Thirtieth Session

Rome, 20-23 September 2004


Table of Contents




1. Nearly 33 years ago, in November 1971, I had the pleasure of visiting FAO to deliver the McDougall Memorial Lecture, in honor of one of FAO’s founders, the late Dr. Frank Lidgett McDougall, for his contributions to building a better world. The title of my speech was, “Mankind and Civilization at another Crossroad.” In my talk, I said that humankind stood at a very complex series of crossroads and intersections, perhaps the most complex he had ever encountered along the highway of social evolution. I spoke of a world split into two factions—a privileged and impoverished. This divide has not narrowed, but rather grown. Today, the richest 1 percent of the world’s people receives as much as do the poorest 57 percent. I said that the Green Revolution had won a temporary success in humankind’s war against hunger and deprivation and, if fully implemented, could provide sufficient food and sustenance for the world for the next three decades. I also said that producing more food in the world would not necessarily solve the hunger problem in the developing countries. Indeed, this has proven true, with some 800 million people still haunted by hunger, at least part of the year, and living in fear of starvation. Ironically, perhaps half of the world’s hungry today are smallholder farmers and landless rural poor, even though food production in these food-insecure areas can be significantly increased. Technically, hunger can be defeated. What has been lacking is the political will to do so. Unfortunately, in virtually all of the developing countries there has been an over-abundance of planning for agricultural development and an under-execution of plans.


2. Permit us to review briefly the original so-called Green Revolution before turning our attention to the future. The widespread application of science-based food production is a relatively recent phenomenon. Much of the scientific knowledge needed for the original a take-off in agricultural productivity was available in the United States by the 1940s. However, widespread adoption of this new technology was delayed by the great economic depression of the 1930s, which paralyzed the world agricultural economy. It was not until WWII brought a much greater demand for food to support the Allied war effort that the new research findings began to be applied widely, first in the United States and later in many other countries. After WWII—when munitions factories were converted to the production of low-cost nitrogen fertilizers derived from synthetic ammonia—that chemical fertilizers have become an indispensable component of modern agricultural production (around 80 million nutrient tonnes of nitrogen consumed in 2000). Professor Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba, an expert on nitrogen cycles, estimates that 40 percent of today’s 6.2 billion people are alive today thanks to the Haber-Bosch process of synthesizing ammonia (Smil, 1999).

3. The first truly international agricultural assistance program to help a developing country was the pioneering Rockefeller Foundation-Mexican government program which began in 1943. By the 1950s, significant impact had been achieved in wheat production in Mexico and the Rockefeller Foundation expanded its efforts to several other Latin American countries and to several countries of Asia. The first major diffusion of improved technology on food crops occurred in Asia, beginning in the middle 1960s, some 20 years after this process began in the industrialized world.

4. In describing the rapid spread of the new wheat and rice technology across Asia, William Gaud, the USAID Administrator, in a talk given on March 8, 1968, to the Society for International Development in Washington D.C., said:

“These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets or the White Revolution in Iran. But rather, I call it a Green Revolution based on the application of science and technology.”

Thus, the term “Green Revolution” was coined. To us, it symbolizes the initiation of a process of applying agricultural science to develop modern techniques for Third World food production conditions. Much of the Green Revolution research was funded carried out by public sector and non-profit private foundations. The advances in knowledge that this research produced were openly published and freely shared. The international germplasm testing networks that were spawned—with free and largely unfettered exchange of genetic materials—ushered in a new era of plant breeding. New high-yielding semidwarf wheat and rice varieties were the “flagships” of the Green Revolution, although great progress was also made in the genetic improvement of maize, sorghum, barley, potatoes, and various legumes.

5. Too much attention has been given to the new semidwarf wheat and rice varieties themselves, as if they alone can produce miraculous results. Certainly, these new varieties had the potential to permanently shift yield response curves higher, due to more efficient plant architecture and the incorporation of genetic sources for greater disease and insect resistance. However, these varieties only achieved their genetic yield potential when they were combined with systematic changes in crop management, such as in dates and rates of planting, fertilization, water management, and weed and pest control (Table 1).

6. Significant investments were made in other factors of production. Between 1961 and 2000 the irrigated area in the developing countries of Asia doubled—from 86 to 176 million ha. But the greatest change in the factors of production was in fertilizer use, with consumption increasing from 2 million to 70 million nutrient tonnes. Huge changes also occurred in mechanization. The number of tractors in use increased from 200,000 to 4.8 million units, and hundreds of thousands of mechanical threshers (and much later thousands of combine harvesters) were introduced (Borlaug, 2000).

Undisplayed Graphic

The initial euphoria over the high-yielding wheat and rice varieties—and more intensive crop production practices—during the late 1960s was followed by a wave of criticism of the Green Revolution. Some criticism reflected a sincere concern about social and economic problems in rural areas that were not—and cannot—be solved by technology alone. Some criticism was based on premature analyses of what was actually happening in areas where the Green Revolution technologies were being adopted. Some criticism focuses on issues of environmental damage and sustainability.

