Anil Trigunayat

Ask any food security expert, and they will tell you: the global impact of the Green Revolution cannot be overstated.

While growing up one of the words I heard the most was The Green Revolution which changed India’s agricultural and food security landscape. From an importer or dependent on the doles of dumped US red wheat under PL 480, India not only fed its burgeoning population but has emerged as a net exporter and first responder to the needy across the world.

No doubt, the Green Revolution – not without controversy – saved hundreds of millions of people from famine across the world. But the time is ripe for the next Green Revolution and if the right lessons are learned, it might save many more from the looming threat of famine or artificial shortages caused due to war and natural disasters. India and its strategic partners are taking steps in the right direction, and others could take note as the World confronts the weaponization of the 3F (Food, Fuel, and Fertilizer) crisis and India attempts to de-politicize these under its G20 presidency.

Ask any food security expert, and they will tell you: the global impact of the Green Revolution cannot be overstated. The new ways of farming have helped countries like China to emerge from famine, India – to avoid one, in other countries of the Global South – to save countless people from starving.

At its core was a transformational idea of adopting new agricultural techniques to cultivate high-yield crops. Its results exceeded expectations: the yields of various crops skyrocketed, and poverty levels plunged to historic lows, despite the substantial demographic growth in the second half of the last century. Simply put, the Green Revolution is behind a major, lasting socioeconomic breakthrough, which allowed the Global South to take a much-needed breath. However, echoes of the past can be heard loudly today.

According to the World Food Programme, the number of people worldwide who are expected to be on the brink of famine will double this year, as compared to the numbers from just a few years ago. Let alone the challenges associated with the projected demographic growth, which will further exacerbate the issue over the next decades. By some estimates, we will need to triple the current yield of crops by 2050 to meet the food demand worldwide. That said, it is as much a reason for alarm as for introspection.

Has the triumph of the Green Revolution and its legacy come to an end?

Anil Trigunayat

Indeed, what was once a revolution in food production, today may be even counter-productive, especially, in the context of challenges associated with conflicts, environmental fallout, and subsequent global supply crunch. As it stands, the global food policy is a failure.

As we have seen in Europe, the food supply chains cannot withstand the shocks of conflict even in the developed world. Unsurprisingly, the conflict in Ukraine caused food prices to rise not only across the old continent but in the developing world too. That is because the World Food Program and other leading charities used to buy more than half of their wheat from Ukraine. Add uncertainty to the mix, and you will understand why some countries – like India – added restrictions on food exports to avoid further food insecurity. Luckily, food protectionism, at least, in India, did not last: it was overturned to provide a much-needed lifeline to the global grain market as there are other greater challenges to food security than conflicts that require a global solution.

To be sure, climate change is already having a massive impact on global food security. Firstly, it directly affects food production. Such climate-change-driven phenomena as droughts and eroded soil, water scarcity, or erratic rainfalls are all either destroying crops or making farming an increasingly uncertain endeavor. To put this into perspective, let’s look back at what happened in Somalia, where around 43,000 people died during an extended drought last year. As if this was not enough, around half a million Somali children continue to suffer: because of the drought, they are likely to be severely malnourished this year.

Secondly, as an increasing number of countries are scrambling to secure food supplies, global supply chains are experiencing increased pressure. Take European nations, for instance, who are not immune to climate change either. Hungary and other parts of Central Europe have recently seen massive decreases in yields of various crops due to recurrent droughts, which had to be compensated with exports from abroad, at the cost of a further increase in food prices. The latter is another example of how climate change is affecting food security worldwide.

Finally, the old ways of food production are becoming redundant in the context of climate change. On the one hand, we are now aware that excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides can have a counterproductive effect, which is the controversial legacy of the Green Revolution. On the other hand, challenges associated with climate change make it increasingly challenging to cultivate crops organically. As a viable alternative, we need to adopt a sustainable approach to farming and innovative techniques are becoming increasingly accessible.

India has recently joined a global initiative, which has the potential to scale climate-smart agriculture on a global level, with a particular focus on providing developing countries with the right tools to enhance food security. Aside from its direct positive impact, the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate or AIM4C, launched by the United Arab Emirates in partnership with the United States, is designed to address many other gaps of current global policy, making food production more efficient, affordable, and sustainable.

AIM4C, with significant support of the UAE and the U.S., leaders in development and energy diplomacy, has already mobilized more than USD 8 billion of increased investments for 2021-2025. This financial capital is channeled to develop food systems innovation and its adoption. To that end, India joined the AIM4C in 2023 with an aim to roll out climate-smart innovation among small-scale farmers, which will determine the success of raising additional funds for projects that can mitigate climate change and address its risks at a global scale.

The innovation driven by AIM4C may amount to the next Global Green Revolution, which would include such climate-smart techniques as the use of vertical farming, hydroponics, and aquaculture. The UAE and the wider Middle East have food security as a priority, hence Abu Dhabi, in particular, has developed a domestic proof of concept of putting these techniques to the test, which is based on its pioneering and successful efforts to grow crops and vegetables within the country’s most arid regions – a taste for many regions of increasingly adverse conditions for farming. As such under the aegis of I2U2 (a quartet of India, Israel, UAE, and the U.S.) two major initiatives are currently being explored, including a possible USD 2 billion investment by the UAE in a project to build a series of integrated agricultural facilities across India and the potential development of a 300-megawatt wind and solar hybrid power plant in the Indian state of Gujarat.

With its direct experience of the first Green Revolution, India is in a position to bring the success of AIM4C to the next level by positioning itself as a leader in global food diplomacy, alongside the U.S. and the UAE. The time has come for the next, climate-smart global Green Revolution.

The article was first published in the Financial Express as The time has come for the next Global Green Revolution on April 12, 2024

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