Miracle Rice | Philippines (1966)

mature rice fields of Peta, IR8 and DGWG varieties

Miracle Rice by International Rice Research Institute Photos, retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ricephotos/8364167912

By Annelise Gehl

The proposed new geologic epoch we find ourselves in today, named the Anthropocene, is due to the human-induced impacts that have come to shape our environment. The start date of the Anthropocene is highly debated, but during the Green Revolution humans greatly transformed the land across many continents, which is a central component of the Anthropocene. The object I propose in this essay that encompasses the Anthropocene is the IR8 Miracle Rice, which was developed during the Green Revolution. This object demonstrates the problematic human-environmental relationships that have created the Anthropocene, and the eco-pragmatic narrative that demonstrates how technology has been used to try and solve global problems, but also how technological and agricultural advancements have damaged our environment.

The Green Revolution began in the 1960s and spread from the creation of new wheat strains in Mexico, to the development of the IR8 miracle rice in the Philippines and other various genetically modified crops in Asia. As written in The Economist, Norman Borlaug, an American ecologist, headed a project to change farming habits in Mexico, but with his success, his work spread across the globe creating a polycentric movement. With the growth of malnutrition and hunger throughout the world, the United States felt a responsibility to aid in this problem. As author Harry Cleaver Jr. observed in the 1970s, and documented in his book, The American Economic Review, the Green Revolution “Consisted essentially of a combination of improved grain varieties, mainly rice and wheat, heavy fertilizer usage and carefully controlled irrigation”. New technologies created various strains of wheat and rice, which were used to provide large quantities of food to malnourished countries. Specifically in the Philippines, where IR8 was implemented, the agricultural production in 1966 “Revolutionized the rice production system and paved the path for subsequent spread of the technology to other areas”. The IR8 strain became a cross-country phenomenon because it was originally developed in Taiwan, and then travelled to the Philippines because of the abundant irrigated lands that were available there. The IR8 miracle rice was a part of a greater movement, the Green Revolution, which spread throughout the world and altered food production; land cultivation, and humans relationships with the environment.

IR8 was vital to the development of the Anthropocene, because it demonstrated a specific moment in history when humans acted, with the help of technology, to drastically alter nature. Manipulation of the land had been occurring prior to the Green Revolution, but this event was marked by severe changes to the environment due to very new technologies. As the population began to rapidly grow in Asia, new methods of agriculture were required to sustain such growth, and IR8 miracle rice was perceived as the answer to the hunger problem. Individual’s older agricultural methods were being replaced to produce enough IR8 miracle rice to feed the masses. For example, water buffalos were replaced with tractors, irrigation facilities began developing and an overall increase in the labor force rapidly grew. Through the implementation of the IR8 miracle rice, humans began to have different interactions with the land in order to sustain their own needs, rather than preserving the quality of land. These direct actions on the land explain how humans’ own necessities, and actions, distinguish the Anthropocene. Human- environmental relationships were greatly changed during the Green Revolution, and the IR8 miracle rice, which was used to manipulate the natural world, was perceived as the technological advancement that would save the rising hunger and population epidemic.

The IR8 miracle rice is illustrative of the Anthropocene because it can be viewed through the lens of an eco-pragmatic approach. The belief that technology could save the hunger problem was viewed through this eco-pragmatic lens during the 1960s. The technologies that were developed during the Green Revolution, like the IR8 miracle rice, propelled the agricultural movement, and aided in feeding the growing population around the world. With the success of shuttle breeding and wheat production in Mexico, Norman Borlaug and his team were commissioned to combat the hunger issue in Asia. Borlaug set up his second major agricultural center in Asia where he noticed that, “Population was outstripping wheat and rice production…hunger was widespread…and government leaders were desperate to turn production around”. Borlaug utilized new technologies such as IR8 miracle rice, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation practices to transform the land and create high yield crops to feed the masses. Through the eco-pragmatic outlook, the environment was in danger of losing individuals to hunger and malnutrition, but with the help of science and technology, like IR8 miracle rice, scientists were able to aid in saving millions from Mexico to the Philippines. The eco-pragmatist view demonstrates that the Anthropocene was propelled by the creation of IR8 miracle rice, and societies reliance on technology helped put an end to the growing population, and lack of food, concerns.