7. Some of these criticisms had an element of truth to them. Obviously, wealth has increased more in irrigated areas relative to less-favored rainfed regions, thus increasing income disparities. Cereals, with their higher yield potential, have displaced pulses and other lower yielding crops, but with a net gain in total calories and total protein produced. Farm mechanization has displaced low-paid laborers, although many have found better-paying jobs off the farm in towns and cities.

8. High-yielding cereal varieties also replaced lower-yielding land races, with a resulting loss of biodiversity. But many of these problems were transitory. The high-yielding cereal varieties planted across developing Asia were much earlier-to-maturity than traditional landraces, thus permitting double and triple cropping. This increased the demand for labor on the farmer and for many off-farm rural enterprises and services.

9. These limitations notwithstanding, science-based agriculture has made enormous contributions to global food production—and to protecting habitats over the past 40 years. Despite a doubling of world population, the transformation of low-yielding agricultural systems has kept per capita global food supplies ahead of population growth. World market prices for wheat, maize and rice, adjusted for inflation, have declined by 40 percent in real terms since 1960 and are at the lowest level they have been in 50 years (FAO, 2003). All consumers have benefited from lower food prices, but especially the poor since they spend a larger portion of their income on food. Since 1970, the percentage of people in the developing world who are food insecure has fallen from 38 to 18 percent (IFPRI, 2002).

10. There have also been significant environmental benefits from Green Revolution technologies, which are frequently ignored. The largest has been in the land spared for other uses. Had the global cereal yields of 1950 still prevailed in 2000 the world would have needed nearly 1.8 billion ha of land of the same quality—instead of the 660 million ha that was used—to produce the harvest of 2000 (Borlaug, 2000). Obviously, such a surplus of land was not available, and certainly not in populous Asia, where the population has increased from 1.2 to 3.8 billion over this period. Had more environmentally fragile land been brought into agricultural production to meet the growing food demand, the impact on soil erosion, loss of forests and grasslands, biodiversity and extinction of wildlife species would have been enormous, and quite probably catastrophic. Moreover, conflicts over land resources would likely have increased substantially.


11. At the World Food Summit (WFS) of 1996, the global community agreed to halve the number of hungry people—to 400 million—by 2015. This goal was reconfirmed in September 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit by 139 Heads of State, and subsequently at world gatherings in Monterrey, Johannesburg and Doha. While this level of hunger reduction is certainly possible, to reach it, 22 million people must escape from food insecurity every year, starting in 1997. But only 6 million have been fortunate enough to do so since then. At present, FAO estimates that the number of food-insecure people in 2015 will decline to 675 million; and at current rates of reduction, the goal will not be reached until 2050 (FAO, 2003). Failure to reach this goal is problem of insufficient political will. We have the technology to double world food production and to do it in environmentally sustainable ways. But achieving food security for the hungry cannot be achieved without broad-based participation by food-insecure people in their own development, in combination with much higher levels of investments in basic education, health care facilities, water resource development, transport systems, power grids, agricultural research and extension.

12. Of the 800 million hungry and malnourished people in the developing world in the year 2000, 232 million were in India, 200 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 112 million in China, 152 million elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific, 56 million in Latin America, and 40 million in the Near East and North Africa (Millennium Project 2003). Of this total, about 214 million (26% of the hungry) had caloric intakes so low that they were unable to work or care for themselves. Roughly 50 percent of the hungry lived in farm households in higher-risk environments that were marginal for crop production—ones with low, highly unreliable or excessive rainfall; inherently poor or degraded soils; steep topography; and remoteness from markets and public services. Another 22 percent were the landless rural poor, and 20 percent in poor urban households. The remaining 8 percent were herders, fishermen, and forest-dependent households.

13. At least half of the world’s most food-insecure people are poor smallholder farmers in low-income countries who cultivate marginal lands. If they are to eat, most must produce the food they need themselves (Millennium Project 2003). Indeed, somewhere between 500 million and 1 billion farmers are caught in a “poverty trap” that renders them too poor to adopt productivity-enhancing technologies in basic food grains and too disconnected from markets to profitably engage in commercial agriculture.

14. Thus, there is a need to substantially improve food production in higher-risk environments and remote regions. Generating more sources of off-farm employment—including agrarian-based agro-industries. Public works projects to improve the infrastructure and environment—are also needed if hunger is to be halved. Often, these social investments will be part-time employment for smallholder farmers, during the “lean season.” Food-for-work programs can do much to slow rates of soil erosion and gully formation and to accelerate tree replanting.


15. More than any other region of the world, food production south of the Sahara is in crisis. High rates of population growth and little application of improved production technology during the last two decades has resulted in declining per capita food production, escalating food deficits, and deteriorating nutritional levels, especially among the rural poor. While there are some signs of improvement during the 1990s in smallholder food production, this recovery is still very fragile.

