In the discussion around agriculture, there’s often mention of the systems model. This is a way of breaking down farming operations (and indeed other resource gathering activities) into three essential parts – inputs, processes, and outputs. The first of these refers to any item or required resource that is added to the farming system (e.g., sunlight, water, fertilizer, labour, equipment, etc.), the second involves any actions (e.g., ploughing, harvesting, etc.) that must be taken in order to convert the inputs into outputs, meaning the products of the system (e.g., crops). By assessing activities like agriculture through the systems model, greater efficiency and higher yields may be realized.
One of the greatest contributions to agriculture in the history of humankind involved altering the first two parts of the systems model. The Green Revolution, headed by Norman Borlaug in the 1960s, used new varieties of crops, such as wheat, herbicides and pesticides, as well as new technologies to increase crop production outside of the Old Core (developed) parts of the world. Mexico and India benefited greatly from the spread of techniques, equipment, and new farming inputs, so much so that Borlaug and the Green Revolution are credited with saving over a billion people from starvation (subsequently, Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to global food security).
However, The Green Revolution faced issues in Africa, in large part due to poor infrastructure, corruption, and government commitment to the project. As a result, this part of the world is facing a potential food crisis in coming decades as its population continues to rise while food security becomes less and less certain. Bill Gates has recently released a short video that looks at a renewed effort to address these issues and improve quality of life for Africans. He talks about improving seeds and fertilizers, but also applying communications technologies like cell phones to help provider greater access to and sharing of information and networking among farmers and their markets. It is believed that doing so will help increase farmer incomes, reduce poverty, and make food more widely available in a part of the world that can really use it. It’s a short clip (really an advertisement for the initiative), but worth a look.