Effects of the Green Revolution on Rural, Small-Scale Farmers and Relevant Case Studies

By Tori Rodriguez

When assessing the Green Revolution it is easy to look at the historical progression of the movement and the scientific advances. However, more often than not those most involved, the farmers themselves, are overlooked. Over the course of the green revolution small-scale farmers, in particular rural small-scale farmers have acquired most of the stresses and burdens of the revolution and have been most affected by the negative consequences. The overall goal of this chapter is to explore and assess these burdens and explain why this farmer type specifically has been so heavily impacted based upon several case studies from around the world.

But, before this can be achieved, a few key things must first be defined. The terms “rural” and “small-scale” will often be used in this article and should be explained. “Small-scale” refers to the amount and size of the land that the farmers own. Most commonly, small-scale farms are those that contain 7 acres or less of land (Bhattacharya, A147). Thus, “small-scale farmers” are those who own farms of 7 acres or less. “Rural” refers to the actual area in which these farms are placed. It is those places that lack perceived basic amenities like telephones, access to computers, electricity, etc. that are deemed rural. There is also great significance in the order in which the stresses/burdens and their consequences are laid out in this paper. They each rely heavily on one another and are placed in order of importance.


Stresses and Burdens- The Income Gap:

“Income per farm on big farms is 7.6 times the gross income per farm on small farms because the average cultivated area in small farms is 6.77 times the average area in small farms (Bhattacharya, A149)…” Although these numbers reflect those done in a case study of Punjab, the message they relay can be used to describe the majority of both big and small farms in the height of the Green Revolution. Large-scale farmers undoubtedly had greater wealth than that of small-scale farmers, much of which can be attributed to the fact that they had more land to work with initially, but the impact and burden of the costs associated with the revolution hit the small-scale farms the hardest. Costs like fertilizers, irrigation systems, mechanical equipment and external labor produced negative consequences for rural small-scale farmers.

The Green Revolution brought around much technological advancement for farmers. Advancements like the development of fertilizers, irrigation systems and tractors along with new ways of producing crops (Kajisa, 616). It is by these means that farmers were able to produce a larger yield than ever before. It was also the promise that this “larger yield” would produce more income that the small-scale farmers found particularly appealing. Most, however, neglected to factor in the costs associated with the new methods. Fertilizer is expensive. Irrigation is expensive. Machinery is expensive. Looking at the numbers alone, obviously larger-farms put more money towards these technologies (Bhattacharya, 149). It’s a cycle. The more money they invest in these advancements, the more crops yielded, the more money made, and it repeats. In the case of small-scale farmers, they initially don’t have the means to invest in such things. Or if they are able to put down the initial cost, their profit margin is much smaller than that of large-scale farms. It is also the inability of the major organizations involved in the Green Revolution to spread the proper implementation of these new practices to the rural populations that has caused the lag of the small-scale farmers. In Cohen’s study, “Effects of Green Revolution Strategies on Tenants and Small-scale Landowners in the Chilalo Region of Ethiopia,” he determines that such “strategies” or new technologies fail to reach and have “unexpected consequences” for the rural populations. He also goes on to say that it is the failure of accountability and following-up in these areas that has cost these farmers to be so negatively affected (Cohen, 337-339). If rural, small-scale farmers are unable to have access to these new technologies they are already at a disadvantage to those more urban farmers, but factor in the costs of these technologies and the economic gap between the two becomes substantial. It is this economic, income gap that has caused the most negative effects on rural, small-scale farmers.