Although IR8 miracle rice was successful in providing vast amounts of food to the starving people in the Philippines, the environmental hazards involved with the Green Revolution are often overlooked. One problem of the agricultural advancements was the loss of biodiversity. Author Richard M. Harley tried to warn individuals during the Green Revolution that nature’s diversity was in grave danger. Harley writes, “Other plant varieties have been ignored or scrapped in the process. The result has been rapid disappearance of genetically diverse plant varieties that were once cultivated by peasant farmers or grew wild”. Along with the loss of various plant species, the insecticides used for miracle rice production did not successfully reduce the number of insects, but increased human born illnesses. Pesticides not only caused an increase in diseases, but also reduced the necessary pests needed to maintain rice production. David and Marcia Pimental write that, “When the Ministry of Agriculture encouraged farmers to use more insecticide on rice, the brown plant hopper pest increased…because of the destruction of its natural enemies” which evidently resulted in the decline of rice production. Insecticides were not only a problem during the Green Revolution, but fertilizers too. The increase in fertilizer use on the IR8 miracle rice caused a rise of eutrophication in rivers, lakes and streams that consequentially killed shrimp and fish due to the large algae blooms. David and Marcia Pimental  “Conclude that considering the Green Revolution the answer to providing adequate food supplies for the ever expanding human population is shortsighted” because of the many unforeseen consequences of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation practices. IR8 miracle rice was able to provide food to the growing populations in developing countries, but the adverse results of the technologies during the Green Revolution were extremely harmful to the environment.

The Green Revolution, during the 1960s, was created in response to the growing population and lack of food concerns in developing countries. Headed by scientist Norman Borlaug, high yield crops, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation practices began developing from Mexico to Asia. This manipulation of the land allowed for the creation of IR8 miracle rice, which flourished in the Philippines. The direct control over nature may have seemed like a quick answer to the rising hunger and malnutrition problem, but the lasting repercussions were overwhelming. IR8 miracle rice demanded vast inputs of fertilizers and pesticides. The high amount of inputs used for the rice destroyed plant biodiversity, aquatic animals and damaged the surrounding lands through irrigation practices, erosion and eutrophication. The IR8 miracle rice is an object that demonstrates the components that comprise the Anthropocene. Human-environmental relationships were negatively altered by the change in agricultural techniques. The Green Revolution was a moment in history that demonstrated individuals acting in response to a hunger crisis, but the environment is still being affected today. The implementation of IR8 miracle rice was used in conjunction with new technologies, and these advancements negatively changed individual’s relationship with the environment and caused great harm that is still being seen today.

Work Cited

1. “A Second Green Revolution; how Better Rice could Save Lives,” The Economist, 14 (2014): accessed April 18, 2016.

2. Cleaver, Harry M, “The Contradictions of the Green Revolution,” The American Economic Review 62 (1972): 177–186, accessed April 18, 2016.

3. Barah, B. C, “The Rice Village Saga: Three Decades of Green Revolution in the Philippines,” Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics 56.4 (2001): 734-8, accessed April 18, 2016.

4. Huang, Jianling, Kennetth G. Cassman, Rebecca C. Laza, Romeo M. Visperas, and Gurdev S. Khush. “The Importance of Maintenance Breeding: A Case Study of the First Miracle Rice Variety-IR8.” in Field Crops Research. By Shaobing Peng, 342-47.

5. Borlaug, Norman, “Asian Green Revolution,” in Sixty Two Years of Fighting Hunger: Personal Recollections. (2007), 287-97.

6. Harley, Richard M, Feast or Famine: Christian Science Monitor, (Boston, 1981).

7. Pimentel, David, and Marcia Pimentel, “Comment: Adverse Environmental Consequences of the Green Revolution”, Population and Development Review 16 (1990): 329–332, accessed April 18, 2016.