16. Traditionally, slash and burn shifting cultivation and complex cropping patterns permitted low yielding, but relatively stable, food production systems. Expanding populations and food requirements have pushed farmers onto more marginal lands and also have led to a shortening in the bush/fallow periods previously used to partially restore soil fertility. With more continuous cropping on the rise, organic material and nitrogen are being rapidly depleted while phosphorus and other nutrient reserves are being depleted slowly but steadily. This has had serious watershed degradation (soils, water, forests) and environmental damage. Declining soil infertility has also be a contributing factor to conflicts between agriculturalists and pastoralists, and probably was a underlying cause of the civil wars in Burundi and Rwanda during the 1990s (Sanchez et al, 1997).

17. Over the past 17 years, we have been engaged in a smallholder agricultural development program in sub-Saharan Africa known as Sasakawa-Global 2000. It was initiated by the late Ryoichi Sasakawa and carried on by his son, Yohei Sasakawa, with financial support from the Nippon Foundation of Japan. A key partner has been former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his Global 2000 team from the Carter Center. We have worked with ministries of agriculture in 14 countries and will hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers, who have shown that they are eager and able to double and triple yields of the basic food crops. But despite tremendously impressive crop demonstration programs, widespread productivity impacts have not been forthcoming as of yet.

18. There are fundamental differences between the agricultural circumstances in SSA today and those of Asia where the Green Revolution technologies achieved so much impact. SSA has very little irrigated agriculture, and moisture stress is a frequent and pervasive problem. SSA has a much less developed rural infrastructure—especially in transport systems—compared to Asia in the 1960s. Also, because of historical animal health problems (trypanosomiasis and East Coast fever), relatively few SSA farmers have had access animal traction compared to their Asian counterparts, and have been forced to rely on human power for land preparation and cultivation and other farm enterprise operations. Finally, human diseases, such as malaria and more recently HIV/AIDS have exacted a heavy toll on the productivity of African agricultural workers. All these factors have conspired to make the agricultural value added in SSA—at around US$ 400 per worker—the lowest in the world.

19. Given the alarming trends in declining soil fertility, a very strong case can be made that one of the most “environmentally friendly” interventions in SSA is to triple or quadruple fertilizer use over the very low (Asia uses 20 times more fertilizer per hectare of arable land and Latin America 10 times more) levels of current use (Figure 1). However, for many smallholder farmers in SSA, fertilizer use is costly and risky, typically costing two to three times more than in other parts of the developing world. Moreover, African farmers often receive considerably lower farm gate prices for their produce than in other regions.

Undisplayed Graphic

20. If food security is to be achieved in SSA, and smallholder productivity increased, the use of chemical fertilizer in SSA must be doubled or tripled. There are not justifiable environmental reasons for not doing so. From a biological standpoint it makes no difference to the plant whether it obtains the nitrate ion it needs from decomposing organic matter or a bag of fertilizer. However, until marketing costs—for inputs and output—can be brought down, a range of options for soil fertility recapitalization and maintenance will be needed. These must include options that will also permit smallholder farmers to rely more on internal inputs (e.g., nitrogen-fixing grain legumes, green manures, and tree species) for soil fertility maintenance. The operative criterion in making the decision regarding the relative priority given to inorganic and organic sources of plant nutrients, should which method can deliver key plant nutrients to the smallholder at the lowest cost, and consistent with her or his economic circumstances.

21. As soil fertility is restored, the potential yield of improved varieties can be expressed more fully. High-yielding, early-maturity, disease- and insect-resistant varieties and hybrids are becoming available from research institutions, especially for rice, maize, wheat, cassava, and several grain legumes. Widespread adoption of such varieties can make a big difference in smallholder production. Earlier-maturing varieties in particular open new possibilities for cropping patterns, involving food, cash, and green-manure crops. Minimum tillage systems also offer great hope to check soil erosion, conserve moisture, and reduce the back-breaking drudgery of hand weeding and land preparation.

22. Most experts agree that African agriculture must grow at 5-6 percent per year if it is to become a major force in reducing poverty. To reach these higher growth rates, important policy changes and significantly greater investments will be needed. For smallholder agriculture, four broad objectives must be pursued:

23. However, these development objectives will not be achieved if agricultural marketing costs are not brought down. Efficient transport is the life-blood of economic modernization. Intensive agricultural production is especially dependent upon access to vehicles at affordable prices. Yet, most agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa is still generated along a vast network of footpaths, tracts and community roads, where the most common modes of transport are “the legs, heads, and backs of women. Indeed, the largest part of a household’s time expenditure is for domestic transport.

24. Sub-Saharan Africa has the least developed road networks in the world (Table 2). Moreover, at present rates of investment, it has been predicted that road density by 2030 will only achieve the level that existed in South Asia when the Green Revolution began in the 1960s. Finding ways to change these projections, and accelerate the development of an effective and efficient infrastructure (roads, potable water, and electricity) in sub-Saharan Africa underpin all other efforts to reduce poverty, improve health and education, and secure peace and prosperity.

Table 2. Kilometers of paved roads per million people in selected countries around the world



















South Africa














Congo R.P.


Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2002 Yearbook

25. Improved rural infrastructure will increase agricultural productivity and spur economic development, thus reducing poverty and enhancing rural well-being. Roads will reduce rural isolation, thus helping to break down ethnic animosities and allow the establishment of rural schools and clinics in areas where teachers and health care workers have heretofore been unwilling to venture. All these developments will make it more difficult for rebellious groups to mount insurgency movements, since it is difficult to recruit guerilla fighters where rural economies are more vibrant and growing.

26. However, agriculture alone cannot employ all rural Africans, especially over the longer term. Even with the HIV/AIDS catastrophe, the rural population is projected to increase from 411 to 616 million between 2000 and 2030, even as the share drops to 50 percent (FAOSTAT, August 2003). Rural farm and off-farm employment must be expanded to reduce poverty and slow migration to poor urban slums.

27. In July, 2002, Africa’s heads of state formally adopted a new development strategy, called the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which provides a strategic framework for interventions under three guiding principles:

  1. Rethinking the development process in Africa to provide strategic directions for interventions based on increased measures of collective self-reliance in the framework of the African Union.
  2. Retaking ownership of the development process
  3. Regaining the leadership of the development process.

28. NEPAD expects the international community to support Africa’s plan for self-development and not to prescribe a plan for Africa. The donor community expects African governments to exert peer review, taking action against rogue states and agreeing to meet performance standards as a basis for providing and continuing international aid.

29. African leaders will have to show competence in developing the CAADP. Donor financing will be much more mindful of the governance process, requiring a higher standard of performance than in the past. African governments have pledged to increase national contributions to the overall agricultural development budgets from 35 to 55 percent (i.e., by 50 percent), so that they will have more of a direct stake.


30. World population is slowing, and with it, the global demand for food is also slowing (FAO, 2003). Virtually all of the growth will occur in developing countries, and primarily in Asia and Africa. Even with slowing growth rates, it is projected that global population will increase annually by 70-75 million people per year, between 2000 and 2030. We do not share the UN’s population agency’s optimism on that population growth will slow as quickly the most recent predictions. The continued lack of universal primary school education, the persistence of illiteracy and abject poverty, indicate to us that higher growth rates will prevail over the next 30-50 years. While the overall effect of HIV/AIDS on population growth in Africa and other developing regions is still unclear, we believe that world population is more likely to stabilize somewhere between 10 and 12 billion people, or one to two billion above current UN projections.

31. The proportion of rural dwellers will continue to decline significantly over the next three decades—from 53 percent in 2000 to an estimated 40 percent in 2030, although in nominal terms the total number is still expected to increase slightly. China will have the largest total population (1.6 billion) but with only 40 percent—200 million fewer than in 2000—living in rural areas (FAOSTAT, 2003). These demographic shifts represent enormous challenges for governments at all levels.


32. It is likely that an additional 1 billion metric tons of cereal grain will be needed annually by 2030, which is a 50 percent increase over world cereal production in 2000, and that world cereal demand will double—to 4 million gross tonnes—by 2050. Developing countries of Asia—because of rapid economic growth, urbanization and large populations—will account for half of the increase in global demand for cereals.

33. Roughly 80 percent of the increasing food demand must be supplied through yield improvements on lands already in production, although the agricultural area is expected to expand in tropical lands in South America (Cerrados) and Sub-Saharan Africa, and in temperate zones, mainly in North America. Large yield gaps exist between actual and potential crop yields in much of the developing world, especially in smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

34. Higher incomes and urbanization are leading to major changes in dietary patterns. The world food economy is being increasingly driven by the shift of diets towards livestock products (Delgado et al, 1999; FAO, 2003).

35. Major increases are foreseen in per capita consumption of fish, meat and milk products, especially in populous and increasingly prosperous Asia.

36. Expanding poultry and livestock demand will, in turn, result in major increases in the share of cereal production consumed by livestock, a trend which runs the risk of reducing cereal availability for the very poor and food-insecure in coming decades. Of the projected 1 billion tonnes in increased cereal demand projected by FAO for 2030, just over one half will be for feed uses (FAO, 2003).

37. International grain trade is projected to increase from 200 million tons traded annually in 2000 to 350 million tons in 2030. Most of this increased trade will occur between the traditional food exporters (USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, European Union) and newly industrializing nations, especially in Asia.

38. Although fish account for about 2 percent of the calories contained in the world food supply they contribute 16 percent of animal protein, as well as fats and minerals. World fish production has keep ahead of population growth over the past three decades, although at a cost. By 2000, three-quarters of ocean fish stocks were over-fished, depleted or exploited to their maximum sustainable yield (FAO, 2003). The marine catch levelled off at 80-85 million tons a year during the 1990s, but was compensated by rapid growth in aquaculture, which now accounts for more than one quarter of 125 million tons of world fish production in 2000. By 2030, world annual fish production is likely to rise to 150 to 160 million tons. Aquaculture will account for virtually all of this increase, with most of this production occurring in Asia in general, and in China in particular (FAO, 2003).


39. FAO projections on food production to 2030 predict adequate food at the global level, combined with potentially serious shortages at the local level, especially in SSA and South Asia (FAO, 2003). There is worry in some circles that crop yields in the more intensively cultivated areas (in both developed and developing countries) may be approaching their physical limitations. Notwithstanding these challenges, most experts believe the world has the science and technology—either already available or well-advanced in the research pipeline—to feed a population of 8 billion people projected to be on the planet Earth in 2030.

