreme reaction from advocacy groups. Curiously, per- haps, the longer established use of new biotechnologies in industry, and pharmaceutical production in particular, has not attracted the same concerns as exploitation in the agri-food sector.'^ Several reasons have been put for- ward to explain such differences in perception of the U.K. public to GM food and environmental issues.'^

Most biotechnology-based businesses have devel- oped in North America, Japan, and Europe, and most GM products on the market currently are for sale in industrialized countries. Much of these modem biotech- nology developments have been pioneered by private companies, and to recover large research investment the sales have understandably focused on developed mar- kets.'* Wealthier farmers with appropriate purchasing power and commercial seed buying habits in temperate countries particularly have mainly been targeted." Arguably, the needs of the United States and Europe are very different from those of poorer developing coun- tries,^* and current biotechnology concems may be largely irrelevant to poor peoples' problems. ^^ Some say

that much more emphasis should be given to life and death coacems of the world's hungry than to the well-fed regarding the GM question.^" The question then becomes more an issue of social justice, of "to each according to need." As stated, the Green Revolution greatly reduced hunger in many developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s and benefited the poor substantially through lower food prices and increased rural employment.' These crop varieties were developed in public research institutions, however, and the new seeds are given away to farmers or sold at subsidized prices by government corporations.'^ As a result, new varieties were rapidly and widely adopted. Comparisons are sometimes made between the Green Revolution and GM crop potential,^' but there are significant differences. Do we,know what the so-called gene revolution can do for the developing world? Will transgenic crops help to feed the ^Third World as promised by some develop- ers? Or is this argument perhaps, as some claim, "emo- tional blackmail" to justify GM development? It might even be argoed that many poor tropical countries, with high depensicBcy on agriculture and food production, have a much greater need for GM products than devel- oped countries who currently dominate adoption. The potential contributions of transgenic crops to poverty reduction and food security are not yet well under- stood.^' Biotechnology is by nature complex, consisting of many differeot technologies. As a result it can be defined in a number of ways, which must be distinguished and clearly understood. Jones^^ describes it simply as "the application of biological knowledge for a useful end." Regarded in this way, biotechnology has clearly developed over time and continues to evolve as new processes are discovered. Early biotechnology, which exploited whole organisms, could include agricultural developments based on plant and animal breeding and selection, and processes such as bread making and fer- meotatiori for making wine. Biotechnology later devel- oped at the, cellular level, allowing techniques such as tissue culture and artificial insemination. More recently

biotechnology has focused on the miolecular level, allow- ing the characterization and isolation of individual genes, including possible gene movement on occasion, across species barriers. Modem biotechnology embraces both cellular and molecular dimensions. According to Persley and Pea- cock^^ it includes recombinant DMA (deoxyribonucleic acid) technology, monoclonal antibody production, and cell-tissue culture. These technologies support genetic engineering, which can facilitate tlie tramsfer of genetic material and its subsequent expression in a recipient cell to produce genetically modified transgenic organisms. Jones^^' envisages a continuum of technologies within modem biotechnology, existitng as a gradient from "lower-tech" processes from biologic nitrogen fixation to tissue culture, to the "higher-tech" recombinant DNA techniques for diagnostics and genetic engineering. He sees it as a scale that will embrace new techniques as they are discovered. This type of concept is helpful in considering modern biotechnology adoption in develop- ing countries, which often differ in their acceptance of low-tech and high-tech advances. These terms must be specified as miuch as possible. Reference to biotechnology and GM products generi- cally in the literature and elsewhere is sometimes con- fusing, and often misleading. It is important to specify the technologies being exploited and resultant products. Appropriate choice of words and the significance of correct vocabulary in GM exchanges is also stressed by Malcolm."

Transgenic Crop Adoption

Of the 44.2 million hectares of transgenic crops being grown globally in 2000 (60 million hectares now re- ported in 2002), the International Service for the Acqui- sition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) estimates that 10.7 million hectares of GM crops are being pro- duced in the developing world.^ This represents approx- imately 25% of the current GM area, most of which is in Argentina. Smaller areas are grown in China, Mexico, South Africa, and Uruguay (Table 2). These figures are

Table 2. Transgenic Crop Production in Developing Countries






Of Global (GM)


Of Global (GM)




Production (%)


Production (%)




















South Africa














Adapted from reference 24.


