Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War
John H. Perkins
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During the last 100 years, the worldwide yields of cereal grains, such as wheat and rice, have increased dramatically. Since the 1950s, developments in plant breeding science have been heralded as a "Green Revolution" in modern agriculture. But what factors have enabled and promoted these technical changes? And what are the implications for the future of agriculture? This new book uses a framework of political ecology and environmental history to explore the "Green Revolution's" emergence during the 20th century in the United States, Mexico, India, and Britain. It argues that the national security planning efforts of each nation were the most important forces promoting the development and spread of the "Green Revolution"; when viewed in the larger scheme, this period can be seen as the latest chapter in the long history of wheat use among humans, which dates back to the neolithic revolution. Efforts to reform agriculture and mitigate some of the harsh environmental and social consequences of the "Green Revolution" have generally been insensitive to the deeply embedded nature of high yielding agriculture in human ecology and political affairs. This important insight challenges those involved in agriculture reform to make productivity both sustainable and adequate for a growing human population.
represented the more conservative elements of Congress. Nehru and Patel had their disagreements but managed to work together until Patel's death in 1950 left Nehru as the unrivaled leader of Congress.33 Their tensions, however, reflected the larger tensions within India about the public and private control of wealth. Governing the wealth generated in agriculture in turn affected the productivity of individual farmers, the use of the wealth generated, and the total, national agricultural
comprehensive for all crops and all areas. Instead, it relies on a case study approach: wheat in Mexico, the United States, India, and the United Kingdom. Other crops, especially rice, also would have been interesting and informative, but the yield transformation through plant breeding had some of its first successes in wheat. Similarly, maize could have served as the crop example, but maize has less importance in many areas as a direct human food. In addition, the genetic basis of high-yielding
from plant physiology, biometrics, soil science, plant anatomy, plant pathology, and other disciplines. Mendel's contributions were crucial to the consolidation of what we now call "plant-breeding science." Indeed, it would be impossible to recognize the discipline in its modern form if Mendelian ideas were surgically removed from the tomes that instruct new students in the art and science of plant breeding. However, it is deceptively simplistic to focus too intensively on Mendel's "rediscovery"
cross between two different species.110 Both terminology and the conceptual links between reproductive modes and genetics had changed mightily by 1942, Finally, plant breeding by 1942 had incorporated a full complement of statistical and field-testing techniques that Bailey could not have known and that provided a way of separating heritable variation from that caused by unknown causes or the environment. Plant breeders worked on the detection and manipulation of the heritable variations, while
organization, and (3) natural functions and processes. Since the mid-1960s, an especially large literature has developed, motivated largely by a sense of impending crisis from environmental deterioration. Almost all of these recent studies have related environmental impacts to one or more of the factors: technology, population levels, and consumption levels. Unfortunately, the frameworks developed in this literature were usually inadequate to answer a crucial question: How can and should people