The term ‘green revolution’ was first coined in 1968 by William S. Gaud, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to reflect the technology transfer initiatives that led to increased crop yields and production after the Second World War.
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By the late 1960s, farmers in developed countries had adopted and incorporated high-yielding varieties of cereals, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, irrigation and more mechanized forms of cultivation. These technologies were also adopted in developing countries, and have been credited with saving millions from starvation.
Mexico became the first test case for international agricultural development for the U.S. government. The country became more self-sufficient in its food production through use of higher yielding seeds, pest and weed controls and improved use of soils and irrigation. The country achieved this with scientific and financial support from the United Nations, the U.S. government, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Successes in other countries such as India and Pakistan, where population growth was exceeding food production capacity at an alarming rate, soon followed.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Green Revolution is its heavy dependence on fossil fuel use. Chemical fertilizers require natural gas, some pesticides are derived from oil and mechanization and irrigation also requires power using hydrocarbons.
The growth in global population since the start of the Green Revolution is five billion people.
This has created an unintentional conundrum for agriculture.
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There is an ever-growing demand for more food production, but many of the methods and tools needed to meet this demand can have negative consequences for the climate.
Canada, like many other top-producing agriculture countries, is under the microscope both at home and globally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture production.
What’s needed is another green revolution, with green denoting low emissions rather than density of plants.
That’s the conclusion of a new thought-leadership report jointly authored by Royal Bank of Canada, the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute and Boston Consulting Group’s Centre for Canada’s Future entitled, The Next Green Revolution: How Canada can produce more food and fewer emissions.
The report says Canada can indeed achieve its goals of reducing GHG, but a “national effort, tailored to regional contexts and focused on the key pillars of technology, finance, skills and public policy, will be essential to increasing our production while also cutting emissions.”
It will also take considerable funding, as the report points out.
The report was released a month prior to the launch of consultations for a Sustainable Agriculture Strategy being developed by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. According to a press release on the launch, the strategy will “serve as a guide to support the livelihoods of farmers while growing a sustainable sector.”
AAFC plans to achieve this by “identifying goals and a way forward” so that Canada’s agriculture sector will be better equipped to “recover quickly from extreme events, thrive in a changing climate, contribute to world food security, while also contributing to Canada’s overall efforts to cut emissions.”
The strategy is a clear departure from the historical focus on just improving productivity.
The department said the overarching and integrated strategy will focus on five priority issues: soil health; climate adaptation and resilience; water; climate change mitigation; and biodiversity.
It may seem like a tall order but as AAFC points out in the release, producers have taken action on sustainability and will continue to do so.
I like that AAFC acknowledges this and wants to “amplify the work already underway and increase adoption of these best practices.”
The fear with any of these types of strategies is that too much time and money are wasted trying to reinvent the wheel.
AAFC said the strategy will be developed in close collaboration with the agricultural sector and that it will engage provinces and territories as well.
An advisory committee has been established, which includes a diverse cross-section of sector stakeholders that AAFC said will play an important role in facilitating collaboration, transparency and information sharing. Twenty organizations are members, including most national livestock and crop commodity groups, Fertilizer Canada, Farmers for Climate Solutions, and the Canadian Agri-food Policy Institute.
I encourage you to read the discussion document available on AAFC’s website, which you can comment on until March 31. It’s comprehensive and provides an in-depth view of what the federal government wants to achieve.
It’s a rare opportunity for farmers and industry stakeholders to provide input on how policy could affect their industry.