Of Global (GM) ]t*roduction (%)







Table 3. Transgenic Crop Adoption (millions of hectares) Globally and Uptake in Developing Gountries


Global Area

Number of Countries


Developing Countries



Growing Transgenic Crops

World (m/ha)

Growing Transgenic Crops






























•Excludes the area in China. Adapted from 24.

rounded off to the nearest 100,000 hectares^"^ and do not include certain other countries where more limited acre- ages of transgenic crops have recently been grown, such as Brazil and Paraguay. There has been a very rapid uptake of transgenic cropping (Table 3). Between 1999 and 2000 the area committed to transgenic crops increased by approxi- mately 7% in developing countries (Table 3), which is a substantially higher rate of increase than in industrial countries in which the rate of adoption may be beginning to plateau.^"^ Traits being exploited commercially currently relate mainly to crop protection and product senescence (Table 4). Many other new characters and combinations of traits are, however, also being field tested.^^ Although the private sector accounts for approxi- mately 80% of the GM research and development invest- ment globally, much of these activities in developing countries are being funded by national governments and bilateral and multilateral development agencies. ^^ The total amount of research and development in the Third World, however, is understandably much less than in industrialized countries.

Potential Benefits

Although it is still early for commercial exploitation, several novel genes have been incorporated into plants that can specifically improve crop tolerance to stresses such as drought, heavy metals, and various pest and disease challenges. Plants of much greater nutritional value, of medicinal potential, and longer post-harvest storage life have also been produced. These transforma-

Table 4. GM Traits Currently Being Exploited Commercially in Developing Countries*


Soybean, oilseed rape, cotton, and maize Cotton and maize Tomato

Transgenic Trait

Herbicide resistance

Insect resistance Delayed fruit ripening

*Argentina, China, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay. Adapted from references 24 and 25.


tions (Table 5) and others could make an enormous difference to the health, welfare, and hvelihood of mil- lions of people in developing countries.^" One of the most exciting recent developments is a new transgenic rice to combat vitamin A deficiency. "Golden rice" contains three novel transgenes that en- hance the presence of j8-carotene, which is converted upon consumption into vitamin A. More than a million children weakened by vitamin A deficiency die every year in poor countries, and at least 300,000 more go blind.^^ Very many more also probably suffer, although less severely, from inadequate vitamin A.''^

A large number of patents cover techniques used to develop "golden rice," which may delay further devel- opment and exploitation. Some of these patents have been licensed recently for no charge by Monsanto to encourage more rapid research development. Other pat- ents, however, still prevail. With rice being the staple food crop of more than half the global population and much of the developing world, it is clearly of major importance. If this new rice could be distributed free to resource-poor farmers, it might have an enormous im- pact.

Similar benefits could derive from transgenic rice with enhanced iron levels if the iron is found to be bioavailable. Cereal grain diets are mostly deficient in iron, which results in more than 400 milhon women who chronically suffer from anemia. In Asia and Africa, more than 20% of maternal deaths after childbirth are attrib- uted to anemia.^'' Very many more are thought to suffer in various ways from iron deficiency.^^ Successful adoption will clearly be infiuenced by the available amounts of desired vitamins and minerals in transformed rice, in relation to required consumption. Other sources, such as improved sweet potato or fruit, might be preferred in some regions. Tripp^^ also cautions against "golden rice" being regarded as a "low-status poor man's crop," which might discourage future con- sumption. Leung^^ has highhghted several key targets for the transformation of rice, which is being studied at the International Rice Research Institute, and recently em- phasized the value of functional genomics for future

Nutrition Reviews*, Vol. 61, No. 6

Table 5. GM iechnoiogy Initiatives that Could Benefit Developing Countries

Improvement Objective

Higher yields

Better crop quality and food nutrition

Abiotic stress tolerance

Greater pest resistance

Better disease resistance and tolerance

Lower eovironmental impact of production systems (various approaches)

Phamiaceaticals and vaccines from transgenic crops

Delayed ripening and less post-harvest losses

*Adapted from references 26, 27, 28, and 29.

