One area of global health and prevention that is typically neglected is that of agriculture. In most graduate schools of public health and medical schools the impact of agriculture is not discussed. Similarly in agriculture schools there is nary a mention of global health. We have proposed a marriage of global health and agriculture to tackle major problems of health. Without food, one dies, with too much food, one becomes obese and die. Many have suggested that the major rise in life expectancy with development is much the result of global health. If we do not have the capacity to feed 10 billion people in the next 50 years major health, and nutrition problems will occur. We in global health must recognize the incredible green revolution. It is amazing that despite the enormous number of mouths to feed in the world, there is so little malnutrition deaths.
Typically, those of us in global health think that people in Africa and Asia are dying in famine. Our conception is that of the Irish famine with starving people. In human history we have seen in 1769 the great Bengal Famine, killing 10 million, 1810 China famine, with 45 million death, 1845 Irish Famine of 1.5 million deaths, 1850 China Famine with 60 million deaths. Fortunately, nothing as wide spread as this has occurred since the end of WWII, despite the population of the world approaching 8 billion.
Only 200 years ago there were great famines in the world. Due mainly to the green revolution, the famines have declined precipitously, and typically are not due to lack of food but disruption of the food chain due to war or politics. This is a remarkable figure from Unicef. World wide during the past decades there has been a 43% decrease in underweight across the world.
There are a few of us who are optimists in global health. When I see figures like this, a steadily and rapidly declining rate of underweight I smile, and have faith in science to continue these trends of improving health. This discussion in Wikipedia presents an excellent overview. Here we quote the text related to the importance to health, and the methodologies. We feel that all in Global Health and health uluin general should realize that the green revolution likely is the major advance in global health since 1900 world wide, and that all of us in global health, perhaps should learn from the farmers!!!
“The Green Revolution refers to a set of research and development of technology transfer initiatives occurring between the 1930s and the late 1960s (with prequels in the work of the agrarian geneticist Nazareno Strampelli in the 1920s and 1930s), that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s. The initiatives resulted in the adoption of new technologies, including:
...new, high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of cereals, especially dwarf wheats and rices, in association with chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals, and with controlled water-supply (usually involving irrigation) and new methods of cultivation, including mechanization. All of these together were seen as a 'package of practices' to supersede 'traditional' technology and to be adopted as a whole.
The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the "Father of the Green Revolution," who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.
The term "Green Revolution" was first used in 1968 by former US Agency for International Development (USAID) director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies: "These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution." “
New varieties of wheat and other grains were instrumental to the green revolution.
The Green Revolution spread technologies that already existed, but had not been widely implemented outside industrialized nations. These technologies included modernirrigation projects, pesticides, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and improved crop varieties developed through the conventional, science-based methods available at the time.
The novel technological development of the Green Revolution was the production of novel wheat cultivars. Agronomists bred cultivars of maize, wheat, and rice that are generally referred to as HYVs or "high-yielding varieties". HYVs have higher nitrogen-absorbing potential than other varieties. Since cereals that absorbed extra nitrogen would typically lodge, or fall over before harvest, semi-dwarfing genes were bred into their genomes. A Japanese dwarf wheat cultivar (Norin 10 wheat), which was sent to Washington, D.C. by Cecil Salmon, was instrumental in developing Green Revolution wheat cultivars. IR8, the first widely implemented HYV rice to be developed by IRRI, was created through a cross between an Indonesian variety named "Peta" and a Chinese variety named "Dee-geo-woo-gen."
With advances in molecular genetics, the mutant genes responsible for Arabidopsis thaliana genes (GA 20-oxidase, ga1,ga1-3), wheat reduced-height genes (Rht) and a rice semidwarf gene (sd1) were cloned. These were identified asgibberellin biosynthesis genes or cellular signaling component genes. Stem growth in the mutant background is significantly reduced leading to the dwarf phenotype. Photosynthetic investment in the stem is reduced dramatically as the shorter plants are inherently more stable mechanically. Assimilates become redirected to grain production, amplifying in particular the effect of chemical fertilizers on commercial yield.
HYVs significantly outperform traditional varieties in the presence of adequate irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers. In the absence of these inputs, traditional varieties may outperform HYVs. Therefore, several authors have challenged the apparent superiority of HYVs not only compared to the traditional varieties alone, but by contrasting the monocultural system associated with HYVs with the polycultural system associated with traditional ones. “
The Future: A Marriage of Global Health and agriculture