Why the Green Revolution failed

John Naughton

Consider an English domestic gardener troubled by a most common affliction: the depredations of the caterpillars of the cabbage-white butterfly (Pieris rapae) as they chomp their way through the leaves of his cabbage plants. Much incensed by this, he has resort to proprietary brands of chemical insecticide available to him courtesy of Messrs Shell, ICI, Fisons et al. Application of this ‘technological fix’ yields eminently satisfactory results. The caterpillars are decimated, the plants restored to former glory.

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[1] See The Careless Technology edited by M. Taghi-Favar and J.P. Milton (Stacey, New York, 1973).

[2] See, for example, Public Affairs by C.P. Snow (Macmillan, 1971, pp. 212-3).

[3] The Social and Economic Implications of Large-Scale Introduction of New Varieties of Foodgrain (UNRISD Report No 74. 1, Geneva, 1974).

[4] What makes matters worse is that the traditional methodological dogma of Western science – reductionism – comes unstuck when confronted by the behaviour of systemic ‘wholes’. This is because they seem to possess holistic properties which cannot be deduced from the study of their individual components in isolation: they are, as the old cliché has it, ‘greater than the sum of their parts’.