Transformation Goals and Transgenic Examples

From greater exploitation of dwarf genes Increased production of j8-carotene and higher iron in transgenic rice More nutritious oils, starches and amino acids Better digestibility for animals" Salinity tolerance in transgenic maize Higher tolerance of aluminum in acid soils Greater tolerance of manganese Better di'ought tolerance Use of insect resistance genes, such as the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene Rice yellow mottle virus Papaya ringspot vims Cassava mosaic virus Maize streak vims Higher genetic resistance reducing pesticide need Improved root growth from disease resistance to give better water and fertilizer exploitation Cheaper production and easier access to various beneficial edible medicines (e.g., in bananas and cereal grains) Genes for delaying senescence in fruit and vegetables (e.g., in chili pepper and melon)

improvenient programs. Objectives include much greater tolerance of salinity, drought, and submergence. Specific targets for higher disease resistance include bacterial blight, lice blast, sheath bhght, and tungro virus. Better photosyiithetic efficiency and improved grain qualities, particularly starch deposition, were also stressed. For Central and South America, new GM rice lines with greater resistance to the Hoja Blanca vims seem to have considerable potential. The practical benefits of "lower-tech" biotechnolo- gy.^* with significant potential impact on rural income, has been emphasized in Kenya by tissue culture pro- grams for b-anaoa improvement.^"* To v'hat extent and how quickly new industrial crops and potentially more nutritious GM crops can be exploited in aeveioping cooctries still remains to be seen. Ma^^ recenrly described new GM crops for the produc- tion of "accine proteirs such as immunoglobulins. The creation of soybeans with high sucrose content, im- proved amino acid composition, aod oleic acid has been outlined by Ma/ur,"''' together with efforts to produce improved GM maize gi'ain with more available phos- phorus. Current work in sub-Saharan Africa on genes gov- erning the ''anthesis to silking" phase of maize growth, which IS particularly sensitive to drought, could be of coiisiderable benefits for future crop production in drier conditions.

Growing GM Requirements

Modem biotechnology could continue to offer substan- tial potential benefits to the poor and developing world. Considerable progress with the sequencing of genes of major food plants, and the creation of genomic databases for staple crops such as dee, wheat, and maize should revolutionize agricultural development. Scientists hope that GM technologies can become increasingly available to developing countries where the need is arguably great- est. Constraints on intellectual property and differences in convetitions relating to patent rights need to be clari- fied and resolved,^^' to allow farmers in the developing world to save GM seed for future use.

Publicly funded research for ithe Third World de- serves greater support and there is an increasing need for effective cooperation between industriailized and devel- oping countries. Active public-private partnerships need to be encouraged. Tripp^' argues that private industry could contribute more to poverty reduction. Encouragement of local gene banks and the local private sector for crop biotechnology has also been proposed, as has increasing investment in developing expertise through education. Greater consideration clearly must be given, on a case-by-case basis, to bio-safety and environmental im- pact issues for appropriate GM crop adoption. These transgenic crops also require, in due course, to be suc-

cessfully grown in appropriately adapted farming sys- tems. All of which will demand supporting farmer train- ing and effective extension.

Food Supply

Poor people in developing countries face several critical challenges, the most demanding of which include alle- viation of poverty, better food security, improved nutri- tion, and opportunities for exploiting new technologies for more environmentally sustainable development.^' Presently, more than 1 in 4 people worldwide live in extreme poverty.^''^^ Quoting World Bank figures for 1999, Pinstrup-Andersen and Cohen*^ stated that about 1.2 bilhon people live in a state of absolute poverty equivalent to $1 (USD) a day or less. Most of this poverty is rural and, despite considerable urban drift, will probably remain so for some time.^' Estimates predict that more than 70% of food-insecure people reside in rural areas.'^ Many of these poor people are caught in what Dasgupta^^ calls the "poverty trap," and most obtain their livelihoods directly or indirectly from agri- culture. Many fanners in developing countries are small in scale, resource-poor, and often focused on subsistence production. These farmers face a multitude of problems, some of which are familiar to fanners throughout the world, and some of which are more severe. Growing conditions may be more extreme from stresses such as drought, water logging, salinity, acidity, low fertility, or poorly structured and degraded soils, not to mention pest, disease, and weed pressures in crops, and post-harvest deterioration. Lack of access to credit, poorly function- ing markets, poor infrastructure, expensive inputs, lack of technical assistance, and limited government support are amongst the many challenges experienced daily in the Third World.^' Approximately 820 million people are currently re- ported to be food insecure. About 15 to 20% of the world's population lacks access to sufficient food to lead a healthy and productive life, and 160 million preschool children suffer from malnutrition and are underweight, which results in the death of more than 5 million children under the age of five each year.^^ About 20% of the world's poor population suffer from food insecurity.^^ In the mid-1990s roughly 60% of the undernourished were in Asia and approximately 25% lived in sub-Saharan Africa.^' Many people in the developing world also suffer from vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies. Up to 2 billion people and more than half of pregnant women in poor countries are said to suffer from anemia owing to iron deficiency, and up to 1.6 billion may have a vitamin A and iodine deficiency problem.^' Of the vitamin A-


