Over the course of nearly four decades, beginning in the 1940s, annual crop yields surged in poor countries around the world. Between 1960 and 1985 cereal yields, total cereal production, and total food production in developing countries all more than doubled. Dubbed the “Green Revolution” by an American foreign aid official, this historic transformation of traditional farming methods began with a single public-private experiment with Mexican wheat. It quickly spread to corn, beans, and rice, rippling across hundreds of millions of cultivated acres throughout Latin America and Asia. The change was particularly pronounced—life-altering and frequently lifesaving—on the small farms where nearly half a billion of the world’s poorest people made their living.
The roots of this achievement were a combination of venturesome philanthropy, astute agricultural research, aggressive recruitment and training of scientists and farmers in the developing world, and determined government agricultural and water policy. The results were as massive as they were unprecedented.