Following the Second World War the United States found itself as one of only two world superpowers. With the Cold War looming in the near future, the Soviet Union and the United States each scrambled to gain allies, develop new technology rapidly, and position themselves against one another. However, despite our shortcomings in the space program, what the United States did have were some of the greatest scientific minds in the world and our core tenants of capitalism. The combination of these two factors resulted in an innovative program that changed the world forever: the Green Revolution.
Simply put, the Green Revolution was a rapid, systematic change in how agriculture the world over was produced. By using new biological and chemical technologies, the United States developed ways to massively increase crop production in a number of climates and geographic regions. Combined with Cold War ideologies of containment and domino theory, the United States exported these methods overseas to keep people fed and nations from turning to communism. In India, which was very politically unstable and bordering communist China, the Green Revolution took root, saving countless lives and providing an influx of food in areas where famine was commonplace. Elsewhere the program was established as well with similar results. However, the repercussions were not only felt abroad but here at home as well.
Developments in transportation led to increased levels of trade and the capitalist United States became able to provide food for its citizens more efficiently than ever before. Grain prices plummeted, saving Americans billions and forever changing the American diet. Food was able to be mass produced and delivered to citizens faster than ever before. One needs to look no further than the American breakfast table, which now included more breakfast cereals than ever before.
The Green Revolution ties together many concepts from the 1940-1980 period. The revolution was funded by the American government, which placed an increased trust in scientific experts, who then to created a form of agriculture that was exported to the third-world because of fears of the spread of communism. In addition, the environmental implications from the Green Revolution are huge. Environment damaging fertilizer and pesticides were central to Green Revolution agricultural practices, soil and water purity declined worldwide, and mass production resulted in many varieties of crops dying out because they ceased to be grown. Other results include the continual decline of the small American family farm, a change in the American diet, and even the current local, organically grown food movement, which seeks to offset many of the externalities of this system.
Every time you open a bag of Fritos or eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes, you are experiencing the effects of the Green Revolution. This unique combination of foreign relations, food, and microfinance not only fought communism back in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, but also left a legacy that affects our lives today.