deficient population, approximately 125 million are es- timated to be preschool children.^^ These problems of food security and malnutrition continue in the developing world in spite reportedly sufficient food supply to feed everyone.* A continuing "paradox of plenty" and a very mixed global food situ- ation creates a mismatch of supply and demand despite decHning global food prices in recent years.^'''*°'*' Based on the UN median estimate, the population is predicted to grow from the current 6 billion to approxi- mately 8 billion people by 2020.^^ An increase of about 80 million people, and mouths, to feed per year. Nearly all of this population growth will take place in the developing world, mainly in Asia and Africa. The pop- ulation of sub-Saharan Africa alone will probably more than double.^' Until 2025, the bulk of the world's food demand will come from the engine of demographic growth.^^ It win be further increased by continuing growth in annual income and changing diets, in particu- lar, the increasing demand for meat products.'*" Tim Dyson^^ is optimistic that a world of 8 billion inhabitants can be fed in 2025 if a global cereal harvest of 3 billion tons can be obtained. Such a situation will require both substantial yield increases and further ex- pansion of the cultivated area. Without significant policy changes and substantial increases in international trade, there could be a continu- ing "feast and famine" scenario. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Far East, and possibly the Middle East could be particularly challenged for future food supply.^^ Estimates predict that although overall food supply may improve, approximately 135 million children may still be seriously malnourished globally in 2020."*° Although most of us in the United States, Western Europe, and elsewhere will continue to enjoy an affluent life style, large numbers of people globally will remain hungry, and women, children, and the elderly in developing countries will be particularly vulnerable in the years

The task of doubhng the world's food production during the next 30 or 40 years^' will put enormous additional pressures on the global agricultural system. Economists and demographic modelers may be per- suaded, on the basis of past trends, that the overall global food needs can be met*''*""'*' but ecologists can be more skeptical.^^ Ecologic constraints, such as increasing wa- ter scarcity and land degradation, are not taken suffi- ciently seriously in many forecasts, according to Das-

Inevitably as population pressures increase, particu- larly urban populations, good arable land will continue to be lost to urban development, industrial activity, and new roads. Most of this lost land cannot be replaced. Some new lands could be made available for cultivation in

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South America and Africa, perhaps, but much of it may be fragile, easily degraded, and of low fertility.^^ It raises the question "to what extent can biotechnology develop- ments help provide solutions for more marginal and stressed farming eavironments?" Another critical chal- lenge is the extent to which the remaining global arable resources can be more intensively farmed io the future, aud how GM technologies might best contribute. There is clearly also a need for more environmentally sensitive agricultural development. ^'^° Transgenic cropping will, therefore, need to play key roles in more sustainable fanning.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are likely to remain the most troubled poor regions for future food supply (Tables 6 and 7) owing, in particular, to the coDtinuing high rates of population growth.®'^^ Although some concerns have been expressed about China'*^ and its future capacity to produce sufficient food, experts believe China will mostly feed itself for the foreseeable future given continuing political stability.* Greater ef- forts to limit environmental stresses in China and degra- dation of the agricultural resource base, however, will be essential,"'"'

China and neighboring countries in East Asia, to- gether with South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, will account for much of the global population growth up to 2020 (Table 6) and increased food needs (Table 7). The remaining demands will come from Latin America and the Middle East (Table 8). Both of which (for different reasons) seem more able through increased production potential and affordable imports to meet predicted food demands in 2020.®

