photo by meiaponte farm (Flickr CC)

The original Green Revolution was essentially a Cold War tactic of the United States to win over Third World countries by supplying them with agricultural technology, thereby dramatically increasing their food production. The main recipients of Green Revolution techniques were India, Mexico and the Philippines, as well as some African countries (with markedly less success).

Although the Green Revolution increased food production, it has its drawbacks and criticisms: unsustainable population growth – leading to mass starvation; genetically weak and less biodiverse monoculture farming – meaning crop failures are more likely, requiring more chemical pesticides to compensate for this risk. Monoculture is also a profit-driven, industrial farming model. It is dependent on trade, industrial fertilizers and chemicals, intensive water usage, transportation and even globalization. Traditional polyculture, on the other hand, evolved to serve the complete needs of local populations.

Brazil is currently in the throws of its own Green Revolution, with monocrop agriculture taking over vast amounts of biodiverse regions such as the Amazon and the Cerrado. The Cerrado accounts for 21% of Brazil’s land and whopping 5% of the Earth’s entire biodiversity, yet it is rapidly being converted into industrial soya and eucalyptus plantations.

From the Telegraph:

The Cerrado is rich in biodiversity and yet, alarming[ly], it has almost halved in size since, because of wild fires and the demand for agricultural products. If we’re going to stop the loss of biodiversity, we need to protect our forests – which house the majority of the world’s wildlife. We won’t succeed in tackling climate change unless we deal with deforestation.

–Caroline Spelman, UK Environment Secretary

The Green Revolution, whether as an American anti-communist measure or as a method of ‘economic growth at all costs’ in Brazil, is by no means ‘Green’. While its economic benefits are clear – albeit short-sighted – pollution, human rights issues, biodiversity loss, the loss of carbon sinks and risks of sustainability, in terms of population and local communities’ ability to feed themselves, make it seem like a very bad bargain in the long run.

Watch photographer Peter Caton’s excellent audio slideshow ‘Disappearing Cerrado: Brazil’s untold environmental disaster’ in the Guardian for more.