40. Productivity gains are still possible in tillage, variety selection, fertilization, water use, weed and pest control, and harvesting. Technically it is still quite feasible to double smallholder food crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa and to achieve 50 percent increases in much of Latin America and Asia. Yield gains in most OECD countries are likely to be in the 25-50 percent range. The larger question is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this technology to keep food production increasing at the desired pace.


41. Many of the yield gains over the next 20-30 years are likely to still come from applying conventional technology "already on the shelf" but yet to be fully utilized. However, new research breakthroughs will also be needed, especially through biotechnology (Conway, 1999). Continued genetic improvement of food crop is needed to shift the yield frontier higher and to increase stability of yield. While biotechnology offers new research possibilities of much promise, it is also important to recognize that conventional plant breeding is continuing to make significant contributions to increased food production and enhanced nutrition.

42. Rural to urban migrations will also affect farm production in several ways. First, with an out-migration of labor, more farm activities will have to be mechanized to replace labor-intensive practices of an earlier day. Second, large urban populations, generally close to sea ports, are likely to increasingly buy food from the lowest-price producer, which for certain crops may very well mean importing from abroad. Domestic producers, therefore, will have to compete—in price and quality—with these imported foodstuffs.


43. The slowing of gains in maximum genetic yield potential is a matter of concern. Continued genetic improvement of food crops—using conventional breeding as well as biotechnology research tools—is needed to shift the yield frontier higher and to increase stability of yield. In rice, wheat, and maize research, changes in plant architecture, hybridization, and wider genetic resource utilization are being pursued to increase genetic maximum yield potential. Significant progress has been made in all three areas.

44. The success of hybrid rice in China (now covering more than 60 percent of the irrigated area) has led to a renewed interest in hybrid wheat, when most research worldwide had been discontinued for various reasons. Recent improvements in chemical hybridization agents, advances in biotechnology, and the emergence of the new wheat plant type have made a reassessment of hybrids worthwhile. With better heterosis and increased grain filling, the yield frontier of wheat could be shifted 25-30 percent higher.

45. In maize, most of the yield gains have been obtained by breeding plants that can withstand higher planting densities, as well as the shift to single cross hybrids. Maize yields and production have really taken off in China. In most other regions, however, large gaps exist between experimental and smallholder farmer yields throughout the developing world, especially in Africa. These gaps can be closed.


46. Irrigated agriculture—which accounts for 70 percent of global water withdrawals—covers some 17 percent of cultivated land (about 275 million ha) yet accounts for 40 percent of world food production and nearly 60 percent of world cereal production. FAO estimates that the world’s irrigated area will continue to expand over the next 25 years, with 50 million additional ha in the developing world, primarily in Asia (FAO, 2003).

47. The rapid expansion in world irrigation and in urban and industrial water uses has led to growing shortages, which have the potential to lead to civil conflict in the future. The UN’s 1997 Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World estimates that, “about one third of the world’s population lives in countries that are experiencing moderate-to-high water stress, resulting from increasing demands from a growing population and human activity (WMO, 1997). By the year 2025, WMO predicts that as much as two-thirds of the world’s population could be under “stress conditions.”

48. In order to expand food production for a growing world population within the parameters of likely water availability, the inevitable conclusion is that humankind in the 21st Century will need to bring about a “Blue Revolution” to complement the so-called “Green Revolution.” In the new Blue Revolution, water-use productivity must be wedded to land-use productivity. New science and technology must lead the way. Pricing water delivery closer to its real costs is a necessary step to improving use efficiency; although the consequences on equity must be considered. Farmers and irrigation officials, and urban consumers will need incentives to save water.

49. There are many technologies for improving the efficiency of water use. Wastewater can be treated and used for irrigation, which could be an especially important source of water for rapidly expanding peri-urban agriculture around many of the world’s mega-cities. By using modern technologies such as drip irrigation systems, water can be delivered much more efficiently to the plants and largely in ways that avoid soil waterlogging and salinity. Changing to new crops requiring less water (and/or new improved varieties), together with more efficient crop sequencing and timely planting, can also achieve significant savings in water use. Finally, improved water-harvesting techniques and small-scale irrigation systems offer much promise for smallholder farmers in moisture-short areas.

50. In irrigated areas an outstanding example of new Green/Blue Revolution technology in wheat production is “bed planting system,” which has multiple advantages over conventional planting systems. Water use is reduced 20-25 percent, a spectacular savings! Input efficiency (fertilizers and crop protection chemicals) is also greatly improved, which permits total input reduction by 25 percent. This technology is spreading rapidly in South Asia and China.

