I. The Challenge
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG)3 agreed to by all Heads of State at the Millennium Summit Conference in 2000 seek to reduce levels of hunger, malnutrition and poverty by half by the year 2015, from their 1990 levels. Everyone agrees that these are very ambitious goals; reaching them will require sharp improvements in the rate of progress seen over the past half-century. Critical will be increasing the rate of economic growth in the poorest countries. In this task, agriculture plays at least three roles. Growth in agricultural productivity can stimulate faster economic growth, it tends to make this growth more "pro-poor" and it can provide the food supplies needed to reduce hunger.
Biotechnology, through genetically modified (GM) food, can help agriculture play these roles. But the train of logic is long and filled with caveats: biotechnology is not a magic bullet for ending hunger and malnutrition. Especially in a world in which markets are awash in food commodities, and rich countries spend roughly $1 billion per day in subsidies to keep their farmers in business, the problems faced by farmers and consumers in poor countries are not going to be solved by technology alone.
How can biotechnology help? To answer this simple question, we need to understand the problems we are trying to solve. For this, a bit of history is in order, especially a review of the successes and failures of the first green revolution. If the promise of biotechnology is, in Gordon Conway’s title, a "doubly green revolution," we need to understand the origins and effect of the "single" green revolution that started in the mid-1960s and which is still having a huge, positive influence on the welfare of billions of people, especially in developing countries.