Since the 1940s various programs for agricultural development in the "third world" have been funded by Western governments and foundations. Commonly referred to as the "green revolution," these programs have generally sought to develop high-yielding cereal varieties in an attempt to alleviate hunger and poverty. Although by the 1970s enormous increases in cereals production had been achieved, poverty remained largely unchanged, and critics explained this outcome by arguing that the agricultural technology provided had been eagerly adopted by large commercial farmers but was ill-suited to the needs of the great majority of peasant-farmers. Since the 1970s efforts have been made to develop more "appropriate" technologies for the small farmer.
Against the backdrop of the transformation of continental European agriculture from the nineteenth century ("Europe’s green revolution"), this history looks rather odd. For around 1900 several Central European states established plant-breeding stations whose express purpose was to raise the productivity of small farms (which constituted the large majority) by making the advantages of breeding available to peasants. Moreover preliminary evidence suggests that some of these stations had a substantial impact upon the regional agricultural economies they served.
In this book project, therefore, focusing upon the stations established in three southern German states, Jonathan Harwood considered why the stations were created, the nature of the stations’ organization and activities, the extent to which they succeeded in stimulating agricultural productivity, and the subsequent decline in their autonomy and influence under National Socialism. Finally he returned to the present, asking whether early green revolution programs were aware of the previous European model and if so, why they seem not to have drawn upon it. And in view of recent claims that agricultural biotechnology is paving the way for a "second green revolution," Harwood assessed how much has been learned from previous experience.