In the years following World War II, there was growing concern about the food problem in Asia. The population was growing at close to 3% per annum, and the potential for further expanding cultivated area was limited.
Attention focused on the need to increase the yield of rice, Asians’ primary dietary staple, to avert widespread famine.
Success by IRRI and other Asian scientists in developing new rice varieties (in parallel with work in wheat by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), coupled with the widespread use of ever cheaper forms of chemical fertilizer and a rapid expansion in irrigated area, launched the Green Revolution. Growth in the Asian rice area slowed to almost nothing by the mid-1980s, and the high yields achieved by using fertilizer-responsive semidwarf varieties have accounted for almost all of the growth in Asian rice production since their introduction in the late 1960s. Consumers have benefited as rice prices have stayed well below their highs of the early 1970s.
The food security achieved by the Green Revolution was a critical first step in Asia’s transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. In the 1960s, agriculture occupied two-thirds of the labor force and produced one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP) in most Asian countries. As those economies grew, agriculture became an ever smaller portion of the economy, both nationally and at the farm level — thereby freeing capital, labor and land for investment in industry and services.
Adapted from Barker R, Dawe D. 2001. The Asian rice economy in transition. In: Rockwood WG, editor. Rice research and production in the 21st century: symposium honoring Robert F. Chandler, Jr. Los Baños (Philippines): International Rice Research Institute. p 45-77.