51. Conservation tillage (no-till, zero-till, minimum tillage) is another technology that has important “water harvesting” as well as soil conservation characteristics. By reducing and/or eliminating conventional tillage operations, conservation tillage reduces turnaround time on lands that are double- and triple-cropped annually, which adds significantly to total yield potential, especially rotations like rice/wheat and cotton/wheat, and results in greater income. Through the use of an environmentally benign, broad spectrum herbicide, conservation tillage also greatly reduces the time that smallholder farm families must devote to the backbreaking work of weeding. The mulch left on the ground reduces soil erosion, builds up organic matter, improves soil fertility, and increases moisture retention, which can be especially important in marginal lands. Undisturbed soil profiles also means leaving the roots of previous crop cycles remain in place. As these roots systems decay, they become pathways to infiltrate water into the soil profile, converting conservation tillage systems into “water harvesting” systems, as well. This is especially important for drought-prone areas, where conservation tillage can substantially increase the amount of moisture stored in the soil profile available for crop production.


52. As noted earlier, at least half of the world’s poorest and socially and nutritionally disadvantaged people live in marginal lands and seek to earn their livelihood from agriculture. Drought, problem soils, and low soil fertility are frequently—but not always—associated. Historical geological conditions events can substantially affect soil quality as can inappropriate agricultural practices in the more recent times. Also, because of low levels of precipitation or cold temperatures, it is possible to have a poor agricultural environment associated with relatively fertile soils.

53. Agricultural researchers during the past 15-20 years have been working on eco-agricultural approaches to reduce the amount of external inputs (especially agricultural chemicals) that the farmer must use. Use of crop residues, nitrogen-fixing plants, schrubs and trees, animal manure, and compost to improve soil fertility is an important part of this approach. Integrated pest management (often central in high-yield agriculture) is also being employed by resource-poor farmers in Asia and elsewhere.

54. More plant breeding research is needed on to develop crops better suited to dryland agriculture and to the potential adverse effects of climate change. These include millets, sorghum, barley, and various pulses typically grown in drier areas. A greater array of early-maturing, high-yielding varieties can also be of enormous benefit in areas where rains are short and often unreliable. These varieties often mature 20-50 percent earlier than traditional varieties, with higher yield potential and disease and insect resistance.

55. There is good evidence that further heat and drought tolerance can be built into high-yielding varieties, and that cereal crop species can be developed that are more efficient in the use of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients than are currently available in the best varieties and hybrids. Developing cereal varieties with greater resistance to the parasitic weed, Striga spp. is also a very important research activity, since this parasite is especially active in marginal lands.

56. Good progress has been made in developing cereal varieties with greater tolerance for soil alkalinity, soluble aluminum, and iron toxicities. These varieties will help to ameliorate the soil degradation problems that have developed in many existing irrigation systems. They will also allow agriculture to succeed into acid soil areas, such as the Cerrados in Brazil and central and southern Africa, thus adding more arable land to the global production base.


57. In addition to inadequate caloric consumption, huge numbers of people suffer severe impacts of micronutrient deficiencies, leading to anemia, blindness, and other maladies. A range of inexpensive public health interventions can significantly reduce these problems. Fortifying foods and offering supplements are cost-effective interventions for some poor people. Nutrition education to promote healthy and diverse diets is another. Conventional plant breeding and biotechnology can also to improve the nutritional quality of staple foods, a significant benefit for the poor. All these strategies should be seen as complementary, rather either/or choices.

58. A pioneering conventional plant breeding effort to improve maize occurred at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) during 1970-90. A type of maize was discovered in the Andean highlands which carried the opaque-2 gene that doubles the levels of lysine and tryptophan—two essential amino acids needed to build proteins—that are normally limiting in normal maize. Quality protein maize (QPM) has the protein quality of skim milk, yet yields, looks and tastes similar to normal maize. Approximately 500,000 ha are grown in the developing world, with 60 percent found in sub-Saharan Africa.

59. Newer plant breeding work is focusing on increasing micronutrient concentrations in the staple food crops, either by removing inhibitors to micronutrient absorption or raising the levels of amino acids that promote micronutrient absorption. Natural genetic variation in many crops, including rice, wheat, maize and beans, shows a wide range of concentrations of iron, zinc, and other micronutrients. In addition, through biotechnology, pro-vitamin A can also be introduced into rice, white maize and other food crops. This could have profound impact for millions of people too poor to have access to balance diets and food supplements.


60. Increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and more severe weather fluctuations can have major impacts on agriculture and land use. Although considerable differences of opinion continue to exist as to the timing, severity, and differential effect of the actual climate change associated with global warming, there seems to be consensus on three important aspects. The first is that extreme weather events are likely to increase, taking the form of more severe storms, more flooding and, of most concern for agriculture production, more frequent and sever droughts. Second, it appears possible that favored lands will experience even more favourable growing conditions but that areas which are currently subject to periodic flooding and, more particularly, drought are likely to experience increased devastation. Third, virtually all agricultural research directed at overcoming the effects of heat, drought, and associated biotic and a biotic stresses will be of high potential benefit to ameliorating the potential negative effects of global warming.

