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Notes on the Green Revolution

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  • Holden Karnofsky
    I spent ~10 hours trying to get a basic understanding of the Green Revolution, which is constantly cited as a major international-aid success story, though one
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 21, 2009
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      I spent ~10 hours trying to get a basic understanding of the Green Revolution, which is constantly cited as a major international-aid success story, though one that people have been trying unsuccessfully to extend to Africa, the only place where it hasn't caught on.  

      Other relevant success stories (the health ones) are basically collected in one place (the Levine book by Center for Global Development); it was trickier to get a handle on exactly what this one was, what the role of philanthropy was, and what the obstacles are to taking it further.  But it seemed very important since the Green Revolution is not only held up as an example of what philanthropy can accomplish, but is also widely seen as a key to the macro-scale emergence of countries.

      There's still a lot I don't understand and plan to ask people about, but I've got a basic picture now.  My understanding is that philanthropy (Rockefeller and Ford Foundations) is given a lot of credit for funding research on improved agricultural seeds & techniques, which led to huge increases in agricultural productivity, which in turn led to changes in government policy and infrastructure and is widely (though not unanimously) seen as the "trigger" for the emergence of many countries in Asia and Central/South America.  That said, there are many reasons to believe that the same success story cannot be repeated in Africa, and it's unclear what role non-research interventions have played or can play.

      In health, I believe there are interventions (like mass vaccination, and food fortification) that have been responsible for big accomplishments in the past and can be reasonably expected to do so again.  From what I know, I wouldn't say the same of any particular agriculture/Green-Revolution-focused programs.  I think our focus within this area (agriculture/economic-empowerment programs) should be on programs that have good track records at the micro level (e.g., randomized controlled trials such as those carried out by the Poverty Action Lab).

      More at the Green Revolution wikipage I've created.  http://www.givewell.net/wiki/index.php?title=Green_revolution
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