Private capital was short for the necessary expansion in agriculture. Access to technology remained limited. This required extensive public financing schemes, particularly in less developed countries. Although by far the greater share of investment came from domestic resources, international and foreign funding was crucial in some areas of acute need, such as the purchase of imported equipment.
Local workers constructing a 70 km canal, Indonesia. The Government undertook a project to irrigate 6 000 ha of land with the support of FAO specialists. ©FAO/E. SCHWAB
Credit expanded dramatically – even if in parts of the world, excessive interest rates put it beyond the reach of many small farmers. (A decade after the end of the war, some 90 percent of agricultural credit in India was still being supplied by moneylenders, generally at high mark-ups.) By the 1950s, in South and East Asia in particular, a slew of legislative reforms was dismantling institutional barriers to the efficient use of land by transferring ownership to cultivators and encouraging the consolidation of fragmented holdings. There was broad progress towards the formal registration of titles. Various countries also rationalized their agricultural taxation systems.
Parts of what would come to be known as the developing world improved their use and control of water, with progress most notable in Mexico, Thailand, and newly independent India and Pakistan. Many other countries undertook the first systematic surveys of their water resources. Irrigation schemes took off.
The Soviet Union and China, which had collectivized agriculture or were busy doing so, were also reporting progress on administering water resources and other aspects of farming. By the 1950s, however, the Korean War and Cold War had corroded much of the spirit of co-operation of the very early post-war era. In the process, the flow of information between rival powers had dwindled. Poorer nations, meanwhile, lacked comprehensive reporting capacities.
The first quarter-century
Gaps in the data notwithstanding, there was evidence of significant agricultural advancement across much of the globe. By the mid-1950s, there had been a conspicuous leap in the prevalence of agricultural machinery. The number of registered tractors went up threefold, releasing for cultivation vast expanses of land previously used to grow feed for traction animals.
Workmen engaged in road construction between two new resettlement villages, after the construction of the Volta River dam at Akesombo, Ghana. ©WFP/FAO/Peyton Johnson
Plant breeding too underwent considerable development. In parts of Europe, hybrid maize was greatly boosting yields. Developing nations saw the productivity of basic crops soar thanks to new synthetic pesticides and selective weed-killers. By the 1960s, improved, high-yielding varieties of rice, as well as new strains, had spread across Asia. The continent is seen as having reaped the biggest rewards from the Green Revolution: over 30 years or so, high-yielding varieties of rice came to comprise two-thirds of all plantings, while nearly 90 percent of wheat fields were planted with modern varieties.
A rice-growing experiment is underway in Tunisia, carried out by an FAO expert who devised a method of leaching salt from arable land. ©FAO
From the 1950s onwards, livestock and animal husbandry benefit from the more systematic registration of herds and the spread of artificial insemination. Poorer nations establish state veterinary services. Europe, North America and Oceania witness big jumps in yields per hectare per animal.
An FAO karakul sheep expert photographs a karakul lamb in Afghanistan as part of the breeding selection process, as students look on. ©FAO
Overall, within a decade of FAO’s creation, food production was a quarter greater than at the end of the war, and higher also in per capita terms.
Even so, progress was far from even, sufficient or irreversible. On the whole, agricultural expansion, solid as it was, was dwarfed by the scale of growth in the industrial sector, the main engine of post-war prosperity in Western nations. Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, had failed to make the most of the Green Revolution: capital in the region was scarce; land ownership largely informal; agricultural inputs basic; and access to credit and technology limited. For decades to come, the region would remain the focus of international development efforts.
Throughout FAO’s first quarter-century of existence, the fragility of agricultural supply chains and the persistent difficulty in securing universal access to food (even in nations that had largely benefited from the Green Revolution) was sharply illustrated by sudden-onset crises, both human-caused and natural.
The earthquake that strikes Iran’s northern area of Buin Zahra on 1 September 1962 kills more than 12 000 people. Cataclysmic in human terms, the tremor is also a trial by fire for the new humanitarian organization, the World Food Programme (WFP). The body, founded as a joint UN-FAO undertaking less than a year earlier, quickly mobilizes to deliver 1 500 tonnes of wheat, 270 tonnes of sugar and 27 tonnes of tea. In the decades since, WFP has shaped up as the world’s largest humanitarian structure, providing food assistance in half of all nations.
Repairing and renewing an old irrigation dam which had seriously deteriorated after the 1962 earthquake in Iran. The villagers requested financial assistance and technical advice from the Government and FAO. ©FAO/J. Krosschell
Between 1945 and 1970, agricultural production grows uninterruptedly. Yet the world also learns that while more food is essential to prevent starvation, even enough food is not, on its own, enough to end hunger. Throughout the period, in fact, ending hunger is within dreaming distance but never within reach: President Roosevelt’s fourth freedom lies in an ever-shifting “beyond the hills”, along a path that is never straight, rarely open to all, and frequently blocked by the debris of conflict, the legacy of injustice and the weight of neglect.