2019-CREDO-ad-banner-150K.jpg

Wheat Breeding in the Green Revolution

From SourceWatch
Jump to: navigation, search

Wheat Breeding in the Green Revolution exemplifies the most well known success of the Green Revolution in increasing crop yields through plant breeding. Green Revolution wheat was resistant to rust, a fungal disease, but it required large amounts of fertilizer, pesticides, and often irrigation to achieve the high yields for which it is famous. Norman E. Borlaug also succeeded in breeding varieties that were able to grow in almost any part of the world, regardless of ecological conditions. Borlaug began his work on wheat breeding as part of the Rockefeller Foundation's Mexican Agricultural Program in Mexico in 1944.

Wheat Breeding in Mexico

Borlaug was recruited to the Mexican Agricultural Program by his mentor from his college days at University of Minnesota, Elvin Stakman, and J. George Harrar (another former student of Stakman's) beginning in 1942. He arrived in Mexico in October 1944 to work on wheat breeding. Of first importance was breeding wheat that was genetically resistant to several strains of wheat rust, a fungal disease that was a major problem in Mexico at the time, particularly in the newly irrigated regions in the Northwest.[1]

Rust Resistance

Harrar had begun work collecting native Mexican wheat varieties and planting test plots before Borlaug arrived. He and Borlaug worked together briefly, but Harrar soon left the wheat program under Borlaug's leadership so he could focus on administrative duties. Borlaug continued collecting, testing, and crossing wheat varieties, picking up where Harrar left off. He focused on varieties that would succeed in the two major wheat growing areas of Mexico, the smaller farms in the more traditional area, El Bajio, in the highlands of central Mexico, and the larger farms of the newer areas in the northwest, made possible by recent irrigation projects. Whereas Borlaug's counterpart who worked on corn, Ed J. Wellhausen, worked on corn varieties for all Mexican farmers, by 1948, Borlaug was focused on creating wheat varieties to be used on large, resource-rich farms that could afford purchasing new hybrid seeds each year, along with the necessary agrochemicals to go with them.[2]

In an unconventional move considered heresy at the time, Borlaug chose to speed up his wheat breeding program by planting two generations of wheat each year, one in the northwestern state of Sonora, and another 2000 km south in Toluca in the highlands.[3] This violated the concept that wheat should be grown in the area where it was intended to be used, so it would be best adapted to local ecology. In Sonora, Borlaug used land owned by Don Rodolfo Calles, former Governor of Sonora and son of the former Mexican president Elias Calles. In 1948, Stakman and Harrar told Borlaug to discontinue his breeding efforts in Sonora. Borlaug resigned, and Stakman and Harrar backed down a day later.[4]

Whether by a stroke of genius or lucky chance, Borlaug's shuttle breeding program (breeding two generations a year in two very different locations) did more than cut the time it took to breed new varieties in half: Borlaug's wheats were able to succeed just about anywhere, regardless of soil and climate differences. Most important, he bred wheats that were not sensitive to daylength to determine flowering, perhaps the most significant factor that made his wheats so adaptable to many parts of the world.[5]

"Borlaug's wheat improvement program between 1948 and 1954 might best be characterized as in a period of refinement and consolidation. The initial jumps in yield that came from a vigorous, systematic breeding and selection program were essentially in place by 1948."[6]

Semidwarfs

At that time, Borlaug had achieved rust-resistant wheat but he also wanted wheat that could utilize large amounts of commercial nitrogen fertilizer. Most wheat, when given large doses of fertilizer, grow tall stalks and heavy heads of grain, causing them to blow over in the wind, or "lodge." In 1952, Burton B. Bayles of the USDA told Borlaug about semidwarf wheats from Japan, and Borlaug wrote to Orville Arthur Vogel, who had been breeding the semidwarf wheat in Washington State. Vogel sent Borlaug several samples of semidwarf wheat varieties in 1953. By 1955 "Borlaug realized that he had a remarkably new type of wheat that could potentially surpass the yields of anything known up to that time."[7]

Before Borlaug felt fully ready to release his semidwarf varieties of wheat, he noticed that "curious farmers who visited the experiment stations" were taking samples of his wheat. Fearing that "his stations would have to release soon or lose credit for their development," Borlaug released the first two semidwarf varieties in 1962.[8] He continued releasing new varieties steadily over the next five years (1962-1967).

