Averting Millions of Deaths by Starvation

  • Overseas
  • 1962

When the Rockefeller Foundation decided to extend the Green Revolution (see 1943 entry) to Asia and Africa, it went looking for philanthropic partners for the huge venture. To that point, the Ford Foundation had never funded agriculture or scientific research, but excited by Rockefeller’s breakthroughs it began supporting such work in 1956. Then in 1962 Ford made a large grant to join forces with Rockefeller in opening the International Rice Research Station in the Philippines. Agriculture research stations in three other nations soon followed.

Over the years, weather- and disease-resistant varieties of many staple crops were developed at these stations. Poor farmers were introduced to chemical fertilizers and other modern farming techniques. And food shortages began to disappear all across the world. In India and Pakistan, wheat yields doubled by 1980 and nearly doubled again by 2000. Life in China and other parts of the east was similarly transformed by high-yield, stress-resistant rice. Nations previously described as “basket cases” were now able to feed themselves without strain.

During its 50-year leadership of the Green Revolution, the Rockefeller Foundation invested $600 million in the effort. Ford and other foundations donated hundreds of millions more. Rockefeller employee Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

Overall, the philanthropically led transfer of hybrid crops and modern farming techniques to the developing world is estimated to have saved up to a billion humans from painful death by starvation.