"The Green Revolution Was Driven by Commercial Agribusiness Interests."
Not at all. The idea of increasing farmers' dependence on purchased seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides might inspire visions of agribusiness ruling supreme. But the truth is, Asia's Green Revolution was initiated and led by the public sector. The research and development that produced new seeds were undertaken almost exclusively by public research institutions. It was government-run banks and marketing agencies that dominated the distribution and pricing of water, fertilizer, seeds, and credit. Those same institutions stored and marketed most of the surplus grain that farmers produced. Accomplishing these tasks was considered a job too large for the private sector alone at the time, especially if small farmers were not to be left behind.
All this required massive levels of public investment. And even long after the Green Revolution had spread, Asian countries continued to pour money into agriculture to sustain the gains. The return on those investments -- in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction -- has been impressive. Only recently have some Asian countries begun market liberalization programs to expand the private sector's role. So far, this has been of greatest benefit to small- and medium-sized local businesses rather than multinational corporations.
"Africa Doesn't Need a Green Revolution."
Dead wrong. Critics of Asia's Green Revolution argue that it would be better if Africa focused on organic and other low-input farming rather than going the route of its neighbors to the east. But this advice describes exactly what African farmers have been doing all along, and as a result, average cereal yields on the continent have hardly changed in 50 years and now hover at about one-third of those achieved in Asia. Such a predicament has left Africa mired in poverty, with levels of hunger and malnutrition in drought years resembling those witnessed in Asia in the mid-1960s. Africa badly needs to raise its farmers' productivity, and this cannot be done without increasing fertilizer use to offset low and declining soil fertility, capturing and using more rainwater for irrigation, and planting improved crop varieties. In a word, it can't be done without a Green Revolution.
Africa can't simply copy Asia's feat, however. The continent's geography is not conducive to Asia's irrigated rice and wheat, which helps explain why the Green Revolution has not spread to Africa already. More fundamentally, Africa has invested relatively little in developing its rural infrastructure, leading to unusually high transportation and marketing costs for its farmers. Importing fertilizer is pricey because many African countries are small and landlocked -- and anyway, most buy too-small quantities to secure a good price. Nor do African governments have a record of creating a supportive policy environment for their farmers. The net result is that it is simply not profitable for most African farmers to shift to high-input, high-output farming.
Still, the promise is there. Many experts agree that Africa has the biophysical potential to dramatically increase cereal production -- perhaps by as much as 100 million tons or more per year. And on a continent where small farms are the norm, a locally driven Green Revolution could prove a win-win for both growth and poverty alleviation. Africa is also less likely to be exposed to the same kind of environmental problems that arose in Asia. The diversity of crop-growing conditions in Africa means that widespread monocropping is not practical. There are also few river basins to permit large-scale irrigation, and modern inputs are costly -- all of which should encourage farmers to turn to ecologically rich farming practices that are less dependent on modern inputs as those in Asia. None of this can happen, however, if Africa remains locked out of the Green Revolution.