Now we have what may be his last written words. They appear posthumously, in the preface to a new paper by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, better known as CAST. The father of the Green Revolution penned them shortly before he died.
“We made great strides in the first Green Revolution by bringing improved agricultural techniques, seeds, and technology to poor, underdeveloped, and developing countries,” he wrote. “But in the next 50 years we are going to have to have to produce more food than we have in the last 10,000 years, and that is a daunting task. I therefore have called for a ‘Second Green Revolution.’”
That’s quite a challenge–but clearly it’s one we must meet. On February 12 in Washington, D.C., CAST will co-host a forum on how to ensure food security for a growing world population.
I won’t be there myself. I live on the other side of the world, on my farm in the Philippines. But the event will be broadcast on CropNewsNetwork.com. Anyone can participate, no matter where they call home.
The new report from CAST offers a comprehensive overview of the problems and opportunities facing agriculture in the United States and around the world. Specifically, it calls for an aggressive research agenda that will launch a Second Green Revolution.
I couldn’t agree more. I am a believer in modern farming technology and was the pioneer farmer who planted Bt corn in 2003. Demographers predict that in a few decades, our planet with have 9 billion inhabitants. Yet even now, in a world of 6 billion people, we don’t do an adequate job of feeding everyone. As the CAST paper says, about a billion people in poor countries don’t receive enough dietary energy and another billion don’t receive enough proteins and vitamins.
As we figure out how to feed all of these hungry mouths, we’ll have to contend with a series of dilemmas that will only complicate matters. They include the rising cost of fuel and fertilizer, pressure on fresh water supplies, and the challenges of climate change.
Confronting these problems will require an enormous amount of scientific research–and there’s not a moment to lose. “The typical lead time for investments in science and technology to raise agricultural productivity is 10 to 20 years,” says the CAST report. “Delays in investment constitute a cost in foregone output a nation can ill afford.”
In 2005, according to CAST, public agencies invested $23 billion in agricultural research, which was about 50 percent more than in 1981. Yet the rate of new investment has slowed drastically. Every year, we’re devoting fewer new dollars to this critical endeavor.
Every day on my farm–about 24 acres of rice and corn–I benefit from earlier research. My work is both easier and more profitable than it was the first year I farmed. Thanks to biotechnology and other tools, we’ve reduced plowing from three times a year to just once. We’ve also eliminated hand weeding and do a much better job of controlling pests.
Our yields have gone up, too. We’re growing more food than ever before. This is the enduring legacy of the First Green Revolution.
Yet farmers everywhere–from small stakeholders like me to big-time landowners in the wealthiest countries–will have to do better. And that means we’ll need the benefits of a Second Green Revolution.
Scientists will develop new seed ‘tools’ in laboratories and demonstration plots. Public-policy makers will have to create the conditions for success, first by providing the resources to make this possible and then by building the regulatory protocols that will allow us to take full advantage of our ingenuity.
Ultimately, however, we’ll have to get this work out of the universities and conference rooms and into the fields. We’ll have to take the advice of Norman Borlaug. Let some of the last words of his life be the first words of the Second Green Revolution: take it to the farmers.
Rosalie Ellasus is a first-generation farmer, growing corn and rice in San Jacinto, Philippines. Rosalie allows her farm to be used as a demonstration pilot for smallholder farmers to visit and learn from. She currently serves as President of the Philippine Maize Federation and is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network. www.truthabouttrade.org