Devon G. Peña | Seattle, WA | February 14, 2013
According to an official press release dated February 13, 2013, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, Jr. joined Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim, reputedly the wealthiest man on the planet, to participate in the inaugural festivities for a new US$25 million “bioscience” research complex. The new biotechnology facilities are located at the historic headquarters of the International Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Corn, which is known by its Mexican acronym CIMMYT in El Batán, Queretaro, Mexico.
CIMMYT’s claim to fame is as one of the two principal centers established by Norman Borlaug and the Rockefeller Foundation as part of the original ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1950s and 60s. Indeed, the CIMMYT press release proudly declares how “CIMMYT was the cradle of the Green Revolution 60 years ago.” The second research center was the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. India became a primary testing ground for the new varieties of wheat and rice, which were touted as high-yield hybrids. And for a time, the seeds did improve the yield per acre. For example, in India, yields for rice increased from about two tons per acre in 1960 to more than six tons per acre by 1990 (Bartra 2007).
However, the Green Revolution has long had its critics including other scientists, many smallholder farmers, and land reform and indigenous rights activists among others. Among the leading critics of the first Green Revolution was the India physicist and ecofeminist, Vandana Shiva, whose books revealed the limits, contradictions, inequalities, and ecological consequences of the “modern” agricultural technologies, seeds, and practices.
In The Violence of the Green Revolution (1992) and Monocultures of the Mind (1993), Shiva argued that the so-called high yield varieties were actually high input varieties because they required the routine application of fertilizers and pesticides while traditional land race varieties favored by small and peasant farmers did not require these expensive inputs. Indeed, over time, many insects and weeds developed resistance to the chemical inputs, which required larger quantities of the chemical inputs to maintain yields. The result, says Shiva, was the displacement of small-scale farmers and independent subsistence producers who could not afford the expensive inputs or larger “economies of scale” required to make the expensive new forms of agricultural profitable.