Stresses and Burdens- Poverty and Unemployment:

As mentioned before, rural, small-scale farmers have received the short end of the stick when it comes to making money in the Green Revolution. It is this lack of money that has sent many of them into poverty and even cost them their jobs. As more and more small-scale farmers are unable to compete with the larger farms, the chances that they sell off or mortgage out their land also increases. When the small-scale farmers are no longer able to make their payments, their ownership of the land is taken from them and in some cases the farmers and their families are evicted and thus unemployed. “This effect especially if combined with the eviction of an appreciable number of tenants will generate a growth in both the size and insecurity of the rural landless labor force. Growing numbers of the unemployed undoubtedly will leave the countryside and join the migration to the cities—swelling the urban slums (Cleaver, 182).” In the urban areas, particularly the slums, unemployment is already a serious issue. Now factor in the thousands of farmers migrating into these areas and the unemployment rate is now unimaginable. “Unemployment is getting worse, not better, and the size of the welfare program needed would bankrupt the United States, not to mention the countries of the Third World (Cleaver, 183).”

Along with the ridiculous rate of unemployment, poverty is also prominent and goes hand in hand. Small-scale farmers initially start out with less than large-scale farmers that much has already been stated, but they aren’t necessarily living in states of poverty just yet. Most made and had just enough to get by. Once the farmers decided to take the risk and invest in the new Green Revolution ways was when their poverty started for some and increased for others. This is due to their lack of money but also to the ever increasing rates of food. “High consumer prices are a cost of living increase that hits all who must buy food for cash. It does not hit all classes equally. In India, for example, lower income groups often pay more than the rich for the cereal foods that make up so much of their diet (Cleaver, 183).” It is the lower classes, the small-scale farmers, who pay. “Such a fall will hit the poorer peasants with narrower profit margins more than the big commercial adopters of the whole package (Cleaver, 183).” Thus the rural, small-scale farmers take the greatest “hit” of poverty and unemployment due to the new Green Revolution practices.


Stresses and Burdens- Social Inequalities and Government Roles:

            Most government involvement is initially intended to help its people. When it comes to agriculture and farming the government is often the one who controls the pricing of the goods and also produces policies to better the life of the farmers. In many regions where the Green Revolution practices were implemented, the government sided with the large-scale farmers and further impaired the growth of the small-scale farmer class. In order to help the farmers out with the increase in the cost of the new technologies, many governments allowed for farmers to take out loans and use a credit system. The idea itself is not a bad one had it been fairly distributed to ALL farmer types. However, the majority of the time large-scale farmers were the only ones benefitted. “Many government planners, who themselves often had political connections with large landholders, felt the GR technologies should initially be offered to large landholders, and the extension advice and credit opportunities were made more available to these more politically powerful groups (Kerr, 214).” As seen in historical events worldwide, it is the wealthy that have all the power. Such is the case of large-scale farmers; their economic wealth gave them political power. Although the farmers specifically were not government members, they had political influence. They used their wealth to persuade politicians to implement policies that favored them. “As compared to smaller cultivators, the larger farmers can better afford the ricks of innovation and they wield more political power over the developmental agencies which provide access to credit and crucial supplies such as fertilizer, seed and pesticides (Lele, 22).” Not only did the larger farms have more political power, they were also more closely observed and given all the means necessary to succeed during the revolution, “Because there has been relatively little stress on effective land ceilings, on redistribution, or on helping smaller farmers, it was primarily the medium or large landowners who were encouraged to grow new rice varieties (Mencher, 313).” While large-scale farmers were encouraged to grow new varieties and were practically given the seeds, the small-scale farmers struggled and resorted to other means of occupying their seed: “Many of these people actually got their seed from the black market, or from friends, and not from government (Mencher, 317).”  Not only were the large-scale farms favored when it came to the access of new technologies by the government, they were also favored when it came to the lending of money. “There were only six bona fide capital loans made to small firms established since 1960 (Child, 254),” and  “Government subsidies promote investment in expensive imported capital by the larger and richer farmers, and they commit society to techniques of production inappropriate to Pakistan’s factor endowments (Child, 263).” The small-farmers were neglected and often found it impossible to get loans or the money needed to do well in the changing times, however the loans that were given had terms that were unrealistic and actually caused the small-farmers to fall even more into debt than without the loan. This contradiction is best described by Cleaver Jr., “If the aid lobby succeeds in increasing economic aid appropriations for agricultural development, input sales and profits will probably increase, though it is likely that they will continue to be financed more through foreign aid than through direct commercial contracts. This will add to the growing debt burden of aid recipients and bring them even more closely under imperial control (180).” These growing economic injustices toward the small-farmers, now backed by the government would prove to bring rise to more negative consequences.



