The failure of the Green Revolution

I bet you all think I'm talking about environmentalism. I'm not. *grin* The "Green Revolution" referred to here is the argicultural one that occured in the mid 20th century, with the introduction of widescale fertiliser use and tailored crops.

There was a rather disturbing article in the newspaper "recently" that pointed out that while the Green Revolution made possible a steady increase in agricultural production from the 60's to the 80's through the use of fertiliser, chemicals etc.; since 1986 world grain production first levelled off and has now begun to fall (but not the world's population, alas). The world grain stocks have been falling ever since 1986 (since population has continued to rise). In 1986 existing stocks would have lasted 110 days (with no further harvests). The figure has now dropped to just over 40 days, a drop of almost 50%. In fact the graph given in the article for 1961-1995 shows a precipitious drop after 1985, prior to that is was pretty much level at around 80 - 110 days.

The "experts" are so far unable to decide whether this is just a cyclic effect or if it's a symptom of the world's population reaching environmental limits (the Gaia Hypothesis anyone?). That would lead to widespread famine and death in not too many decades. Extrapolating from the graph given for year-vs-days of supply and assuming that the trend since 1986 remains, then by 2006 the world food surplus will cease to exist and there will instead be a world food deficit. Unlike financial deficits, that deficit means people die. Millions of people. Ethiopia on a wide scale. There are hopes of another "Green Revolution" using gene engineering on crops, increasing yields and disease etc resistance ... but this won't hit the "field" until after 2010. The experts are putting their "hopes" in the theory that the current decreases are in part due to the disuptions in the weather during the past 10 years and that things will come back to normal soon. If it doesn't then farmers will have to farm more land, yet this may not be possible, what with huge areas of once fertile farmland now worthless (and more every year) and availaible water becomming scarcer and of poorer quality. A lot of farming is currently done using artesian (bore) water, and while this is a renewable resource, what farmers use in a few years can take centuries to replenish, so it is a limited resource. And then, what of the other threat looming over world agriculture, the Greenhouse effect? It's still only a theory, and a hotly debated one at that, but all the Greenhouse models agree, should the effect be real then it will have disasterous effects on food production.

So, the four horsemen of the apocalyse may be better called "Population pressure", "land and water degradation", "Greenhouse effect" and "famine".

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