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The mid to late twentieth century saw a revolution that dramatically changed the field of agriculture and is known as the Green Revolution. It saw a substantial increase in agricultural productivity due to the introduction of high-yield varieties of grains, the use of herbicides and pesticides and improved land management techniques. Prior to this revolution crops were largely unprotected from disease. Fertilisers provided more nutrients and pesticides/herbicides controlled weeds, deterred or killed insects and prevented diseases, all which increased crop productivity. The method of multiple cropping was also a new management technique introduced during this time. Farmers would utilise fields year-round to grow two or more crops over the four seasons to ensure it was constantly being utilised.
Developing countries and their growing populations were more in need of the change that this revolution brought. Many countries became self-sufficient as a result of the introduction of many new crop varieties. In fact, all developing countries saw yield increases of 208% for wheat, 109% for rice, 157% for maize, 78% for potatoes and 36% for cassava. There was a demand for innovation, and that’s what The Green Revolution provided.
When innovative management techniques were introduced and as farmers all over the world implemented them, the effects of the Green Revolution were intensified. The method of multiple cropping combined with a higher harvest index of more productive crops allowed more food to be grown on the same amount of land. This minimised the forest or natural land that required conversion to farmland and fields. Uncultivable land was made cultivable, especially with the use of irrigation. Stored water could be sent to drier areas which reduced the limitation of agriculture with a significantly high amount of rainfall. However, the heavy use water-intensive irrigation methods and fertilisers in particular produced adverse environmental impacts on a large scale. This included run-off and depleted groundwater reserves and reduced soil quality from over-farming.
One example of a high-yield strain of introduced crops is one produced by the Mexican scientist Norman Borlaug. It was his new variety of wheat that is considered to have sparked the revolution. This strain resisted diseases, was short so wind damage was reduced, and could produce large seed heads and so, high yields. Wheat production had tripled within two decades, and Mexico began exportation as it was able to produce more wheat than was needed by its own population. Prior to the implementation of Borlaug’s new variety, the country was importing almost half of its wheat supply.
The Green Revolution made it possible to feed the growing human population, yet despite the many strong advances of the time, not all countries could benefit from them. Governmental corruption, lack of infrastructure, and insecurity in many developing nations limited the positive influences of this revolution. Despite the increase in food availability, this revolution did not solve the hunger issues facing the world as it has led to overpopulation worldwide. Today, 821 million people starve, even though the world produces ample amounts of food to feed the entire human population. Australia alone produces enough to feed 60 million people, three times our current population. This highly technical and sophisticated industry is one of Australia’s most efficient. An increase of only 11% in cropland saw a rise from yields of 1.84 billion tonnes to 4.38 billion tonnes.
The advances of this revolution have certainly plateaued, although it is important to continue its growth. Agricultural productivity will continue to drive hunger reduction and there is still a need for that. Investing in the agricultural industry is just as important today as it was throughout The Green Revolution. There is a need for a second Green Revolution that will see results spread more evenly across the entire population, to build on the first and address its imbalances. It must show a greater commitment to environmental sustainability and recognise the increasing vulnerability of the developing world to extreme climate events. It will involve genetically modified crops that can withstand those unprecedented events yet encompass stronger government regulation and monitoring of the industry to prevent the exploitation of farmers and land. A revolution that focuses on the efficient use of resources and minimising the environmental impact of agriculture is needed. Our previous reliance on water, energy and harsh chemicals is not an option for the future of this industry.
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