International Rice Research Institute
Unintended consequences of massive design
IR8 or ‘Miracle Rice’ is a strain of rice genetically engineered in the 1960s to produce high yields. It was a part of the ‘Green Revolution’ that promised to feed the world in the face of increasing populations. While tripling rice yields, the introduction of IR8 in Asia had a number of other effects: it required more pesticides, fertilisers and water, and accelerated the replacement of ploughs drawn by oxen with petrol tractors. This intensified the exclusion of subsistence farmers from the economy. Design on such a large scale often has complex outcomes that are hard to predict and may wreak violence at the scale of ecosystems and economies. The full effects of the Green Revolution are elusive, complex, and yet to be realised. A second iteration is currently underway in China, and Green Revolution ideas are now being introduced in Africa. Current proposals for altered ‘Golden Rice’, genetically modified to contain elevated levels of Vitamin A for populations that lack this nutrient, are hotly contested because of this history.
Imagery courtesy of the International Rice Research Institute.