The long-term cost of depending on Borlaug's new varieties, said eminent critics such as ecologist Vandana Shiva in India, was reduced soil fertility, reduced genetic diversity, soil erosion and increased vulnerability to pests. Not only did Borlaug's "high-yielding" seeds demand expensive fertilisers, they also needed more water. Both were in short supply, and the revolution in plant breeding was said to have led to rural impoverishment, increased debt, social inequality and the displacement of vast numbers of peasant farmers.
Borlaug had a robust reply. He acknowledged that his Green revolution had not "transformed the world into Utopia", but added that western environmental lobbyists were often elitists. "They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger," he said. "If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertiliser and irrigation canals, and be outraged that fashionable elitists were trying to deny them these things."
Ah, three sins in one. "Western" - obviously a crime, only partly offset by Shiva actually being Indian. "Elitist" - of course, especially if they are environmentalists and fashionable. Now for the killer - remote from reality, without compassion or experience, unlike him of course.
This neatly sidesteps the main claim of his critics, that the Green Revolution had a devastating impact on the rural poor and the landless in the developing world. Thus, whilst output rose, the technology favoured global commercial monopolies, adversely affected the distribution of wealth, and meant that poverty increased and systemic hunger grew alongside food surpluses. It is a serious criticism rooted in a different model of development economics, the real experiences of rural communities and anger at the dispossession, destitution and starvation of the poor. It is not a spurious indulgence of ignorant hippies.
Borlaug was a serious and important figure and I am not qualified to offer a judgement on the debate. However, I wince at the description of bluster as "robust". (Mind you that was as nothing compared to this mess, with which the Guardian, once again, surpassed itself).
For an overview of Shiva's views, here she is speaking in the United States earlier this year (with the occasional dubious rhetorical flourish of her own). It's worth fifty minutes of your time.