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The Green Revolution A Glorious Success History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The term Green Revolution was first coined by the USAID United States Agency for International Development in 1968. It all started in Mexico with US aid and backed by the support of giants like Ford and Rockfeller Corporation way back in the 1940’s. It was the initiative of a man named Norman Borlough who developed a strain of rice and wheat which yielded an output (under optimal conditions) so far only dreamt off. These strains of cereals were termed as HYV (High Yielding Variety). Norman Borlough is considered to be the father of the Green Revolution. He played a very instrumental role along with M.S. Swaminathan who was our minister for Agriculture in bringing Green Revolution to India.

‘The G R was considered as the solution to feed the world’s growing population, it very well may have been.’ [J R McNeill] ‘In India alone the astounding agricultural growth in Punjab is exemplified by the increase in Punjabi wheat production from 1.9 to 5.6 million tons during the years 1965 through 1972.’ [1] The production of rice also increased greatly. ‘India soon adopted IR8 – a semi-dwarf rice variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that could produce more grains of rice per plant when grown with certain fertilizers and irrigation. In 1968, Indian agronomist S.K. De Datta published his findings that IR8 rice yielded about 5 tons per hectare with no fertilizer, and almost 10 tons per hectare under optimal conditions. This was 10 times the yield of traditional rice. IR8 was a success throughout Asia, and dubbed the “Miracle Rice”. IR8 was also developed into Semi-dwarf IR36. [2] India was on the brink of a famine in 1961, but with the introduction of G R we became an exporter of food grains within a very short period of time.

G R was a gift of the developed nations to the third world countries. It was a package deal promoted by the World Bank to help them get out of their debt traps. The G R was accepted with open arms with little or no thought about its viability or sustainability. It was looked on as a one stop shop to their economic and demographic problems. ‘The green revolution- the US-sponsored technological package for agricultural development-was accepted in India some-what over-enthusiastically and also un- critically. It was hoped that with improved farm production, not only a lasting solution would be found for the perpetual problems of rural poverty and hunger but also it would generate a new resource base-a launching pad for rural industrialisation that would create new employment opportunities and would improve the quality of life at the grassroots in an appreciable measure.’ [Dhanagare 1987]

Rather than ‘Why was the Green Revolution such a great success?’ I would like to argue from the point of view of ‘Was the Green Revolution such a great success?’ I would like to consider the viewpoints of some scholars which may be quite contrary to what the advocators and promoters of Green Revolution would like to believe.

The G R as already mentioned earlier was a package deal it came along with certain factors like irrigation, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and mechanization and large size holdings without which the success of G R would not be dramatic. These are factors that India did not and could not afford at all levels. Apart from this G R was not all positive it looked like it came in with more negative as time passed on. Through different case studies I would like to present my argument.

Endosulfan Poisoning in Kasargoad, Kerala, India

This is the story of a small village in the state of Kerala a village named ‘Swarga’ literally meaning heaven. A village untouched by industrialization and people depended on plantation farming. A typical Indian village until suddenly people found things going wrong, Calves dying honeybees disappearing, wildlife being affected and then slowly the people being affected by a strange illness. The cause, unknown.

The Kerala state government decided to spray its cashew plantations with ariel pesticide. It was a sight to see a helicopter hovering over the village and it attracted a lot of attention. Little did the people know what the aftermath of this would be. Even when a sudden and strange kind of illness hit little did they associate it with the helicopter, they believed that it was some kind of a curse. Until one farmer noticed a strange coincidence in the death of his three calves and raised up an issue. This interested a journalist who began to probe into this situation. A local doctor who began to see a strange pattern of new diseases in his patients added value to the work of the journalist. It was not an easy path to travel and prove their stand as they had to fight capitalist giants who’s stakes were high in the manufacture of the deadly chemical. The help of an international organization was sought. A fact finding team of PAN(Pesticide Action Network) AP headed by Dr Romeo F Quijango was formed.

The objective of the mission was:

To find out the veracity of the reports that there have incidents of illness since the cashew nut plantations started their operations

The extent to which these aerial sprayings have affected the people and the environment

After detailed inspection of the surroundings, physical examination of the affected people and a wide range of interviews with both the local people and authorities the reports of poisoning were confirmed.

The findings stated

The cause for the illness was intrinsic toxicology properties of endosulfan

There seems to exist no other probable causes other than endosulfan for the occurrence of illness

There is a clear time and geographical association between the occurrence of illness and the aerial spraying

There is a corroborated effect on both the environment and the animals which are related to endosulfan poisoning.

Medical reports of the victims as recorded by the local physicians confirmed the poisoning

Biological and environmental samples analyzed at laboratories confirmed the presence of endosulfan.