The extent of these population increases in develop- ing regions (Table 6) is made more stark in comparison with some other countries, such as the United Kingdom where population increase by 2020 could be only 6%.^ The significance of food availability figures in the developing world (Table 8) is made more dramatic by contrasting the intake of developed countries, which

were on average 3350 kcals • person

day^' in 1990

and a predicted 3530 kcals • person^' • day^' in

Table .8. Estimated Population Changes in

Developing fleg

ions, 1990-2( )20 Population


Developing Regions




Sob-Saharan Africa




South Asia (including India)




Far East Asia (including China)




Latin America (and Caribbean)




Middle East (West Asia and North Africa)




Adapted from reference 8.

Nutrition Reviews'^, Vol.

61, No. 6

Table 7. Projected Consumptjon of Cereals in Developing Regions, 1990-2020

Cereal Consumption/Person (kg)

Developing Regions


  • 2020 % Change

Sub-Saharan Africa South Asia (including

  • 150 150


India) Far East Asia (including

  • 237 267


China) Latin America (and

  • 338 421



  • 265 308


Middle East (West Asia and North Africa)

  • 386 427


Adapted from reference 8.

Looking Ahead

Four decades have passed since the stajrt of the Green Revolution and much has been achieved. Contrary to many dire and frightening predictions, food production has more than kept pace overall with global population growth. Towards the end of the twentieth century food supplies were approximately 25% higher per person than in i961, and real food prices were 40% lower.''^ The original Green Revolution, however, is considered un- finished.'*^

These gains are diminishing in many countries in the developing world as a result of substantial population growth, inadequate poverty alleviation, and poor socio- economic circumstances. Although birth rates have fallen more than expected in some parts of the develop- ing world, the annual increment remains substantial. In less than 20 years, with more than 80 million people being born each year, there could be 2 billion more people to feed and the number of poor and hungry will continue to grow.

In addition, there have been some parts of the world where Green Revolution technologies could not be adopted. Sub-Saharan Africa and inaccessible upland

Table 8. Food Availability per Hesad F-orecast by the^jMPACT Model for Developing Regions






Developing Country or Region



Sub-Saharan Africa









West Asia and North Africa



Latin America (and Caribbean)



*Baseline scenario based on previous year's change. Adapted from reference 32.


areas in Asia and South America have considerable needs that are still growing. The Green Revolution is unlikely to reach these needy regions unless significant investments are made in infrastructure, market support, and input supply.''^ Support and funding for agricultural research has never been more important. Overall, however, this sup- port is declining and publicly funded programs have suffered in particular. International research cooperation, which was the hallmark of the Green Revolution, needs particular attention and renewed commitment. A new emphasis must be given to access to, and the sharing of, international germplasm. This is more difficult to achieve because intellectual property and patent rights are in- creasingly used to protect substantial investments in genetic improvement programs in the private sector. Circumstances are different from the early 1950s and later, when unrestricted international germplasm ex- change considerably benefited breeding advances.^^ Agreements need to be reached with the private sector to allow more new genetic materials to be exploited for public good in the developing world. Greater benefits will accrue through appropriate private-public partner- ships, which need to be developed. Access to interna- tional gene banks and the results of international testing programs can provide considerable benefits to both the private sector and public research programs as in the Green Revolution, and continuing efforts are going to be required in the future to share new products and pro- cesses. This is particularly important with much of the expensive biotechnology investment being made in the private sector."*^

A lot has been learned during the last 50 years that will benefit future development. Beyond the actual ge- netic improvement of Green Revolution varieties of wheat and rice, it also becomes clear that a package of "input provision, technology-transfer, and policy" sup- port was required to maximize productivity. Breeding advances alone were insufficient without better agron- omy, supporting crop management, and conducive agri- cultural policies to provide input subsidies and price protection. Whether conventional breeding or biotech- nology research produces new varieties, the development of appropriate crop management support will remain critical. Some experts argue that future growing systems will need to become much more information and knowledge intensive to improve input use efficiency. Better strate- gies for integrated nutrient management, integrated pest management, and the utilization of water and soil re- sources have been advocated.^ Although the new genet- ics will continue to be provided simply in seed, total factor productivity in the growing system will become increasingly important.^' The reduction of growing costs