“It is the category of small and marginal farmers which reported the maximum number of suicides (Gill, 2765).” The act of suicide has been argued throughout history. Some see it as the ultimate for of selfishness, others see it for some as the only way out of a miserable life. The numbers and facts cannot be debated though; farmers have killed themselves over the increasing burdens and stresses placed on them due to the Green Revolution. “The causes of suicides, of which indebtedness figured prominently, were multiple. The other factors included economic distress, crop failure, alcoholism, marital and domestic discord, drug addiction, etc. All these causes in one way or another, pointed toward the poor economic status of the victims which manifested itself in various ways (Gill, 2765).” The indebtedness comes from their need to take out loans, which comes from their lack of income, which stems from the new technological advancements put into place and the stifling of their class by the government and large-scale farmers. Even the big Green Revolution organizations hold responsibility in this issue.  “In his handbook, ADC president Arthur T. Mosher harps repeatedly on the theme of teaching peasants to want more for themselves, to abandon civic habits, and to get on with the ‘business’ of farming…The ‘affection of husbands and fathers for their families’ will make them responsive to these desires to work and drive them to work harder. These tactics of the ADC are more than efforts to bring development to rural areas (Cleaver, 179).” It is this “drive” that ultimately causes these farmers to kill themselves. They are being pushed by these agencies and the government to want more, to be better, to produce more, to succeed that once failure occurs, the failure of as the head of the house not providing for the family, that the only perceived way out is through death.



Wherever there is social unrest and social class differences, there will always be rebellion. A consequence of the growing oppression of the small-scale farmers has resulted, in some areas, in the growth of guerilla groups and public displays of violence. The most well-known instance of this civil-uprising was “a clash between organizing laborers and scabs which occurred in the Green Revolution area of Tanjore, India, in 1968. Forty-three peasants were burned to death in a fight over wages (Cleaver, 185).” The uprising has not stopped there though. “India has also seen the rise of Naxalites, a coalition of Maoist intellectuals and landless peasants. This guerilla group has carried on an increasing campaign of assassination and land seizure (Cleaver, 185).” India is also not the only country to bear witness to these consequences. Guatemala and the Philippines have also seen a rise in social unrest and uprising. “Most of its recent activities have been centered on struggle against landlords and in defense of small farmers (Cleaver, 185).” These guerilla groups are fighting for the small-scale farmers. In fact some of the members are small-scale farmers themselves. It is because of the governments continued impressment and favoritism towards the large-scale farmers that the small-scale fighters are looking for change and they will not stop until an overall change in the government policies and ways has occurred.


In Depth Look at Case Studies:

There are two case studies in particular that provide perfect examples of most of the aspects described in this article.

The first, Effects of Green Revolution Strategies on Tenants and Small-scale Landowners in the Chilalo Region of Ethiopia by John M. Cohen looks in depth at the Chilalo Agricultural Development Unit (CADU) and its successes and failures in the Chilalo region in Ethiopia. CADU was initially intended to provide economic and social changes through the new Green Revolution ways. It was their ultimate intention to help specifically the tenants and small-scale farmers, but what actually occurred was the exact opposite. Their methods ended up helping and further provided power to the large-scale farmers. The promise of low-cost credit rises in production levels and increased income for small-scale farmers was proved false. Low-cost credit was given to the large farms and while production levels did rise for both large and small farms alike, the income gap between the two also rose which was an “unexpected consequence (336)”. Small-scale farmers were actually in a bigger hole than when CADU’s efforts first started and proved that although the intentions of these rising organizations were good in theory, it was unlikely that any changes would actually substantially help the rural small-scale farmers in Ethiopia.

