Agricultural Productivity and Child Mortality: The Impact of the Green Revolution

Date01 March 2014
Published date01 March 2014
World Food Policy
Many papers have examined the impact of the Green Revolution and the
international agricultural research centers on agricultural productivity and
the rates of return to agricultural research investment. Here we extend this
analysis to look at the impact on food security and human welfare as
measured by child mortality. In this paper, we conduct two counterfactual
simulations for the 30-year period 1970-2000—the irst holding 1970 crop
genetic improvements constant and the second presuming the International
Agricultural Research Center (IARC) system had not been built. Our results
show that Green Revolution technologies and the IARC system signiicantly
reduced child mortality. he counterfactual analysis demonstrates the im-
portance of the Green Revolution in generating not only sustained improve-
ments in crop productivity growth through the 1970s and 1980s, but also the
powerful indirect efects on human welfare as measured by child mortality.
Keywords: Agricultural productivity, Green Revolution, child mortality
1. Introduction
Agricultural productivity around
the world has grown considerably
over the past few decades, much of
which can be attributed to agricultural re-
search. is is especially accurate for the
growth achieved during the Green Revolu-
tion period when breeding and adoption of
improved crop varieties, especially rice and
wheat, combined with the expanded use of
fertilizers, other chemical inputs, and irriga-
tion led to dramatic yield increases for these
two crops in Asia and Latin America, be-
ginning in the late 1960s. Although growth
of public funding for agricultural research
in both developing countries and Organi-
zation for Economic Cooperation and De-
velopment (OECD) countries has slowed in
recent years, it has been a signicant source
of support for many decades. is was par-
ticularly true during the 1960s, when public
agricultural research funds were more avail-
able than private funds (Alston and Pardey
Agricultural Productivity and Child Mortality:
e Impact of the Green Revolution
Mark W. Rosegrant1, Robert E. Evenson, Siwa Msangi2, Timothy B. Sulser3
1 Corresponding author: Director, Environment and Production Technology Division, International Food
Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC.
2 Senior Research Fellow, Environment and Production Technology Division, International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC.
3 Trade and Markets Division, Economic and Social Development Department, Food and Agriculture Orga-
nization of the United Nations (FAO) (formerly IFPRI).
"his paper is dedicated to the memory of Robert E. Evenson. Bob was a great teacher and
advisor to hundreds of students at Yale and in the Philippines, many of whom have gone
on to highly successful careers. Bob was a leading scholar in research related to agri¬cul-
tural research, economic development, and education."
Agricultural Productivity and Child Mortality: he Impact of the Green Revolution
is was particularly true during the 1960s,
when public agricultural research funds
were more available than private funds
(Alston and Pardey 1996).
Prior to the Green Revolution, an as-
sessment was made of the National Agricul-
tural Research Systems in various countries
in order to determine whether there was a
demonstrated need for them to be support-
ed by a system of International Agricultur-
al Research Centers (IARCs). ese IARCs
were to provide the technical expertise and
knowledge that would help to overcome
local barriers to eective promulgation of
best-agricultural-practices and produc-
tivity enhancements at the countr y level,
and to support the struggling agricultural
economies of those regions most in need of
development. Even without the eventual in-
troduction of radical improvements in crop
genetic traits, a successful argument for the
positive impacts of IARCs could be made in
many countries.
Numerous studies have found that
public agricultural research has had a posi-
tive impact on agricultural productivity and
for society as a whole, and that the impact
of IARCs on agricultural development has
likewise been positive in many countries.
For example, a c omprehensive analy sis of
rates of return to agricultural research and
development by Alston et al. (2000) consid-
ers 292 studies with a total of 1,885 estimates
published since 1953. e rese archers cal-
culate an average rate of return for research
of 100 percent per year, with a median rate
of 48 p ercent and mode of 46 percent. Sep-
arately, Evenson (2003) estimates at least
half of all productivity gains since 1965 in
developing countries are due to crop genet-
ic improvement, with varieties developed
by IARCs accounting for about half the
crop genetic improvement. Country- and
crop-specic examples also abound, such as
Brazil, with crop genetic improvement pro-
grams contributing about 50 percent of the
historical yield gains (Avila et al. 2003), and
rice productivity over the past 40 years in
Asia, where the Green Revolution is widely
considered an enormous success (Hossain
et al. 2003). In the United States, the rate of
return to agricultural research is estimated
around 45–50 percent (Fuglie and Heisey
2007; Human and Evenson 2006).
While many studies have looked at
the impacts of public research funding on
agricultural productivity and the rates of
return to research, few have looked close-
ly at the plausible impacts of declines in
crop research on international agricultural
production and the subsequent indirect ef-
fects on human welfare. Such an examina-
tion exposes the important linkage between
agricultural productivity, wider economic
growth, and human welfare such as child
mortality. While there are numerous fac-
tors that can lead to the betterment of these
human welfare indicators—ranging from
the improved provision and accessibili-
ty to primary healthcare, increased access
to clean water, and higher levels of educa-
tion (especially for women)—we focus on
those which relate directly to the improve-
ment of agricultural performance, which
is still where the bulk of economic activity
resides in developing countries, especially
for many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In particular, we are interested in the con-
nection between the types of productivity
improvements that can be attributed to the
IARCs as well as to the Green Revolution,
so we can assess their respective impacts on
indicators of human welfare.
A key indicator of human wel-
fare is child mortality. e United Nations
Children’s Fund (2012) estimates that the
number of children who die before age 5 is
approximately 7 mill ion per year, and infe c-
tious disease is the leading cause of death.
Of the total, Black et al. (2013) estimates

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