Marci Baranski, The Globalisation of Wheat: A Critical History of the Green Revolution – University of Pittsburgh Press, November 2022
In The Globalization of Wheat, Marci R. Baranski explores Norman Borlaug’s complicated legacy as godfather of the Green Revolution. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in fighting global hunger, Borlaug, an American agricultural scientist and plant breeder who worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, left a legacy that divides opinions even today. His high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties, known as miracle seeds, effectively doubled and tripled crop yields across the globe, from Kenya to India and Argentina to Mexico due to their wide adaptation. But these modern seeds also required expensive chemical fertilizers and irrigation, both of which were only available to wealthier farmers. Baranski argues that Borlaug’s new technologies ultimately privileged wealthier farmers, despite assurances to politicians that these new crops would thrive in diverse geographies and benefit all farmers. As large-scale monocultures replaced traditional farming practices, these changes were codified into the Indian wheat research system, thus limiting attention to traditional practices and marginal environments. In the shadow of this legacy, and in the face of accelerating climate change, Baranski brings new light to Borlaug’s role in a controversial concept in agricultural science.
In this highly original work, Marci Baranski challenges a key claim of twentieth-century scientific ingenuity: wide adaptation. Wide adaptation was needed to make wheat a global crop and launch the Green Revolution of the 1960s. Yet, Baranski asks, what if the research was wrong? What if Norman Borlaug was wrong? Her book is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing how and why the science of the Green Revolution, flawed though it was, continues to garner attention and followers today. Gabriela Soto Laveaga, Harvard University
This well-researched, well-written, and important book establishes Marci Baranski as one of the best of the new generation of historians of science. The Globalization of Wheat not only peels back the layers of politics behind the Green Revolution’s ‘miracle seeds’ but shows how those events brought about a distorted notion of what we should value in seeds. This is a vital contribution to the ongoing rethinking of this famous episode in agricultural history.Glenn Davis Stone, author of The Agricultural Dilemma: How Not to Feed the World