Decades ago many felt we were going to run out of food and forecasted greater famines.
In the 1960s, there were still famines in India and China. The global think tank the Club
of Rome warned of pending food disasters in the 1970s and some said that Thomas
Malthus’ principles on population were right after all. However, the Green Revolution
and other advances in technology and production methods and related investments in
agriculture greatly increased production in important areas of Asia and parts of Latin
America. Arguably more lives were saved by the Green Revolution than almost any
event/technology in history.
In the decades following the Green Revolution, the marvel of the new technologies that
produced food abundance was taken for granted. The world assumed that further new
technologies were not needed or would be generated without investment. The quote
“There is plenty of food on the planet, it is just a problem of distribution,” was heard in
donors’ halls. Varieties and production systems were not innovated nor adapted for dry
and marginal lands that were brought into production as a means of increasing food
supply. Governments and most international organizations cut back on agriculture
development expenditures in developing countries. In 1990, about 12 percent of global
Official Development Assistance (foreign aid) went to agriculture, now it is about 4
percent. In the early 1980s, 30 percent of World Bank lending was for agriculture but, by
the early 2000s, it was down to 10 percent, despite the fact about 75 percent of the world
poor live in rural areas. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID)
reductions in commitment to agriculture was comparable.
This reduction in agriculture assistance was part of a bigger pattern. The donor
community, especially the bilateral donors, shifted focus from long-term development...