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Tufts OpenCourseware
Authors: Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D., William Lockeretz, Ph.D.


  • Bumb, Balu L. and Carolos A. Baanante, “The Role of Fertilizer in Sustaining Food Security and Protecting the Environment to 2020,” (excerpts) International Food Policy Research Institute Discussion Paper #17, Sept. 1996.
  • Rosset, Peter, Joseph Collins, and Frances Moore Lappe, “Lessons from the Green Revolution,: Tikkun Magazine, March 1, 2000.
  • Khush, Gurdev, 3 slides from presentation at Tufts biotech conference, “Agricultural Biotechnology: The Road to Improved Nutrition and Increased Production?” Boston, MA, Nov. 1, 2001.
  • Borlaug, Norman, 1 slide from “The Green Revolution Revisited and the Road Ahead,” Special 30th anniversary lecture, The Norwegian Nobel Institute, Oslo, Sept. 8, 2000.
  • Davies,W. Paul, “An Historical Perspective from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution,” Nutrition Reviews, Vol. 61, No. 6, 2003.

Key Questions

The Role of Fertilizer in Sustaining Food Security and Protecting the Environment in 2020

  • Are nutrients derived from natural sources always environmentally friendly?
  • According to the authors, how is fertilizer use important for meeting the projected global demand for food and preventing environmental degradation?
  • What macroeconomic policies influence fertilizer use in developing countries?
  • How do pricing policies for crops and fertilizers affect fertilizer use, agricultural production and environmental pollution?
  • Should fertilizers be subsidized for the farmers in developing countries? What is the impact of such policies? What are the alternatives?
  • Which are the two target groups for whom a proper credit policy should be developed in order to ensure adequate fertilizer usage in agriculture?
  • What are the roles best suited for government and private industry for ensuring that fertilizer marketing and distribution are efficient?
  • What are the two approaches for the withdrawal of the government from the activity of fertilizer marketing and distribution? What lessons can be drawn from the developing country experiences with respect to these two approaches?
  • What are the advantages that a free trade regime for fertilizer sector would hold for the developing countries?
  • What are the authors’ recommendations to enhance private participation in fertilizer production?
  • What is the WHO recommendation for nitrate levels in drinking water?
  • What are the environmental risks of fertilizer application in developing countries?
  • Why is nitrate leaching not a problem in most developing countries?
  • What policy recommendations do the authors’ suggest for internalizing the externality resulting from fertilizer production and use?
  • What policies in the developing countries would help in increasing - Fertilizer use efficiency? - Energy use efficiency in fertilizer production?

Lessons from the Green Revolution

  • Does increased food grain production essentially reduce hunger?
  • What does the experience of Green Revolution ( GR) reveal, if one were to correlate per capita food availability and the number of hungry people in China, Latin America and South Asia separately?
  • What are the reasons for existence of hunger despite the plentiful food production?
  • Are GR technologies essentially scale neutral?
  • What does comparison of yields and production obtained against the amount of fertilizer used per unit of land during the GR era show?
  • Why do the authors argue that GR is not sustainable? What approach to agricultural development would they be most likely to support?

An Historical Perspective from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution

  • What are the important traits that plant breeders focused upon that led to the Green Revolution (GR)?
  • What are the two phases of GR?
  • The author states “the GR has helped to conserve environmentally sensitive regions by focusing intensive agriculture on the more productive land”. Do you agree?
  • What traits have been most exploited in the genetically engineered (GE) crops worldwide?
  • What is the trend of GE crop cultivation in the developing countries?
  • What opportunities does GE hold for developing countries?
  • What are the author’s recommendations for exploiting the potential of GE crops in the developing world?
  • In which regions of the world will the demand for food increase in next decade?
  • How is the food system model and goals that existed during the GR era changing at present?
  • What are the author’s recommendations for meeting the increasing worldwide demand for food?