In the early 1940s, disease was destroying half of the wheat harvest in Mexico, and the country’s farmers (like many others in the developing world) were unable to produce enough food to meet demand in their own country. The trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation became interested in the problem, which they considered a logical extension of their existing large efforts in international public health and the biological sciences.
In 1943, the Rockefeller Foundation gave $20,000 for an initial survey of Mexican agriculture; the following year they spent $192,800 to construct and equip a research lab in the country. In 1944 they hired DuPont scientist Norman Borlaug and others to staff a new initiative to improve agriculture in the developing world. Entirely new varieties of wheat, corn, and potatoes were created. Farmers were taught to fertilize and irrigate. Soon, crop production rocketed upwards in Mexico (per acre yields for wheat quadrupled), and the country became a net exporter of food.
In 1954, when stem rust devastated American wheat production, Borlaug’s research was modified to rescue American agriculture as well. But the most dramatic effects came when the so-called Green Revolution spread across the developing world, saving hundreds of millions of lives and transforming global economics. (See companion 1962 and 2006 entries.)
- Rockefeller Foundation agriculture work, rockefeller100.org/exhibits/show/agriculture
- Duke University case study on Green Revolution, cspcs.sanford.duke.edu/sites/default/files/descriptive/green_revolution.pdf