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Food sufficiency and deficiency

IB DP Geography
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Base Knowledge and Understanding

Base knowledge and understanding

Video Clip
Data Visualization

The Guardian

Obituary - Norman Borlaug
[13 September 2009]

Definition Green revolution
News Article
Words to be defined
Base Level



The aim of this lesson:

  • To be able to explain how the Green Revolution is linked to changes in:
    • agricultural systems
    • scientific and technological innovations
    • the expansion of the area under agriculture
    • the growth of agribusiness
  • To be able to examine the environmental, demographic, political, social and economic that have caused areas of food deficiency and food insecurity.
  • To be able to examine the concept of sustainable agriculture in terms of energy efficiency rations and sustainable yields.
Geography Activities
Geography Activities

Viva la [Green] Revolution!

The Green Revolution is the name given to the approach that was developed by Norman Borlaug and others to increase the productivity of agricultural land in key countries of the world by educating farmers and introducing new technologies.

Through the 1940s a range of techniques were introduced, some of which were based on techniques that had been used successfully in Mexico. These techniques increased productivity so much that Mexico became a net exporter of cereals.

One of the major aspects of the green revolution was the use of technology.

Another success was achieved in Punjab state in India, where wheat and rice production doubled, and it became known as the ‘bread basket’ of India. India is fed using an area of land seven times smaller than the land needed to ‘feed’ a similar population in Africa.


Things that worked

Using hybrid grain seeds (mainly rice, wheat and corn).

These hybrid seeds produced plants with shorter stalks. Instead of putting the energy into growing taller, energy went into the grain. These HYVs (high yielding varieties) of staple crops were produced by genetic engineering. In some cases, several harvests were possible, rather than just one.


Things that didn't work so well

Inputs into the farm system were increased. These include the things that are needed for the farm to operate successfully.

Artificial fertilisers were needed to ensure high yields. Whereas the traditional methods used animal manure and did not need any additional inputs, the HYVs needed artificial support, as they were sometimes more prone to pests and disease due to the genetic manipulation that went into their production.

Costs were higher as there were fees for these artificial additions to the farm system. Farmers in these areas found it difficult to access loans and additional funding, and didn’t want to get into debt.

Some crops also needed improved irrigation, which was required for maximum yields. In areas of water scarcity this was not always easy to guarantee.

Geography Resource
  International Food Policy Research Institute - Green Revolution - Curse or Blessing?
Geography Activities



There are a number of factors which affect the nature of food sufficiency, or can lead to food deficiency if they are not sufficiently developed.

Click to visit the appropriate factor, and then return to feedback what you have discovered with reference to the following questions:

  • What factors influence the extent to which the population of an area enjoy sufficient food?
  • Is hunger more a factor of politics and economics than the success of agriculture in an area?

Changes in agricultural systems

Scientific and technological innovations

Expansion of the area under agriculture

The growth of agribusiness

Geography Activities
Geography Activities

Changes in agricultural systems

Traditionally, farming has a simple system of inputs, processes and outputs. Although different farms will generally have variations on a theme, this pattern is reproduced on each farm. There are usually limiting factors such as climate, soil, topography etc. plus the historical use of that particular piece of land. Many farmers are driven by the necessity to feed the family, or make a profit to please shareholders.

There have been many changes to agriculture over the years.

Agriculture also requires investment of various kinds. Many countries have prioritised other areas over agriculture, and only a small percentage of foreign aid tends to be spent on agricultural projects

The Farm as a System
Image Credit: Adrian Francis via Alan Parkinson

The funding of agricultural change is one issue that needs addressing.

Recently a number of micro-credit systems have been introduced, which are available to small farmers as well as other individuals and small businesses.

Geography Activities
Geography Activities

Scientific and technological innovations

Innovation has always been used in agriculture. Farmers have always looked to improve their practice in order to save time and work more efficiently.

Early innovations included the seed drill of Jethro Tull, which enabled a farmer to complete an important job in a faster time.

Seed Drill

I wonder what Jethro Tull would have thought of modern tractors and combines which are equipped with ‘Sat Nav’, which takes over the driving. An article in the Daily Telegraph in 2006 suggested:

“In a decade's time British fields could even see rows of robots making their way up and down fields efficiently delivering chemicals to crops, according to Clive Blacker, who runs a precision farming consultancy.”

Remote sensing can also be used to produce data across an entire farm, and target interventions by the farmer.

Remote Sensing - Precision Farming

The image above shows that some fields have crops which are ‘stressed’ through lack of water. These fields could then be targeted for irrigation, thereby saving water, and ensuring that yields didn’t suffer.

The images could be obtained from commercial satellites, or from flyovers by drone planes equipped with camera able to capture images at certain wavelengths. There is also the use of GIS (geographical information systems) to accurately map farms. Not only does this enable more accurate claims for subsidies, but also maps the area that is used for conservation, and can result in better calculations of orders of seeds and chemicals. With nitrogen based fertilisers costing hundreds of pounds per tonne it is important that they are not wasted.

Accurate weather forecasts can avoid waste where rainfall or high winds might reduce the impact of freshly applied chemicals, as shown in the video below:

It is worth noting that all of these innovations don’t need satellites or microchips. One simple technology that has featured in many books and educational video is the stone line, or diguette / bund.
Geography Activities
Geography Activities

Expansion of the area under agriculture

An obvious way to increase food production would seem to be to put new land under the plough. There are several issues with doing this for a number of locations. Because agriculture has been taking place for centuries it is not surprising perhaps that the ‘best’ land has already been identified, and many other areas are urbanised and cannot be used.

Similarly large areas have been taken out of production as a result of land ‘improvement’ or reclamation such as grazing marshes in some coastal areas. Changing land use is often a secondary impact of major engineering schemes which reduce the potential flood risk of an area.

In Japan there is very little available flat land due to the nature of the terrain. This puts added pressure on the few available areas of flat land. This means that farmers have to be very precise, and have developed a range of machinery which is on a smaller scale than most commercial farms in the developed world. Land reclamation has also taken place, although this is usually so expensive that the land it creates is used for residential use, or for developments such as Kansai airport near Osaka.

Geography Resource
  European Commission - High-yield crops have curbed agricultural land expansion, but care needed to avoid negative biodiversity effects
Geography Activities
Geography Activities

The growth of agribusiness

Imagine a hundred small fields owned by separate farmers. They are responsible for their own cultivation and harvesting. They all need machinery. They all need to find a market and negotiate a price for their crops. There is likely to be additional effort expended, and because of their small size they will have less bargaining power. Now imagine the same area of land combined into one huge field.

Agribusiness is the name given to the aggregation of farmland under the control of a single business. These are often owned in turn by large trans-national corporations. Companies such as Nestle also control food production in large areas, as do companies that produce tea and coffee.

Economies of scale are usually mentioned as a key benefit of this approach to agriculture. Costs are reduced when scale is increased. One associated issue here is that of monoculture. Generally, businesses will focus on growing one crop, having secured a favourable position. Large fields are generally planted with one crop. This means that after harvesting the soil over a large area is bare and disturbed, and may be prone to soil erosion. Large areas of a single crop may also be more prone to disease and therefore require extra spraying of pesticides. Large companies may also negotiate favourable prices, and the terms under which they operate within a region. How big can these fields be ?

Use Google Earth to explore the landscape of the Prairies. Google the term to find out where to look in the USA.
Single wheat fields in this area can cover over 500 acres (how big is that ?) Large areas of soya beans or corn are a common sight. Using the measuring tool see who can find the largest single field as delimited by a fence or road or natural feature.

Geography Review


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