Wheat in India

In 1959, M.S. Swaminathan, an assistant cytogeneticist at Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi, learned about the work of Orville Arthur Vogel with semidwarf varieties of wheat that were able to utilize large amounts of commercial fertilizer and produce high yields. He wrote to Vogel, asking for samples of this wheat, and Vogel put him in touch with Norman Borlaug, who had been working on semidwarf varieties that were more suitable for India.[9] "After informal discussions with Pal and Ralph Cummings, field director of the Rockefeller Foundation in India, Swaminathan prepared a formal proposal to bring Borlaug to India during the next flowering and harvest period for wheat, February through April 1963."[10]

Borlaug visited India in March 1963, spending a month traveling to see Indian wheat.[11] Borlaug recommended irrigation and fertilizer, as well as a full-time coordinator to bring together and streamline wheat breeding efforts across the nation.[12] Borlaug then sent a shipment of 100kg each of four Mexican wheat varieties, with smaller samples of 600 others that were not yet released commercially in Mexico.

The shipment arrived in November 1963. It was divided between four research stations where initial tests showed that the Mexican wheats would do very well in India.[13] This sparked debate among Indian scientists over whether or not to release the Mexican varieties as they were, or whether they should be crossed with Indian wheats to make them better adapted to Indian conditions.[14] In March 1964, they asked Borlaug for 20 tons each of two varieties, which would be used for 1000 acres of demonstration plots at Indian research institutions.[15]

1964 brought political changes in India, resulting in increased government support for "scientific agriculture," including hybrid wheat. According to John H. Perkins:[16]

"As Minister of Food and Agriculture Subramaniam moved to embrace fully the promise of the high-yielding varieties of wheat, he was simultaneously rejecting the entire basis of India's development plans as they had been developed by Nehru and the Planning Commission since 1947. It is likely that only the near-calamitous political conditions in 1964 and 1965 permitted [Prime Minister] Shastri and Subramaniam to promote a policy that was so accepting of the new wheats at IARI. Possible outbreak of famine, eruption of political violence over shortages of food, and stern pressure from the World Bank all combined by August 1965 to complete the transition in the central government to a full embrace of the technology needed to get higher agricultural production."

In March and April 1965, India decided to release two more varieties of hybrid wheat for commercial production on irrigated land. In early July of that year, the Indian government ordered 200 tons of seed for one variety (Sonora 64) from Borlaug. The Rockefeller Foundation paid for the seed in dollars and was reimbursed by the Indian government in rupees. Later in the month, the Indian government ordered another 50 tons of the second variety (Lerma Rojo 64A). Together, this was enough wheat to plant 2900 ha (7100 acres). India planned to use it for more testing and demonstrations and distribution to 5000 farmers.[17]

Following a brief war with Pakistan in the summer of 1965 and the announcement of new U.S. policies on food aid to India, India asked the Rockefeller Foundation for a large amount of Mexican wheat seeds, to be planted in the fall of 1966. Rockefeller, under President J. George Harrar, offered $100,000 for the purchase of wheat seeds.[18] In public statements, both Shastri and Subramaniam linked national security to India's ability to produce more food via Green Revolution technologies. Subramaniam said: "Our men of science are called upon to provide the ideas and leadership for bringing into the fields and techniques which will effect a breakthrough in our agriculture and sustain its dynamic growth... Agriculture in this country should be regarded as a management problem and not merely a way of life, and I am sure, the productivity approach is going to help us in maximizing output."[19][20]

In 1966, an Indian team led by S.P. Kohli of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute went to Mexico to select and purchase wheat seeds. Their purchase of 18,000 tons of the variety Lerma Rojo 64 was shipped from Sonora, Mexico on July 18, 1966, arriving in the Indian state of Gujarat by mid-September. This was enough seed to plant an estimated 1 million acres at a time when India had 33 million acres planted in wheat, with 10 million of them having irrigation.[21]

Green Revolution varieties of wheat covered 504,000 hectares in India in 1966-67 and grew nearly 20 times to 10 million hectares by 1972-73.[22]

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles

References

  1. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 224-8
  2. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 226
  3. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 226
  4. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 228
  5. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 228-9
  6. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 229
  7. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 230
  8. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 230-231
  9. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 234-5.
  10. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 235.
  11. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 235.
  12. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 235-36.
  13. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 236.
  14. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 235.
  15. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 237.
  16. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 240
  17. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 241
  18. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 243
  19. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 243
  20. C. Subramaniam, Message, Indian Farming 15, no 7 (1965): 2.
  21. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 244-45
  22. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 245

External Resources

Books

  • Mark Dowie, American Foundations: An Investigative History, 2001, The MIT Press.
  • John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Lester R. Brown, Seeds of Change: The Green Revolution and Development in the 1970's, 1970, Praeger Publishers, New York.
  • E.C. Stakman, Richard Bradfield, and Paul C. Mangelsdorf, Campaigns Against Hunger, 1967, The Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA.

External Articles

Criticism