The father of the “green revolution”, Norman Borlaug, has died.

Some of use are old enough to remember when famines in Asia were common, and when the “Population bomb” types were predicting mass starvation of millions of poor people.

The famines didn’t happen, because Borlaug, and other agricultural scientists, developed high yield wheat and grains, along with varieties that were resistant to insects and pests.

Borlaug’s new crops met with a lot of resistance in some countries,from those who resisted outside crops due to nationalism to complaints that the seeds would carry pests or poisons. But farmers are pragmatists, so when they saw “test fields” with huge harvests, they quickly learned new techniques needed to raise the high yield crops.

And then the “back to nature” types, who never suffered a day of hunger in their lives, started criticizing the miracle. I remember complaints back then that the seed required fertilizer and special ways to plant and handle it that were too complicated for the farmers, so they thought that farmers should stick with the old fashioned seeds (the implication is that non Caucasian farmers were too dumb to learn new tricks). And imagine using fertilizer to keep fields productive, or killing off insects instead of letting them eat half your crops.

Presumably the good old days of medieval “three field” rotation methods, and periodic famines from locusts are more natural.

A UKTimes article points out,

  In 1972 use of the pesticide DDT was banned in America, a decade after Rachel Carson’s chilling Silent Spring was published, and opinion began to turn against the indiscriminate use of chemical pathogens and fertilisers which had been the engine of the Green Revolution. Economists and biologists argued that monoculture made poor populations serfs to corporate landowners and doomed them if their staple crop was destroyed by disease…. In any case the result was that Africa was left with centuries-old crop strains until the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85.

Yes, famine in Africa is often due to war or bad governments.

For example, Zimbabwe was once an exporter of corn (maize). But thanks to Robert Mugabe, there has been hunger in that land for the last ten years.

Not only did the Marxist ideology of Robert Mugabe decimate the white farms in the name of land reform, but a lot of the land was given to political cronies who didn’t know how to farm, or to local farmers who were then left without any help to be able to actually farm the land.

This is in contrast to the Philippines, where the government works with small farmers to provide loans for high yield rice, fertilizer and pesticides,  and to buy handplows and other devices to till more efficiently.

But of course now the “green” revolution is doing their best to destroy the “green revolution”. Back in 1970, the complaints were about pesticides and fertilizer, but now the complaints are about “Frankenfoods”.

Using modern gene manipulation techniques, scientists can now develop  disease and saline resistant crops by genetic engineering instead of slower cross breeding.

Oh, the horrors.

But no one is making an outcry about Humulin (insulin produced by E.Coli, which has been around since 1978) or other drugs produced by genetic manipulation that have been around for twenty years, so why the big fuss? So why protest that scientists have developed a “golden rice” that has high Vitamin A content to help prevent blindness, or the corn to prevent diarrhea in animals and humans?

Our family grows organic rice, but use high yield hybrid seeds.

But as I have said in other essays, this is not an “all or nothing” choice between “pure” crops and frankenfoods. The real choice for poor people is between less than perfect food, and starvation.

There is no reason that high yield hybrid crops can’t be grown to feed people (you need a surplus to feed those living in cities, for example). This is where the “green revolution” and genetically modified crops come in, because of their high yield.

On the other hand, I agree that there is a need for genetic crop diversity. So maybe instead of flying around and bribing politicians against using “franken foods”, these activists can use their money to fund small farmers to farm and keep alive their local strains.

As for “organic” crops, great. They cost more, but there is a big market selling them to the growing middle class who are health conscious. But if you make only P300 a day ($6) you just can’t afford to eat the higher priced rice and vegetables. That’s why the Philippines imports cheaper rice from Viet Nam and subsidizes the price of staples for the poor.

As a physician who has seen children die of malnutrition, I get angry when “NGO’s” put green theory before people, ignoring the problem of hunger.

For example, after a typhoon knocked out the harvest in the southern Philippines a year or two ago, the government arranged rice distribution, much of it going via churches and schools.

But some people here in the Philippines persuaded the Catholic bishops to refuse to help distribute American rice to areas where there was famine, because the food just might be “contaminated” with genetically modified genes that might affect the crops (as if dried and milled rice could somehow contaminate  local crops…uh, fellahs, it doesn’t work that way).

Similarly, Robert Mugabe refused some food shipments to his starving people because it might contain genetically modified ingredients. Again, the fact that Americans are eating such food without apparent problem for several years isn’t noticed by the purists, but of course these bozos also haven’t seen a child die slowly from kwashiorkor either.

Ironically, the best tribute to Norman Borlaug is by the magician/humorist team Penn and Teller. You can find it on you tube, but be warned, their language is R rated. For example, they show the arguments against Borlaug and others who want to feed poor people, and say these arguments are…Male Carabao organic fertilizer.

I couldn’t say it better myself.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.


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