Past Successes in Reducing Poverty Through Agricultural Science

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Science and technology underpinned the economic and social gains in Asia over the past 30 years. In agriculture, these gains came to be known as the Green Revolution. Between 1970 and 1995, cereal produc

1 The poor is defined as those people who survive on less than $1.00 day.

2 Undernutrition is determined from data about people's weight, height, and age.

tion in Asia doubled, calorie availability per person increased by 24 percent, and real food prices halved (IFPRI 1997). Although the region's population grew by 1 billion people, overall food production more than kept pace with population growth (McCalla 1998). These food production increases were achieved largely by the cultivation of high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of rice and wheat, accompanied by expansion of irrigated areas, increases in fertilizer and pesticide use, and greater availability of credit.

The scientific basis for the Green Revolution stemmed from national and international research programs that led to the development and distribution of new HYVs, particularly of rice and wheat. The first generation of these new varieties were based on the introduction of new genes for dwarfing that made the HYVs shorter, more responsive to fertilizers, and less prone to falling over or lodging when fertilized and irrigated. Subsequent varieties also carried genes that gave increased pest and disease resistance and improved taste and grain quality.

The key elements in improving food security in Asia from 1970-95 were government policies reflecting a belief that investments in increasing agricultural productivity were a prerequisite to economic development. These national policies were supported by political leaders in Asia and by both the public and private sectors of the international community. This mix of supportive public policies, scientific discoveries, and public and private investments in rural Asia, particularly in irrigation, credit, and inputs, led to substantial reductions in poverty and improved food security throughout Asia over the past 30 years. Increased agricultural productivity, rapid industrial growth, and expansion of the nonfarm rural economy have all contributed to almost a tripling of per capita gross domestic product across Asia since 1970 (ADB 2000b, Pinstrup-Andersen and Cohen 2000).

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