per unit of output will be critical, not only to profitability but also to future sustainability. The environment of maximizing productivity on the farm, within which green revolution technologies thrived, is rapidly changing. The model of a "closed and self-sufficient food economy" is being replaced by one of "self-reliance" and exploiting more comparative advan- tage. Such a system emphasizes the current liberaHzation of world trade and lower food prices against a back- ground of rising input costs. Improved crop varieties, whether derived in the future by conventional breeding or genetic transformation, must be regarded as future prospects only if they can deliver a lower unit cost production system. Benign government policies of re- stricting trade and subsidizing inputs, which prevailed during green revolution times, are much less likely to prevail in the future. At the same time, new crop prospects must deliver more environmentally acceptable cropping systems with less prospect of deleterious impact on natural resourc- es."^* Assuming that appropriate seed costs and dissemi- nation issues can be satisfactorily addressed, the future exploitation of, for example, Bt transformed crop variet- ies could meet such a need. In this case, by reducing pesticide use by the small farmer and therefore providing much more desirable farming systems. To achieve these ends, desirable transgenic crop prospects will probably need to reach the smaller farmer more quickly than by "diffusion dynamics from the rich man's table."^^ The Green Revolution was successful for a variety of reasons, including the quality of science and technol- ogy leadership.^ It included the establishment of support- ive institutional frameworks and encouraging govern- ment policies. There was, as a result, a close relationship between key scientists, policy makers, extension ser- vices, and farmers. This philosophy and approach thank- fully continues in CIMMYT and IRRI today. Conway^ considers future goals to be more complex. He states that it is more than producing new HYVs (important though that is) or the design of packages of inputs. The high-potential Green Revolution lands are not, he stresses, now the only targets for innovative research. He considers important the goals of sustainabil- ity, stability, and equity. Future goals have to include greater employment and income generation opportunities so that more of the poor can have access to the food they require. At the time of writing this paper I am in An Giang Province, in the Mekong Delta area of Vietnam, one of the most productive agricultural regions in Southeast Asia. Double cropping of rice is practiced and some of the highest yields in Asia are obtained, but there is still considerable poverty and deprivation in the farming community. There are many reasons why, including the

smallholding size, but basically rice alone remains a poor man's crop in these farming systems. For this reason, greater emphasis is cuixently being given to diversifica- tion into fruits, vegetables, baby corn, soybean, and cotton in the Mekong Delta. Future sustainable crop improvements must, therefore, maximize farmers' in- comes as well as minimize environmental costs.

Last but by no means least, mention must be made of public fears of so-called genetic foods, which have been fuelled in recent years by food safety concerns and vociferous pressure groups,'^ An anti-science culture seems almost to be developing io some quarters, which requires, if it is to be more successfully countered, a more proacti^'e and illuminating public education pro- gram. An exccHsion initiative that will likely require funding from both public and private sources.

Many consumers have yet to be persuaded of the benefits of modern agricultural biotechnology and ge- netic engineering. It is argued by some that most of the recent advances seera only to, have benefited multina- tional life science companies and large-scale farmers in industrial countries. However, the more exciting pros- pects of nutritionally modified foods and/or vaccine delivery in transformed foods should help to further sway public opinion.^^ The substantial and positive con- tributions of bioteclinology to the pharmaceutical indus- try need much greater publicity in this respect.

Evenson''' believes that wide-reaching prograrns and tissue culture technologies will contribute increasingly to crop improvement up to 2010, with the exhaustion of conventional breeding gains. Modern, biotechnology (through bat Tiarlcet-aided selection and transgenic plant deve opi"!ieiit) must, he says, play an increasing role and couio prcvide ^lajor contributions after 2010. Bor- laug and Dov swel'^^ argue that the world has the tech- nology ava la 'e o, in the advanced stages of develop- ment, to feed = futi'ie population of 10 billion people on a sustaiicDie bas'b They questioa remaics, however, whether tht- i,oiki's farmers will be permitted open access to '"le "••^w echnologies needed to meet pressing future recure \ienU

It rru-., b' ecogniixd that issues of equitable distri- bution, net e acci,-s, and appropriate utilization will need to be e'"<'ecti\ely addressed in addition to food supply. A'aapLs corrently there is no shortage of food, the coexistence 0"f least and famine remains in the wori.d today.

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