The findings confirmed the poisoning and a permanent ban on the spray of endosulfan was placed. The extent of damage cannot be undone. Most of the cases of poisoning described in the report are of young children born with cerebral palsy due to the poisoning.

Though this report was confined to Kasargod there are wide spread use and effects felt in the neighboring states as well. Here I would like to include an article from the newspaper that report cases of endosulfan poisoning from Karnataka

Gowda was born in 1977. To his chagrin through RTI he found that 92 villages were sprayed with endosulfan in the four taluks of the district. He visited 82 villages and found that horrifying cases of disabilities, especially cerebral palsy affecting adults and children. “I have decided not to get married -firstly to carry this fights forward and secondly to see that my children don’t live like me. I may get married if I can afford to do a gene test which proves everything is alright with me,” he adds. Gowda says: “In some places the situation is too horrible to describe. A mother who is an anganwadi teacher has two children one of them is affected with this type of poisoning. She gives him food at 9 am locks the door and goes for work.”

When she returns, the boy will be rolling in his own fecal matter. This is an everyday story. The government officials, if they visit each and every home, they will understand the gravity of the problem. But they don’t, hence don’t understand our situation [3] This has been the effect of the indiscriminate use of pesticides and insecticides on the unaware and innocent lives.

Rachel Carson dedicated her entire book ‘The Silent Spring’ to bring awareness to the effects of insecticides and pesticides on man and his environment. Though she did succeed to large extent on banning their indiscriminate use still continues in the third world countries.

This according to Clevo Wilson Clem Tisdell are due to varied economic reasons and also due to lack of knowledge. Farmers continue to use pesticides if their net discounted rate of return is greater in the present. This happens much more in less developed countries than in more developed countries. To make themselves economically viable farmers are forced to use pesticides because it causes an increase in the production in the short run, though the cost will increase in the long run which they are unaware of, and also once a new technique is used the cost of reverting back maybe very high.

Further it may be due to a lack of knowledge on the part of farmers. It may also be that use of pesticides and fertilizers are considered to be an integral part of commercialized agriculture. To add to this would be the pressure the farmers may face from advertisements and sales schemes of companies manufacturing insecticides and fertilisers. It has also been found that though farmers may be aware of Integrated Pest Management systems they may not be easily accessible, as seen in the case of farmers in Sri Lanka. [4] 

Our next case study is based in Punjab that highlights the negative effect that G R has had on the employment of the youth.

Punjab agriculture has been known for the green revolution of the late 1960s and the 1970s. Not only has it achieved an irrigation coverage of 95 per cent of the net sown area, cropping intensity of 185, and 98 per cent HYV coverage which are all the highest among the Indian states, but even the yields of major crops – wheat and paddy – are of a very high order, i e, 3,941 kgs and 3,393 kgs per hectare respectively [CACP 1997]

The agricultural sector in Punjab is very capital intensive with the highest number of tubewells and tractors in the country and the highest consumer of electricity, 21% of wheat, 9% of rice and 21% of cotton produced in India came from Punjab. In the 1980’s the scene began to change, the same level of production could not be maintained. The net costs began to increase mainly due to over mechanization and small holdings were no longer profitable to cultivate. This became apparent in the rise in tenancy of small farms and another evidence of this was an increase in the market for second hand tractors. The proportion of marginal holdings in total decreased from 37 per cent to 26 per cent during 1970-71 to 1990-91 and those above 10 hectares increased significantly [GoP 1997]

The unemployment rates increased The proportion of agricultural labour in total rural male workers went up by 2.2 per cent during the 1980s and that of cultivators went down by 2.7 per cent. The unemployment rate among rural males (2.9 per cent) in the late 1980s was marginally above that at the national level (2.8 per cent) and that among rural females more than double (7.4 per cent) that of the national level (3.5 per cent) [Chand 1999a].

To add to this were the problems of monoculture and lack of diversification, increased attack of pests due to increased resistance to insecticides decreasing water levels. Thus based on the Jhol committee agriculture was diversified to include horticultural crops leading to the opening of food processing industries.This did not seem to make much of a difference as the three industries could work only with a small number of farmers and this did not make much of a difference to the rest.

