Rationality and the Green Revolution

  • Bram TuckerEmail author
Part of the Advances in the Evolutionary Analysis of Human Behaviour book series (AEAHB, volume 1)


Adaptation via differential success among competing individuals creates winners and losers. But adaptation via cultural group selection creates benefits that are shared among group members. During the twentieth century, evolutionary biologists and economists developed parallel theories of rationality, the gene’s eye view and rational choice theory, which imagine humans as self-interested individuals maximizing consumption of scarce resources. When rational choice theory was applied to agricultural development in the Green Revolution programs of the 1940s to the 1980s, it turned otherwise cooperative farmers into competitors for cash profits, resulting in a process akin to differential mortality, generating wealth for some but exacerbating poverty for many. I suggest that evolutionary biology may offer an alternative view of human rationality, one consistent with ethnographic evidence of farmers’ behavior. One emerging candidate for a “Rationality 2.0” assumes cultural inheritance, cultural group selection, strong reciprocity, and bounded rationality. Farmers make decisions that balance individual benefits with family and community well-being. While the new Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA) seeks technical solutions within its seeds, soils, policy, and markets programs, Rationality 2.0 suggests that AGRA should also promote community cohesion, autonomy, human capability, and reduced dependence on imported technology.


Rationality Sociality Green revolution Agriculture International development Strong reciprocity Cultural group selection 



Many of the ideas expressed here were developed while a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, particularly during discussions with Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Alex Courtiol, Jim Hunt, Phillip Kitcher, and Virpi Lummaa. I appreciate insightful comments on a previous draft supplied by Shakti Lamba, Mhairi Gibson, David Lawson, Susannah Chapman, Jessica Ham, Laura Tilghman, and an anonymous reviewer. Thanks to J. Stephen Lansing and Joseph Lanning for permission to use their photographs.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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