61. It is fortuitous that research priorities related to climate change also coincide with those most valuable and urgent in a “pro-poor” agricultural research agenda—improve nitrogen use efficiency, improve water use efficiency, and sequester carbon in agricultural, forest and pasture management strategies (IFPRI, 2002). Conservation tillage increases soil organic matter and conserves soil and water resources. Reducing the burning of crop residues, planting trees and avoiding deforestation, and introducing agroforestry into unproductive crop lands also offer important gains in soaking up carbon. (R. Lal, 2003).


62. Contrary to the accusations in certain circles that biotechnology is only suitable for more prosperous farmers, in fact, biotechnology offers many new and exciting opportunities to improve the yield, potential and yield dependability and nutritional quality of our food and fiber species, and probably aquatic species as well.

63. Despite the formidable opposition in certain circles to transgenic crops, commercial adoption by farmers of the new varieties has been one of the most rapid cases of technology diffusion in the history of agriculture. Between 1996 and 2003, the area planted commercially to transgenic crops has increased from 1.7 to 67.8 million hectares (James, 2004). This area is located in 17 countries, with the USA accounting for 63 percent and Argentina 20 percent of the total. From a crop perspective, transgenic soybeans ranked first with 41 million ha, followed by transgenic maize at 16 million ha, transgenic cotton at 7 million ha, and transgenic canola at 4 million ha. Herbicide tolerance is the most important trait, accounting for 77 percent of the total area followed by insect resistance (Bt) at 15 percent. Some 4 million smallholder Chinese farmers were growing Bt cotton on 2.8 million ha in 2003, an increase of 40 percent over 2002. Preliminary estimates suggest that the total acreage planted to transgenic crops in the world in 2004 will again increase. A new trait in maize for the North American market—corn rootworm control—will be available in the USA and GM herbicide-tolerance soybeans are expected to continue expanding in Brazil. In addition, significant growth in Bt cotton is expected in India.

64. To date, there is no reliable scientific information to substantiate that transgenic crops are inherently hazardous. Recombinant DNA has been used for 25 years in pharmaceuticals, with no documented cases of harm attributed to the genetic modification process. So far, this is also the case in genetically modified foods. The seed industry has been doing a good job in ensuring that its GM seed varieties are safe to plant and the food that they produce is safe to eat.

65. Genetically modified plants will play an increasingly important role in enhancing dependability of yields, especially to biotic and abiotic stresses. We predict that in the not too distant future—when science gains the upper hand over emotions and ideology—many environmentalists will embrace GMOs as a powerful “natural” tool to achieve greater environmental protection. Already, adoption of GMOs has led to a significant decline in the use of herbicides and insecticides. So far, in cotton, maize and soybeans alone in the USA, pesticide use in 2002 was reduced by 21,000 tons, due the use of varieties with genetic resistance to insects and diseases, and tolerance to certain herbicides which permits lower overall use (Gianessi, 2002).

66. It is likely that the public sector alone and in partnerships with private sector organizations will play a critical role if the power of biotechnology is harnessed to develop many of the pro-poor technologies referred to in this paper. National governments need to be prepared to work with—and benefit from—such research consortia. They need to establish a regulatory framework to guide the testing and use of genetically modified crops that is reasonable in terms of risk aversion and cost effective to implement. They also must accord adequate protection to the intellectual property rights of private sector.

67. Since much of this research is being done by the private sector, which patents its inventions, agricultural policy makers must face up to a potentially serious problem of access. How long, and under what terms, should patents be granted for bio-engineered products? Further, the high cost of biotechnology research is leading to a rapid consolidation in the ownership of agricultural life science companies, which is worrisome to many. These are matters for serious consideration by national, regional and global government organizations.

68. We must confess to uneasiness on this score, and believe that the best way to deal with this potential problem is for governments to ensure that public sector research programs, geared to produce “public goods,” are also adequately funded, to help ensure that farmers and consumers cannot become hostages to possible private sector monopolies. Unfortunately, during the past two decades, support to public national research systems in the industrialized countries has slowly declined, while support for international agricultural research has dropped so precipitously to border on the disastrous. If these trends continue, we risk losing the broad continuum of agricultural research organizations—public and private and from the more-basic to the more-applied—which are needed to keep agriculture moving forward.


69. Perhaps as many as 600 million of the hungry poor live on lands that are environmentally fragile, and rely on natural resources over which they have little legal control. Land-hungry farmers result to cultivating unsuitable areas, such as erosion-prone hillsides and semiarid areas where soil erosion is rapid and in tropical forests where crop yields on cleared fields drop sharply after just a few years due to the rapid loss of soil organic matter. Many of these marginal lands are not only critical to livelihoods of very poor people but they also play critical roles in watershed and biodiversity conservation. In promoting increased agricultural production in these lands, it will be essential to recognize fully these multiple roles. This implies natural resource conservation interventions implemented at the ecosystem or landscape levels. Such approaches can also directly contribute to poverty reduction and improved food security. Moreover, such investments could generate positive international public goods out of positive environmental externalities. Capital investments are different from subsidies in that they have a profit expectation in the long term—an explicit return on investment—while subsidies are short-term removal of constraints. However, proactive steps are needed to achieve joint poverty reduction, conservation and agricultural development objectives.

