II. The Multiple Impact of the First Green Revolution
The first green revolution was accomplished through traditional breeding techniques, but with radical objectives to redesign the basic architecture of rice and wheat plants. The result was to raise the productivity of these two crucial grain crops significantly, especially in irrigated conditions. Because of the widespread effect of this green revolution in Asia, it lowered the real costs of staple food grains and made them much more affordable to the poor. The result, then, was to increase their food intake directly and improve their nutritional status and work capacity. It is useful to think of this as the first "Strong Link" in the array of connections between agricultural technology and reduced malnutrition.
Because food grains are the "wage good" in poor societies, lower food costs meant that employers could offer lower money wages at the same time that workers’ living standards could increase. Thus, hiring more labor was productive (and profitable), and the additional hiring contributed directly to greater employment and reduced poverty. This is the second "Strong Link" in the array of connections (although possibly one only an economist could love).
Finally, the higher productivity from the green revolution technology contributed to growth in rural economies beyond the direct production effect and stimulated overall economic growth. This is the third "Strong Link" between agricultural technology and reduced malnutrition.4
In combination, these three links led to "pro-poor" economic growth, reduced poverty and sharply improved nutritional status in those societies that were able to capitalize on the potential of the first green revolution (mainly in Asia). The success of this growth experience has generated great interest in Washington in the nature of policies that stimulated such pro-poor growth, especially at USAID and the World Bank.5