The Green Revolution South of the Border

In his latest column, The Miami Herald‘s Andres Oppenheimer gives reason for hope for Latin America’s water supply challenges, and offers policy makers there good advice. While many parts of the region suffer water shortages, and some conspiracy theorists claim that the United States is out to take over water supplies there, he cites experts who claim that “water is not likely to become a rapidly disappearing natural resource.” He goes on:

“On the contrary, water may become more easily available in the future, because one of the most important technological innovations of the 21st century will be drought-resistant crops. These crops will allow farmers to grow food using half of the water they use now, they say.

“That will be a watershed technological advance, because about 70 percent of all water currently used in the world is not used for home consumption, but for agricultural irrigation…

“My opinion: I agree. Industry experts tell me that drought-resistant crops may be widely available even earlier, within the next five years.”

Further, he extrapolates this to a larger point about doomsayers in general — and how wrong they’ve been — going back to their modern godfather:

“The whole water debate reminds me of the once popular theory of 18th century economist Thomas Malthus, who said that because the world population increases geometrically (1, 2, 4, 16, etc.) while food supply only increases arithmetically (1, 2, 3, etc.), the world was heading toward mass starvation.

“Malthus did not take into account technological innovation. The ‘green revolution’ of the mid-20th century led to massive increases in cereal production in the developing world, which let countries like India — which suffered from chronic famines — become a food exporter.”

Oppenheimer concludes that, “The same thing may happen with the water scare.” So, rather than blame shortages of natural resources on yanqui plots, Latin American policy makers and entrepreneurs should embrace technology to solve those challenges. Further, he offeres those policy makers some sound advice: Get out of the commodity game.

“While Latin America should take care of its water reservoirs, it would help itself by spending more of its energies on improving education and attracting investments, like China and India, rather than by waiting to be propelled to the First World by its natural resources.”

Norman Borlaug or Hugo Chavez? The choice should be clear.