A Revolution To Be Thankful For


“Money can’t buy friends,” said the British humorist Spike Milligan, “but it can get you a better class of enemy.”

Perhaps we need a corollary to this rule: The poor attract a lot of low-class foes.

Or so it would seem, after reading last week’s commentary in the Des Moines Register by Eric Holt-Gimenez, a California propagandist.

The Green Revolution “failed” Africa, he claims. And its failures have been “extensively documented.”

Say what?

The Green Revolution, sparked in the 1960s by Norman Borlaug, is responsible for massive increases in food production around the world. Improvements in irrigation, fertilizer, equipment, and seed quality made it possible. Millions of people who are alive today owe their very existence to the Green Revolution.

And that may be a conservative estimate. I like what the comedian Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) once said of Borlaug: “When he won the Nobel Prize in 1970, they said he had saved a billion people. That’s BILLION! BUH! That’s Carl Sagan BILLION with a ‘B’! … Norman is the greatest human being, and you probably never heard of him.”

It appears as though Holt-Gimenez and his Institute for Food and Development Policy, based in Oakland, don’t know much about Borlaug. How else could they dismiss the Green Revolution as if it were a burned and unwanted side dish at a Thanksgiving feast?

Perhaps we should pause, for just a moment, to recognize–and give thanks–for the abundance we enjoy here in the United States. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner remains eminently affordable, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual survey. A meal consisting of turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and so on for 10 people should cost $38.10. That’s a slight increase over last year, but still a pretty good deal. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the price of that Thanksgiving feast has declined by about one-third since 1986.

The fundamental reason for this is that we’ve become incredibly efficient at food production. It costs us less money to produce more food than ever before.

This is a testimony not only to the hard work of American farmers, but also their access to and effective application of new technologies. Agriculture is completely different from what it was a generation ago, to say nothing of the even greater differences since farmers traded in their horses and plows for tractors and combines.

Most Americans don’t appreciate this as much as they might because their lives are far removed from the process of food production. But they benefit from it enormously. Throughout most of human history, people couldn’t take food for granted–certainly not the way that we can, as we consume our umpteenth meal of reheated turkey and stuffing this weekend.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for people in developing countries. Malnutrition remains a significant problem. Famine continues to take its toll. Africa bears much of the burden.

Many of its problems aren’t, in their fundamentals, even about food: They’re about broken political systems that can’t bring peace and the rule of law to their citizens. Without these building blocks of civil society, tasks that ought to be simple–such as feeding children–can become incredible challenges. Sadly, they can even begin to cancel out the many benefits of the Green Revolution. That may be the fault of revolutionaries, but not Green Revolutionaries.

Holt-Gimenez accuses the Green Revolution’s modern-day heirs–the folks behind the World Food Prize, the Gates Foundation, seed companies, and so on–of promoting GM foods as a “magic bullet” for global hunger. This is complete nonsense. We advocates of genetically-enhanced crops, starting with Borlaug, are scrupulously careful about our rhetoric. Biotechnology is no panacea, but it is one of many tools that hold great promise for the production of food in the 21st century.

As more countries support this access to technology, they’ll give thanks in the future not only to Borlaug and the other fathers of the Green Revolution, but the researchers, philanthropists, farmers and companies that are making possible the Gene Revolution.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)

Dean Kleckner

Dean Kleckner

Deceased (1932-2015)

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