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From the Green Revolution to the Rainbow Revolution

Blog post
Pentti Ruuttunen

Beginning in the 1960s, the “Green Revolution” was a major development in the world's crop production and food supply. It is considered to have begun from US plant breeder Norman Borlaug’s development of disease-resistant, short-stalked, higher yield, wheat varieties suitable for many cultivation conditions. In the wake of wheat, similar developments were also made in the processing of corn and rice. With the new varieties, many developing countries were also able to multiply their grain harvest and feed their growing populations. At the same pace with the development of plant breeding, crop production also introduced chemical fertilizers and plant protection products, which further intensified cultivation and increased yields.

Cereal field and sun Photo: Vastavalo

While the Green Revolution has eliminated hunger, today its achievements are dimmed by its harm to the environment. The focus on a few crops has depleted the soil and ruined its structure and productivity. Overfertilization has led to nutrient losses and eutrophication of water bodies. Overused and misuse plant protection products have damaged farmers' health and caused residues in soil and crops. Intensive production of large areas combined with repeated use of same pesticides has reduced field diversity and led to the resistance of many pathogens, pests, and weeds to entire pesticide groups. Intensive farming and pesticides are suspected causes of global insect decline.

The monocrop farming system is vulnerable to extreme events and new crop pests added by climate change. The war in Ukraine has also brought national security of supply into focus, which must be addressed through diversified and self-sufficient food production. Consumers are concerned about the adverse effects of agricultural and food production; they demand food produced organically or otherwise environmentally friendly.

We need another revolution. Let all flowers bloom like at any other level in a developed and tolerant society. Some of the worst environmental damage caused by intensive farming has already been remedied through cooperation between authorities, research, industry, and producers, but much remains to be done. Crop production needs to be diversified and the many benefits of crop rotation need to be harnessed. In parallel with chemical plant protection, or even to completely replace it, all known other means must be used and new ones developed. However, an agrarian rainbow revolution is not an easy task. The environmental harms of agriculture must be reduced, but crop yields and profitability should not decrease. Tackling these challenges requires innovation, open-mindedness, and cooperation from all actors in society.

Increasing competition for natural resources and commodities and intensifying demand will challenge the agricultural input and food industry to develop soil- and climate-friendly cultivation and crop friendly solutions. Research is an invaluable partner for industry in this development. 

Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has the capacity to meet diverse research challenges. Our extensive expertise and modern infrastructure provide a strong foundation for research. We believe that our understanding of biological, technological, and economic phenomena will bring significant innovations to the field of bio-based plant protection products. We can combine the strengths of Luke and our partners into comprehensive research projects. Our national collaboration with agricultural advisory services, business and frontline farmers is lively and open. We are also actively seeking new international partners for research and product development in biopesticides and other non-chemical plant protection.

There may be gold at the end of the rainbow.


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