70. Thus, food-for-work programs would be organized with rural agricultural communities in highly environmentally degraded areas to initiate high-priority eco-conservation reclamation works. These programs would provide supplemental employment during the “hunger season” to some of the most food-insecure people. It is suggested that the in-kind food payments be sourced from domestic production in food-surplus areas of the country. Thus, multiple development goals could be accomplished: reclamation of severely degraded watersheds, increased food security and expanded market demand for domestically produced food staples.

71. Most of the “pro-poor” investments likely to benefit smallholder farmers will be public goods research and development activities, in which OECD nations need to greatly increase—probably even double—their official development assistance to bolster the more-meager resources available from low-income country governments.


72. Farming and ranching are primary sources of wealth in agricultural societies. It is not a coincidence that the first Green Revolution occurred on irrigated and well-water lands in which farmers had relatively secure tenure. This is not surprising, since the high-yield varieties and crop management systems required additional investments in the factors of production needed to obtain maximum yields and returns. The second Green Revolution has as one of its major obstacles unequal and insecure systems of land tenure, which are major causes of poverty and civil unrest in the developing world. More than half of the world's very poor live on lands that are environmentally fragile, and rely on natural resources over which they have little legal control. Land-hungry farmers resort to cultivating unsuitable areas, such as erosion-prone hillsides, semiarid areas where soil degradation is rapid, and tropical forests, where crop yields on cleared fields drop sharply after just a few years.

73. Poor people need secure access to land through individual or community ownership, long-term rights, functioning rental markets, or some other means. Increasing women’s access to secure tenure arrangements is especially needed. Traditional systems of land tenure often discourage farmers from investing in land improvements, since the fruits of investments in fencing, land terracing, and water harvesting and irrigation are not guaranteed. In many areas, traditional pasture rights also conspire against investments in land conservation, leading to growing tensions between pastoralists and agriculturalists. Population pressures—human and livestock—are leading to over-grazing and soil degradation which, in turn, lead to conflicts over land access, as both farmers and pastoralists need to expand their operations to lands.

74. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto and his colleagues at the Institute of Liberty and Democracy (ILD) in Lima, Peru, have been leaders in studying what he calls, “the mystery of capital.” What their research has found is that quite often the world’s poor have accumulated sufficient assets to escape poverty (De Soto, 2000). Indeed, he argues that the actual value of their assets is many times all the foreign aid and investment received since 1945. But he contends that the poor hold their assets in defective forms—they lack adequately documented and recorded property rights. As a result their assets cannot readily be turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of narrow local circles, and cannot be used as collateral for a loan or a share against and investment.


75. Over the past 50 years, agricultural growth has exceeded population growth in most parts of the world. These food production successes have helped to diminish the potential for conflict over food, land and water resources. But the easy targets of opportunity in agriculture have largely been exploited. More difficult ones lie ahead, which are often seriously complicated by problems of high population density, poverty, and declining resource bases, both in quantity and quality, and inadequate systems of governance. While we cannot lose sight of the aggregate need to increase food and agricultural production (the pile of food), we must also pay much more research and development attention to the special production and nutritional needs of the chronically food insecure. Expanding the reach of science and technology to areas and farmers that were by-passed during the original Green Revolution combined with foreseeable improvements in overall crop productivity can make it possible to achieve sustainable food security for all. Higher farm incomes will permit smallholder farmers, especially in marginal lands, to make added investments to protect the natural resource base.

76. Those low-income countries that have been most successful in reducing hunger have generally had more rapid economic growth and specifically, more rapid growth in their agricultural sectors. They also have achieved slower population growth, lower levels of HIV infection, and higher ranking in the UNDP Human Development Index. However, economic growth alone is insufficient for eliminating hunger because so many hungry people are often excluded from society and unable to demand rights and live beyond the reach and benefits of markets. In addition, people deep in poverty traps lack education and have no access to services, especially for women, girls, and children. Effective social safety nets are also needed to ensure that those who cannot produce or buy food still get enough to eat. Political action is needed that attacks hunger, poverty and disease together.

77. More dynamic agricultural production systems will also help to stimulate more off-farm rural employment. China is an outstanding example. Modern production methods led to a spectacular take-off in yields and agricultural productivity, leading to the production of an additional 100 million tons of cereals annually by 1990. Rapid growth in agricultural labor productivity and rural incomes provided great opportunities to develop the nonagricultural sector. By the 1980s, it was the rural village and township enterprises that became the most dynamic engine of growth in China’s national economy (Fan et al, 2002).

78. Mankind and civilization may once again stand at another crossroads. This time, the future of capitalism may hang in the balance. Globalization has brought with it great changes in the integration of international markets and financial systems, and significant economic progress and benefit to three, possibly four, billion people. At the same time, there are as many as 2.5 billion people at risk of becoming permanently marginalized from these market systems, destined to lives of perpetual poverty and despair. Unless the world community, and especially the privileged nations, find the ways to integrate more of these marginalized people into these new global market systems, it is hard to conceive how globalization can be sustained.



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1 President, Sasakawa Africa Association and 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

2 Director of Communications, Sasakawa Africa Association