Bring on the Revolution?

Bring on the Revolution?

Green Revolutions aren't easy. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
Green Revolutions aren't easy. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

Some at the UN Food Summit are suggesting a second green revolution is needed to curb soaring food prices. “The underlying problem is the decline in agricultural productivity growth," said the UN's Lennart Bage. "Unless we reverse that, we’ll be back in the same situation in a few years' time.”

The first Green Revolution transformed developed-country agricultural practices from the 1940s to 1960s and led to increased production. Huge investments in seed research, infrastructure development and technological advancements fueled this transformation.

Increases in output are especially needed in Africa, which is in dire need of updating its farming techniques, improving agricultural technology and increasing the biodiversity of crop output. According to The Economist, several countries at the Summit promised to meet these needs by investing in seed research, building irrigation canals, and promoting the use of fertilizer.

Regulation reform and infrastructure upgrades are also needed. The International Food Policy Research Institute recently released a report saying prices could be cut if governments enforced market regulations. They also suggested African governments should dedicate 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture, and improve poor roads that hinder farmers' ability to get their crops to market.

However, Financial Times points out why a green revolution in Africa may not be easy to pull off. It would most likely require the cultivation of genetically modified crops in a region where many countries have resisted GMO foods. Other concerns involve Africa's diversity of climate and landscapes — farming techniques that work in some places might not work in others. Increasing output would also mean huge investments in irrigation systems. A dependence on rainwater and a lack of irrigation infrastructure has hindered many small farms in Africa.

The first Green Revolution took years to increase agricultural output in developing countries. It may be needed, but engineering a second Green Revolution is a daunting task.

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