The Nation just published a piece by David Rieff on ‘the Green Revolution,’ a recurring topic on FS. Over at Insurgent American, I did a little monograph on the same subject in 2007. An excerpt:
The sheer scale of US chemical-industrial agriculture, along with subsidies for the transnationals who came to control that agriculture, gave the US agri-business interests unprecedented pricing power on the world market. The scale could not have worked, however, without the subsidies along with the political muscle the US exercised through the Bretton Woods institutions. The so-called Green Revolution was, in fact, conceived of as a weapon of domination.
It was inaugurated in 1943 through the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo (CIMMYT – International Center to Improve Corn and Wheat), a joint venture between the Mexico and the Rockefeller Foundation (the Standard Oil family, that was manufacturing enormous quantities of fertilizer), and later the Ford Foundation (Ford was building tractors).
Now an excerpt from Rieff’s new piece:
The term “Green Revolution” is now so firmly entrenched in the history and practice of development that it is easy to forget its haphazard origin. It was coined more as what today we would call an exercise in branding than as part of a good faith effort to soberly describe the agricultural transformation that took place first in Mexico and then in Asia—above all in the Philippines and on the Indian subcontinent—between the late 1940s and the late ’60s. The term was the invention of the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), William Gaud, who first used it publicly in a speech…
Last Tuesday night, I attended a local presentation in a “Critical Issues” series at Siena Heights University, a school run by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The topic was food, and there was a very informative presentation to a full house on the problems associated with a long-distance, industrial monocrop food system, as well as a strong critique of Big Ag.
One philosophy professor from nearby Adrian College played devil’s advocate, and asked the question, “Won’t people starve if we abandon industrial food production?”
Here is where some responses began to equivocate. “That’s true,” the response goes, “but we have to do what we can to make it more humane and sustainable.”
Someone did contest that, pointing out that intensive hand-tended polyculture can produce up to 20 times as much food per acre as industrial monocropping.
At any rate, the point here is that this untrue truism, that without industrial monocropping, the world would starve, is a propaganda talking point with a history. The piece by Rieff, and the old IA essay, both cover aspects of that history.
It takes more time than most people think they have to review this history, but it is vitally important, because this particular truism goes a very long way toward reproducing the current and completely insane food system by standing down any clear opposition to industrial ag… because, after all, people would starve.
This is simply not true, though what is equally clear is that to replace that food system will require a great deal of political will alongside a lot of exemplary alternatives and intensive public education on the issue. Part of that public education has to be describing that history, because that’s where the lie was developed.