In 1982, the luster of the “Green Revolution” was beginning to fade. The promised dramatic increases in yields from “miracle” hybrid grains that required high inputs of water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides failed to deliver and were revealed as campaigns to sell technology to growers who couldn’t afford it.
The global pesticide trade was yielding dramatic profits as more and more farmers were trapped on a dangerous pesticide treadmill. The “Circle of Poison” was a growing global concern, as pesticides banned in some countries were exported to others, only to return as health-harming residues on food imports.
That was the world when PAN was founded, at a meeting in Penang, Malaysia of concerned activists from around the world.
Chemical-intensive, monocrop, irrigated agriculture, introduced in the Global South in the 1950s, boosted crop yields dramatically at first, but by the ’70s, the costs in health, ecological damage, and lost biodiversity were mounting — and pests were growing resistant to chemical inputs. Workers in the fields, including women and children, bore the brunt of pesticide exposure and were seeing dire health impacts.
In PAN’s first two decades, many countries banned the “Dirty Dozen Pesticides” in response to our global campaign, and alternatives to the Green Revolution model gained traction and prominence. In Indonesia, for example, when rice production was collapsing in the 1980s due to pest resurgence from resistance to pesticides, community-scale peer-learning projects recaptured Indigenous farming knowledge and wove it into new ecological pest management. “Farmer Field Schools” — today adapted to local needs in many countries — returned bountiful crops of rice while expenditures on agrichemicals were slashed.
By 2002, more than one million Indonesian farmers had participated in Field Schools that became models for localized sustainable agriculture in other countries.
In the 1990s, the biotech/pesticide companies that profited from the Green Revolution — what we call Big Ag today — opened a second front in their ongoing effort to control the world’s food supply. Genetically modified seeds, primarily engineered to withstand applications of proprietary herbicides produced by the same corporations, changed the landscape of industrial agriculture in the U.S. and many other countries. Governments in some parts of the world have rejected GE crops, and peoples’ movements are fighting back.
PAN links the struggles in the Global South and across the world with the movement to reclaim food and farming in our own region.
Across the country, our grassroots scientists and partners are testing the air for pesticide drift and water for pesticide pollution. Our organizers are building strong coalitions in states and local communities to press for policies that protect the health of children, rural communities, and farmworkers. And we’re changing the public conversation about food and farming with strategic communications campaigns highlighting the promise and potential of agroecology.
Our commitment is to a truly green revolution, one that not only builds a healthy, thriving system of food and farming, but also supports the human right to food, justice and self-determination.