The second, Impact of Green Revolution on Output, Cost and Income of Small and Big Farmers by Pranab Bhattacharya and Abdul Majid Jr. Looks closely at the actual numerical differences between large-scale and small-scale farmers. Using numerous tables of data to describe that large-scale farms produce and collect more than that of small-scale farmers acts as evidence for their claim that small-scale farmers are already at a disadvantage before ever planting a single crop. Factor in the costs of fertilizers, pesticides, seed, and machinery and the small-scale farmers don’t even stand a chance. They end their paper with the statement, “Even if the small farm household squeezes out a greater net income per acre than big farm, its economic condition can be worse than that of the big farm (A150)…” Basically declaring that no matter what the small-scale farmers do, they are doomed to live in poverty thanks to the Green Revolution.

Concluding Remarks:

There is no doubt that rural small-scale farmers have been targeted since day one of the Green Revolution. Whether the intention of the revolution was to help out this farmer class or not, they have certainly taken the brunt of the negative consequences associated with this movement. As the large-scale farms continue to gain political support and power, the end of the small-scale farmer class is almost inevitable. “Large-scale mechanized farming portends not only the demise of the small farmer in Punjab; it will erode or even erase the market of the small-scale domestic industry supplying capital goods to the agricultural sector (Child, 263).” The destruction of this farmer type would not only cause greater levels of unemployment and poverty, but can also lead to the uprising of the lower classes and civil-unrest. There are “Alternative agricultural technologies with demonstrated effects on yield and crop diversity that do not have the same environmental effects have been shown to be viable and feasible for smallholder farmers (Kerr, 225).” These are ideas that should be deeply looked at and invested in if governments, agencies and the people themselves expect the demanded changes to occur.

Works Cited:

Bezner Kerr, Rachel. “Lessons from the Old Green Revolution for the New: Social, Environmental and Nutritional Issues for Agricultural Change in Africa.” Progress in Developmental Studies 12.2 and 3 (2012): 213-29. Web.

Bhattacharya, Pranab, and Abdul Majid, Jr. “Impact of Green Revolution on Output, Cost and Income of Small and Big Farmers.” Economic and Political Weekly 11.52 (1976): A147-150. JSTOR. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4365209&gt;.

Child, Frank C., and Hiromitsu Kaneda. “Links to the Green Revolution: A Study of Small-Scale, Agriculturally Related Industry in the Pakistan Punjab.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 23.2 (1975): 249-75. JSTOR. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1152982&gt;.

Cleaver, Harry M., Jr. “The Contradictions of the Green Revolution.” The American Economic Review 62.1/2 (1972): 177-86. JSTOR. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1821541&gt;.

Cohen, John M. “Effects of Green Revolution Strategies on Tenants and Small-Scale Landowners in the Chilalo.” The Journal of Developing Areas 9.3 (1975): 335-58. JSTOR. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4190267&gt;.

Eakin, Hallie, Catherine Tucker, and Edwin Castellanos. “Responding to the Coffee Crisis: A Pilot Study of Farmers’ Adaptations in Mexico, Guatemala.” The Geographical Journal 172.2 (2006): 156-71. JSTOR. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3873986&gt;.

Gill, Anita, and Lakhwinder Singh. “Farmers’ Suicides and Response of Public Policy: Evidence, Diagnosis and Alternatives from.” Economic and Political Weekly 41.26 (2006): 2762-768. Print.

Kajisa, Kei, and Ellen Payongayong. “Potential of and Constraints to the Rice Green Revolution in Mozambique: A Case Study of the Chokwe Irrigation Scheme.” Elsevier (2009): 615-26. Web.

Lele, Uma J., and John W. Mellor. “Jobs, Poverty and the “Green Revolution”” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 48.1 (1972): 20-32. JSTOR. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2613624&gt;.

Mencher, Joan P. “Conflicts and Contradictions in the ‘Green Revolution’: The Case of Tamil Nadu.” Economic and Political Weekly 9.6/8 (1974): 309+. JSTOR. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4363429&gt;.