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Borlaug Dedication Ignores Human and Environmental Consequences of the Green Revolution

March 25th, 2014
Center for Food Safety

(Washington, DC)—Today, as the U.S. Congress honors Normal Borlaug with a statue in the Capitol, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and its international allies challenge the legacy of the Green Revolution and its top proponent.

"Norman Borlaug's legacy of the Green Revolution in Punjab, India, is displacement of biodiversity by monocultures, disappearing water, desertified soils, a cancer train, and an epidemic of farmers suicides because of debt due to high cost inputs of chemicals and seeds,” said Dr. Vandana Shiva, physicist, author and founder of the Navdanya organization based in India.  “Is this a legacy Washington wants to honor at a time when ecological alternatives to the Green Revolution are recognized as producing more food and nutrition without destroying the planet?"

The Green Revolution model began in India in the late ‘60s and has been replicated throughout developing countries.  The model is based on replacing diverse crops with mono crops and requires farmers to purchase commercial seeds, known as high-yielding varieties (HYV), and requisite inputs such as pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.  The seeds also require high amounts of water for optimum performance, resulting in water scarcity as evidenced by India’s perilously depleted water table.

Further, the high usage of chemicals, notably synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, has led to unprecedented cancer rates in Punjab.  Many scientists associate the dangerous nitrate levels in water as well as other chemicals such as arsenic to the high amount of cancer in the region.  Every night hundreds of victims take the “cancer train” from their rural communities to the nearest cancer hospital 220 miles away.

The highly industrial and mechanized Green Revolution methods have also displaced small-scale farmers in India and other developing countries. This has resulted in massive migration to already overcrowded cities in search of low-paying jobs.

 “A close review of the Green Revolution reveals grave environmental damage, harms to human health, and a food system that ultimately has not succeeded in feeding the world,” notes Debbie Barker, international program director for Center for Food Safety.  “Congress’s embrace of Green Revolution ideology shows that it fails to recognize the complexities of a global food system.”

With an estimated 925 million hungry people on the planet, CFS advocates that instead of perpetuating this failed industrial model it is time to support agro-ecological food and farming models that have proven to better ensure food security on local levels.

“Societies need to redirect resources toward farming models that protect and sustain the environment over the long term and fosters socio-economic equality,” said Ms. Barker.

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