Revolutions in South East Asia:the impact of technology?– Episode 1: the green revolution in rural Asia
The green or agricultural revolution marked a significant shift toward using technology in rural areas in South-East Asian countries since the 1960s. The use of soils and new techniques have improved production and spared the Asian continent from famines and shortages. At the heart of this is the vitally important issue of food security for the population.
New ‘High-Yielding Varieties’ (HYVs)
Rural Asia evokes images of rice paddies, monsoons, silhouettes of conical hats bending to tend to the rice.Traditional methods are still used today in Vietnam, such as working with buffalo, hoeing by hand, using sickles to harvest. An idyllic picture-postcard scene. However, since the 1960s the country has suffered from increasing rural density, constant demographic growth and decreasing agricultural land area. Just after the war, food insecurity was at its highest: rural populations were not yet able to produce enough to feed themselves and they didn’t have the means to buy from other producers.
The most important technological advance which helped to alleviate these problems was the introduction of ‘selected’ and genetically modified seed varieties. These new varieties of rice and wheat produced two or three times more than traditional varieties – increasing cereal production in South-East Asia by a third.
Other determining factors in the success of the green revolution include fertilisers, phytosanitary products and adapting technology to environmental conditions (irrigation systems for droughts, insecticides for crop infestations,livestock vaccinations against epidemics).
Doi Moi gives things a boost
The Vietnamese politico-economic context has largely contributed to the success of the green revolution. In 1986, DoiMoi – a policy of change and renewal – was passed by the government: Vietnam went from having a centralised economy to a market economy. The country experienced strong economic growth (8.2% per year between 1991 and 1995) and an external trade boom (2.5 billion USD in 1985 – 31 billion USD in 2001) and self-sufficient agriculture was transformed into market and export agriculture. Furthermore the state introduced exclusive farming areas (Mekong Delta and Red River), liberalised agricultural prices anddecollectivisedland. Changes also took place on a social level – increased rural population, and a structural level – the State constructed hydraulic works, communications and installed advanced technology to transform production.
Therefore after two consecutive wars and 50 years of food insecurity, Vietnam has become the 2nd largest exporter of riceglobally. Other countries in South-East Asia have experienced similar green revolutions: Indonesia and the Philippineshave become self-sufficient, Thailand has become the largest exporter of rice globally and Cambodia, which exports only a very small amount of its rice crop, takes 7.5% of its GDP from this.
Towards a new green revolution?
However, the green revolution has received mixed reviews. The main challenges have certainly been met and the use of technology has led to many changes on geo-economic, social and political levels as well as micro and macroscopic levels, which have contributed to the development of rural Asia.
However, today the use of genetically modified crops poses problems of ‘genetic erosion’, the massive use of agrochemical products and their impact on the environment and humans. New challenges have arisen and models of growth are being called into questioned because of the damage to the environment, the greenhouse effect, mass pollution etc. UN experts are also calling for improvements to energy efficiency.