Shown here are two people who, in my opinion, have perhaps done more for India than anybody else. That’s the kind of remark that can keep Twitter going for days, but I would honestly be surprised if these two didn’t make at least the top ten for most people.
Who are they? M.S. Swaminathan on the left, and Norman Borlaug on the right. And what, you might ask, are they famous for? Almost every student in India is likely to say “The Green Revolution!” by way of response, and they wouldn’t be incorrect.
Read the entire Wikipedia article, because it is quite the story. And if, after reading the article, you still wish to learn more, consider reading a book called The Wizard and the Prophet:
In November 1963, Swaminathan received the next shipment of Borlaug’s wheat: 220 pounds each of four commercially released varieties and samples of another 600 breeding lines that were promising but not yet commercially available. IARI researchers divided the wheat among five-acre plots in four different experimental stations. The results were remarkable. Indian farmers typically reaped less than half a ton per acre. The four Mexican varieties yielded a per-acre average of about a ton and a half, and some plots came in at almost two tons.Mann, Charles C.. The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Groundbreaking Scientists and Their Conflicting Visions of the Future of Our Planet (Kindle Locations 6706-6710). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis added)
How and why India (and other nations) fell short in terms of food production, Borlaug’s research in Mexico, and the fascinating story of how both Borlaug and his wheat made it to Asia is told incredibly well in the book (there is much more in the book besides, and I mean that as a compliment), and I would strongly recommend you read it.
Their work has gone a very long way towards making sure that the so called Malthusian Trap hasn’t really been a problem for most countries.
But well, we live in interesting times.
Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of globally traded wheat, 29% of the barley, 15% of the maize and 75% of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/05/19/the-coming-food-catastrophe
Even before the invasion the World Food Programme had warned that 2022 would be a terrible year. China, the largest wheat producer, has said that, after rains delayed planting last year, this crop may be its worst-ever. Now, in addition to the extreme temperatures in India, the world’s second-largest producer, a lack of rain threatens to sap yields in other breadbaskets, from America’s wheat belt to the Beauce region of France. The Horn of Africa is being ravaged by its worst drought in four decades. Welcome to the era of climate change.
All this will have a grievous effect on the poor. Households in emerging economies spend 25% of their budgets on food—and in sub-Saharan Africa as much as 40%. In Egypt bread provides 30% of all calories. In many importing countries, governments cannot afford subsidies to increase the help to the poor, especially if they also import energy—another market in turmoil.
The effects are already being felt the world over, and as the article points out, this is likely to get much worse before it gets better, and for a variety of reasons. These are worth listing out:
- The war in Ukraine has resulted in supply chain disruptions
- Unexpected changes in weather patterns the world over. You may wish to debate the word “unexpected”, and I would be in agreement with you!
- Raging inflationary pressures due to loose monetary policies (how loose for how long with what effects is a topic that will turn into a miniature cottage industry in academia)
- A steep rise in oil prices, which impacts and is in turn impacted by 1., 2. and 3.
And the worst of it is that none of these factors look likely to subside anytime soon. And once you bake in the inevitable political response in most countries, you have found a way to make a bad problem worse:
Since the war started, 23 countries from Kazakhstan to Kuwait have declared severe restrictions on food exports that cover 10% of globally traded calories. More than one-fifth of all fertiliser exports are restricted. If trade stops, famine will ensue.https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/05/19/the-coming-food-catastrophe
This is a story worth keeping track of, and you can be assured that all governments will be doing just that. Working through the myriad implications of multiple scenarios in a geopolitical situation as volatile as the one we’re going through right now is a migraine inducing thought, but it needs to be done.
Make no mistake, these are very interesting times indeed.
But on the plus side, imagine where we might have found ourselves today had the Green Revolution not taken place.
Read The Wizard and the Prophet, please.