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The Rockefeller Foundation and the green revolution, 1941–1956


High yielding agriculture in less-industrialized countries, the green revolution, has been both honored and criticized over the past twenty years. Supporters point to the increased food supplies produced with the new practices, but detractors argue that the new technologies are environmentally destructive, unsustainable, and socially inequitable. This paper explores the origins of high yielding agriculture in order better to understand how the arguments over sustainability and equity originated. The Rockefeller Foundation was an important agency in promoting the development of the new agricultural science. Its programs in Mexico and India, initiated in 1941 and 1956, were key building blocks in creating high yielding agricultural practices. The Foundation scientists saw rapid population growth as the main source of hunger and communist subversion. In order to alleviate hunger and instability, they created a strategy of agricultural development based on increased yields but paid no attention to the problem of distribution of harvested food. Sustainability was not recognized as a problem at the time Foundation scientists began their work. Indeed the technical successes of their programs prompted the development of concerns about sustainability. Equity of distribution was brought to the attention of the Foundation before it began its work, but the scientists paid no attention to the issue.

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John H. Perkins currently teaches environmental studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia and was formerly at Miami University in Ohio. He has published a number of articles plus a book (Insects, Experts, and the Insecticide Crisis, Plenum, 1982) on the history of American applied entomology. Currently he is working on a history of the green revolution as it occurred in India, Mexico, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He is interested in the origins of new technology and the ways in which technological innovation both creates and solves environmental problems. He is a member of several environmental, scientific, and historical societies and currently serves as an Editorial Advisor forAgriculture and Human Values.

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Perkins, J.H. The Rockefeller Foundation and the green revolution, 1941–1956. Agric Hum Values 7, 6–18 (1990).

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