The high mechanisation of agricultural operations had added to the problem of rural un-

employment. Now, combine harvesters could do the entire harvesting of paddy and a large

proportion of wheat crop, which had cut down the number of days a farm worker could be gainfully employed in the farm sector. The labour requirements were also increasingly met from migrant labour. On the other hand, educated rural youth did not find farming profitable enough as an occupation. Unemployment of youth in Punjab was not due to lack of work opportunities in the farm sector per se, but due to the strong preference of these youth for non-farm jobs. But the industrial sector of the state which was dominated by small-scale industry did not offer many skilled jobs and depended on migrant labour for manual work as these workers were available for lower wages, did not create trouble as they had less political clout and bargaining power. On the other hand, urban people were preferred for skilled jobs as they are more tuned to industrial or corporate work culture [Chand 1999b]. The problem of rural unemployment was compounded by the fact that rural youth did not possess any special skills and did not have an aptitude to work in conventional industries owned by local capital. The only industries they were more familiar with were agro-processing ones which had recently roped in some rural youth but the jobs were few as the operations were highly mechanised and few manual jobs remained. [5] 

The very purpose of G R was to improve agriculture and reduce the income disparities but that very purpose was defeated. Through our next paper ‘Green revolution and increase in social inequalities in India’ D.N. Dhanagre [6] we are going to see how social inequalities have increased.

The effects of G R were assessed within five years of its initiation into India through a symposium organised by the Centre for the Study of Social Change in 1973. Where both, the positive side and the negative side were highlighted. On the positive side the increase in crop production was stressed on. ‘This increase was 87.2 per cent in Punjab, and 64.90 per cent in Haryana where the gains in production performance were impressive'[Vyas, 1974: 67-70], and hence there was no alternative to G R to develop the backward regions of our country.

‘The green revolution was distributed differentially to different categories of farmers putting the small and marginal farmers at a relative disadvantage. The reasons for differential distribution were obvious. The high cost/high yield cereal technology of the green revolution called for substantial capital investments generally beyond the means of a majority of small and marginal farmers.'[CSSC 1984]. To add to this the Indian Government was criticized by the Halselemere Group of favouring the rich and large land owning farmers in distribution of cheap credit and subsidies rather than the poorer ones.

Size and nature of land holdings- Initially it was believed that the size of the holding did not matter in G R practices, but when it came to the reality of implementation it was found not to be true. The agricultural development bureaucracy working at the grass root level that scale neutrality was not true, the larger holdings were at an advantage. According to Danagare even the introduction of HYV seeds there was a ‘pro rich bias’ seen. The requirement of each farmer to buy two shares of seed worth Rs 100/- each per acre was again to the advantage of the larger land holding farmers.

Since the G R package was created with the perennially irrigated land in mind the government favoured them rather than farming in semi-arid and dry areas again leading to disparity in the distribution of income regionally. Further it has been found that while poor farmers own only 21% of land in wet regions almost 50% of the land was owned by poor farmers in the dry regions,[Atherya et,al 1983]. ‘The polarisation process that accentuates the rural class differences has been further intensified by the green revolution.’

In a survey done by Bhalla and Chada in Punjab its been found that farmers with land holdings less than 2.5acres earned Rs1231/- while those with land holdings 25acres or more earned Rs24,283/- annually. In other words a rich farmer without putting in any physical effort was earning much more than a poor farmer, where he and his entire family would have had to work.

Use of mechanization- as very apparent mechanization of farming was to the advantage of the rich and large land holding farmers. It not only increased disparity among the farmers but also hit hard on the labourers. Billings and Singh have discovered that in Punjab the demand for agricultural labour went up from 51 mandays to 60.1 mandays with the introduction of the persian wheel as a means of irrigation and of fertilisers and pesticides. However, when pump-sets, wheat-threshers, corn-shellers and tractors are introduced the average demand for labour drops down to 25.6 mandays (1969: A 221-24)

It was found through surveys both in Punjab and in Chengilpet TN that the poorer farmers did not hesitate to invest and compete with the rich farmers though it was an uphill task for them but they did not benefit. ‘In fact, all available statistics indicate greater and greater immiseration and pauperisation as the green revolution technology package has spread in diffierent parts of India.’ [Dhanagare 1978]

I would like to conclude by mentioning Vandana Shiva’s view as expressed in her book ‘The violence of the Green Revolution – Third world agriculture, ecology and politics’ in the western view our system of agriculture was primitive and they wanted to thrust upon us their modern scientific view, as a socio political solution to our problems which only created more problems. In the traditional agricultural systems Shiva believes that people used their knowledge and experience to create a balance between the resources and their uses. ‘Cropping systems include a symbiotic relationship between soil, water, farm animals and plants’. ‘They were preserving and building on nature’s process and nature’s patterns’. This system was based on sustainability and made the farmers self- reliant as advocated by Gandhiji.

As Rachel Carson puts it ‘ In nature nothing exists alone'[ Silent Spring] and if we don’t recognize this and awake to the fact that we are a part of the nature we are destroying we may be too late.

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