Sunday, September 13, 2009

SOCIAL JUSTICE & The Green Revolution

An expanded version of my Comment NYTimes #25.
New York City
September 13th, 2009
11:58 am

I am proud that I grew up as a schoolgirl in India knowing who Borlaug was. No, his name did not appear in my grievously irrelevant postcolonial high school curriculum, but in newspapers I read avidly even then.

Borlaug richly deserved his renown. He fed people. I salute Borlaug. He died yesterday in Texas, age 95. Bless him for working untiringly, and without exception, for the Greater Collective Good (GCG).

I quote from your NYTimes article to make 2 related points and assert that both Borlaug and his critics were wrong about the unprecedented Green Revolution ignited throughout the Global South, by him.

Your article states:

"The Green Revolution eventually came under attack from environmental and social critics who said it had created more difficulties than it had solved.

Dr. Borlaug responded that the real problem was not his agricultural techniques, but the runaway population growth that had made them necessary."

My Point #1:
The self-styled "social and environmental critics" were part of the problem. They represented the political class that, at least in India, cynically overturned many of the potential benefits of the Green Revolution,by preventing farmers from leading the GR, instead exploiting these innovative farmers, through middlemen who brokered speculation in grain prices and stockpiling grain instead of feeding the starving. So, blame the pols. and their client middlemen. These pols and middlemen are still causing farmer suicides in many parts of India. Go figure.

My Point #2

Borlaug was a plant geneticist, he was neither a politician nor a political sociologist. Borlaug mistakenly blamed accelerated population growth for the limited success of the Green Revolution. He blamed WE the People, the ordinary beneficiaries of his extraordinary accomplishment. I know I ate better because of Borlaug. Millions did.

Every study conducted in former colonized nation-states, shows that accelerated population growth is mainly the INTERIM (note interim) result of Social Justice indicators -- access to food, water and shelter, better healthcare, ergo freedom from famine, the chance to survive.

If these social goods CONTINUE and become PERMANENT, the rate of population growth will causally go DOWN, not up. Ordinary people are rational maximizers. Species including our own, adapt to survive, If a people's food supply is assured and their social wellbeing is assured, they will have fewer children, not more. It would not make sense to them to threaten their food supply by being prolific at reproduction. This is true from Sweden to Singapore, a fact based on evidence not opinion.

Social Justice impedes runaway population growth.
Hunger (which is a core component of social INjustice) accelerates population growth. So, Borlaug was mistaken (though he saw the big picture on social justice) to blame a faster population growth before and during the GR.

Social Justice redistributive policies, (which are the responsibility of government not the obligation of individuals, that is precisely why we have govts) did NOT accompany the GR, hence populations (especially birth rates) continued to increase. More food through the GR, did not end up feeding timely all the people it was intended for.

Social Injustice breeds accelerates birth rates, which are of importance when studying population growth rates.

Don't Blame Borlaug & His Green Revolution.

Chithra KarunaKaran
Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice

NYTimes copyright
Norman Borlaug, 95, Dies; Led Green Revolution

A Nobel Peace Prize winner, he developed high-yielding crop varieties that helped to avert famines worldwide.
NYtimes copyright
NYTimes copyright
Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

DINNERTIME Sudanese refugees unload bags of food at a camp in neighboring Chad. The refugees had fled the violence in Darfur.

* Recommend
* Twitter
* Send To Phone
* Print
* Reprints
* ShareClose
o Linkedin
o Digg
o Facebook
o Mixx
o MySpace
o Yahoo! Buzz
o Permalink

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: September 19, 2009

This past week the world celebrated the life and achievements of Norman Borlaug, the Iowa-born plant scientist who created high-yielding wheat varieties to stave off famine.
Skip to next paragraph
Norman Borlaug, Plant Scientist Who Fought Famine, Dies at 95 (September 14, 2009)

Dr. Borlaug, who died at age 95 on Sept. 12, led the so-called Green Revolution that created bumper crops in once impoverished countries like Mexico, India and Pakistan. In lauding Dr. Borlaug’s achievements, the United Nations’ World Food Program said he had saved more lives than any man in history.

But the eulogies for Dr. Borlaug often neglected an important and perplexing fact. Despite his accomplishments, more people are hungry today than ever and that total should exceed one billion people this year for the first time, according to the United Nations.

How can so many people be hungry when farmers produce enough food, at least in theory, to feed every person on the planet?

The answers are complex and involve everything from American farm politics and African corruption to war, poverty, climate change and drought, which is now the single most common cause of food shortages on the planet.

But David Beckmann, president of the antihunger group Bread for the World, boiled the causes down into one unifying theme — “a lack of give a damn.”

“It’s mainly neglect,” he said. “Political neglect.”

The yield gains of the last half-century, both in the developed and developing world, led to grain surpluses and low prices, creating a sense of complacency about agriculture and hunger.

“There was an attitude following the Green Revolution that the problem was solved,” said Gary H. Toenniessen of the Rockefeller Foundation.

So much grain was being produced so cheaply that Western leaders encouraged poor nations to buy grain on the world market rather than grow it themselves. Surplus was shipped to poor countries as food aid. But that aid system has often been ineffective in alleviating hunger in a timely way and in addressing broader agriculture problems facing impoverished countries. Support for agricultural research in developing countries was also cut back for other priorities. The result? While the food supply grew faster than the world’s population from 1970 to 1990, as the Green Revolution’s gains took hold, the situation has now reversed itself. Productivity gains in agriculture have slowed, and since 1990, the growth rate of food production has fallen below population growth.

The consequences have been particularly dire in sub-Saharan Africa, where the gains of the Green Revolution have been difficult to replicate. Among other problems, irrigation — which was key to the Green Revolution — is relatively scarce in Africa.

Few paid attention to these problems until last year, when a confluence of events caused food prices to spike to record levels. Riots erupted in many nations, and even American consumers felt pinched as prices soared.

Prices have come down in the United States, but the situation in Africa remains dismal due to an exploding population and now, a severe drought that threatens millions. The World Food Program says it is critically short of funds.

At a July summit meeting, President Obama and other leaders of industrialized nations pledged $20 billion for agricultural development in poor countries.

Activists say that some of the tools for success are within reach provided the financing and political will persist: those tools include seeds fine-tuned to local conditions, fertilizer and better roads and other infrastructure improvements.

The more difficult problems may lie within our borders. Farm programs are among the most entrenched entitlements in Washington. But crop subsidies and America’s habit of shipping grain to the poor tends to undermine robust markets in developing countries.

Dr. Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, understood well the limitations of the Green Revolution’s success. After receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, he noted that the “battle to ensure food security for hundreds of millions of miserably poor people is far from won.”

“World peace will not be built on empty stomachs or human misery,” he said. “It is within America’s technical and financial power to help end this human tragedy and injustice, if we set our hearts and minds to the task.”


Sam said...

Thanks for your comment on the NYTimes, and it's elaboration here. I also commented there on the standard "population explosion" mantra (#26) but your more detailed discussion of the initial surge followed by a decline gives a more thorough explanation.

Alas those who harp on population continue to do so while they consume tens to hundreds more in resources.

Chithra.KarunaKaran said...

Hi Sam,

I read your comment #26 on Gillis' article about Borlaug, and it was pretty explanatory to me!

But as you noted, a bias against the poorest, the hungry and most vulnerable, is apparently more acceptable than the insatiable consumption of our collectively held resources, by the richest, most powerful and most privileged.

I thank you for writing to the NYT and to me.