Although Easterbrook fails to name explicitly a single one of Borlaug's opponents, the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) has no problem placing itself among that group. To claim that merely because we disagree with Borlaug, those of us who oppose Green Revolution technologies are a bunch of effete, insensitive northern elites who do not give a damn about human suffering in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is character assassination by innuendo.
A great many of Borlaug's opponents have as many years experience living and working in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as he does. And most of us care every bit as much as Borlaug does about the unnecessary human suffering in those parts of the world, as well as in North America and Europe. But we have reached a different set of conclusions about the causes of hunger and therefore about appropriate solutions for solving the problem. Borlaug's analysis and Easterbrook's representation of the debate contain a number of fundamental flaws.
First, as Food First has always argued, hunger is not caused by food shortages or population growth rates. If that were the case, then the food increases Easterbrook erroneously attributes almost solely to the genius of one American man should have ended the problems of hunger and malnutrition in India, Pakistan, and Mexico, where Borlaug claims such success. The fundamental cause of the hunger has always involved the distribution of existing food supplies.
Second, Borlaug and Easterbrook are dead wrong to claim that environmentalists oppose increasing food-crop yields. The real debate is about identifying those methods that are safest for farmers, farm workers, consumers, and the environment.
Another irony, left unnoted in the article, is the documented fact that Green Revolution technologies lead to declining crop yields after prolonged use, in addition to damaging the environment and human health.
Third, the article gives an incomplete picture of the World Bank's "withdrawal" from food production in Africa. The World Bank and the U.S. government currently advocate the export of Green Revolution technologies to Africa together with free-trade policies and food imports. The World Bank and the U.S. government are trying to convince African countries that their comparative advantages lie not in staple food production but in such areas as cut flowers and specialty vegetables -- crops requiring vast amounts of chemical fertilizer and extensive irrigation. Is Easterbrook completely unaware, for example, of the growing economic importance of these crops in Africa and the horrendous environmental consequences due to a reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems?
Deborah L. Toler
Peter R. Rosset
Gregg Easterbrook marred an otherwise good piece of journalism with his gratuitous and erroneous attacks on environmentalists for limiting the use of inorganic fertilizers in sub-Saharan Africa.