By Ben Aaron
The Green Revolution was a watershed moment in the history of civilization. Just as the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent permitted the development of sedentary society, the Green Revolution enabled unprecedented population growth through advancements in chemistry, industrial agriculture, and agricultural biotechnology. While much of the focus on the green revolution is scientific in nature, asking what revolution means for the environment or population dynamics, the social results of the revolution remain debated, with relatively little inquiry. This paper seeks to examine the Green Revolution’s effects on the prices of Labor and agricultural products in South Asia.
First, this paper will seek to evaluate the pre-revolutionary economic condition of South Asia, as a means of establishing a baseline. Second, this paper will examine the effects of the green revolution on the supply and prices of agricultural products. Finally, this paper will examine the prices of labor in south Asia as an effect of the green revolution, and examine the benefits and setbacks to the region. To open this inquiry, this paper will begin by looking at the raw data from the green revolution.
For comparison purposes we will begin by looking at the general Green Revolution changes in Punjab and using developments in Mexico as a frame of reference. “Punjab was the first state to widely adopt the new wheat technologies associated width the green revolution of the late 1960’s.” (Byerlee A 195). A key technology driving the early green revolution was high yielding varieties of wheat (HYV’s), introduced as a product of genetic engineering. Mexico experienced a parallel agricultural boon, owed “…to the use of improved seeds introduced in the 1950s as well as increases in the use of a irrigated land, fertilizer, pesticide, and feed.” (Cornejo and Shumway 746). The parallel lines of growth in Punjab and Mexico provide a well-studied example to work from when examining South Asia. During the decade of the 1970’s Mexico experienced a growth of 3.48% output in wheat, and an 8.72% increase in livestock output (Cornejo and Shumway 746). From 1972 to 1987, Punjab experienced a wheat yield increase of 710 Kg/Hectare, or a 2.32% increase (Byerlee A 160). These growths in agricultural production attributed to HYV wheat, coupled with increased use of machine labor enabling the cutting of costs in other aspects of farm operation. Machine labor was one of the many ways the industrial world manifested itself in third-world agriculture. “…It is clear that machinery labour has rapidly substituted for human and animal labour over the period under analysis [1972-1987]…” (Byerlee A 160). The reduced need for human labor drove down demand, lowering wages. In addition, the growth of petrochemicals, primarily fertilizer and herbicides stimulated higher wheat yields and reclaim land lost to weeds such as “…phalaryis minor [which prove] difficult or impossible to control manually” (Byerlee A 160). The Green Revolution innovations brought about unprecedented growth in the agricultural sectors from the period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.
The coming of the green revolution brought about “…a handsome amount of surplus…” (Mohammad 107) in Pakistan. The growth in productivity was expected following the implementation of Green Revolution innovations, and there was a fear of increased supply driving down prices, and farmer’s profits (Mohammad 107). The fears of declining prices were packaged with an increase in mechanization, lowering the demand for labor. With lower need for labor, many people sought jobs elsewhere. The growth of non-field work is especially evident with the number of “ ̈arhtis [commissioned salesmen]” (Mohammed 108), which “…increase[ed] 57% compared to 1965-66 figures…” (Mohammed 108) by 1969. The increase in number of brokers stirred competition in the market, helping to counteract the supply boon with an increase of middleman buyers (Mohammed 108).
Another benefit of the Green Revolution in Pakistan was the increase and subsequent ubiquity of power equipment such as tractors. Tractors “…widely replaced traditional and slow means of transportation and made transport to the market faster and easier.” (Mohammed 108). The effect of more efficient transportation would serve to depress farm prices even further, given reduced transportation effort and costs. The combined effects of increased supply, greater ease of transport, and an increasing number of small scale salesmen meant that the post-Green Revolution markets would have some flexibility to scale up. Despite the factors enabling market growth, the glut of supply required new outlets to prevent surplus and stagnation.
The solution to Pakistan’s surplus came about as a direct result of increased supply to individual farmers. “The main reason for this change appears to be that with large marketable surplus the farmer could afford to make extra search for a desired price” (Mohammed 109). The increase in surplus grain allowed smaller farmers to take advantage of economies of scale previously unavailable to them, namely in the form of “…primary wholesale markets…” (Mohammed 109). By scaling up from direct sales at local farmers markets, the farmers could secure higher, more stable prices of grain from wholesalers, capable of reselling the grain in other parts of South Asia, preventing surplus. The increase in surplus enabled small farmers to benefit from the differing levels of markets in Pakistan (Mohammed 109), and opened more options to the large farmers, with their larger production increases. What did sharp production increases mean for the small and large farmers themselves?
The Green Revolution’s effect on farmers’ incomes, and the distribution of income between small farmers and agribusiness, has become a frequently criticized topic. The roots of unequal income distribution lay in the technologies required for drastic increase of crop yields characteristic of the Green Revolution. Innovations such as petro-chemical fertilizer and tractors are all capital-intensive, requiring substantial savings or investment (Saini A-17). The nature of Green Revolution innovation obviously placed larger farms, with increased usable capital, in a more advantageous position. “By the relative gains in Punjab are markedly confined to the last 10 per cent of the households (ie: the big farmers).” (Saini A-20). The change in farm income, unexpectedly, came independently of the physical size of the farms (Saini A-20). It follows, that the increases in farm income distribution can be attributed to “larger” farms having more capital, and thus a greater potential to implement new innovations. These factors serve to “…[increase] the gap between the rich and the poor.” (Saini A-21). India’s experience of income distribution in the green revolution stems largely from the technologies implemented, but how common is this phenomenon?
One would expect that Pakistan’s experience in the Green Revolution to be similar to India. Both countries have a common history, only becoming separate states in 1947. One would also assume that the basic principles of agriculture such as: “…changes in productivity will equal changes in farm income.” (Chaudhry 175) hold the same across national boundaries. Once again, as in India, market stratification played a role: “small farmers holding less than 12.5 acres of land applied 41 nutrient pounds of chemical fertilizer…against 62 nutrient pounds used by large farmers operating more than 25 acres.” (Chaudhry 175). Once again, the larger farmers, in terms of land or available capital, were able to make greater use of green revolution innovations. These ideas are reflected in the adoption of high yielding varieties of wheat: “Large farmers…have reported 7-10 percent higher adoption rates for HYVs” (Chaudhry 176). Pakistan appears to develop along similar lines as India.
The influences of farm size and available capital were deciding factors in which farms became the premiere beneficiaries of Green Revolution technologies. “Because of past decisions, a predetermined distribution of wealth, and so on, a wide disparity prevails in farm income levels.” (Srivastava, et al. A-166). Economic and Political Weekly recommends many methods to combat the inequalities springing from the Green Revolution. “…Cheaper credit facilities for [small] farmers” (Srivastava A-171) and a de-emphasis on mechanization to keep the price of labor up (Srivastava A-171) were advocated as solutions to combat income inequality.
The problems stemming from income inequality are heavily rooted in the rapid technological developments and implementations characteristic of the green revolution. These issues stem from the assertion: “…Green revolution technology tends to be monopolized by large commercial farmers who have better access to new information and better financial capacity.” (Hayami, 170). The difficulty of small farmers taking up new technologies stems from the problems small farmers have obtaining credit or capital to implement innovations. The ability of larger farms to monopolize engineered seed and capital-intensive innovation served to cement income inequality. However, long term increases in labor supply, stemming from population growth due to increased amounts of food, will eventually require additional land to be cleared, or land saving innovations (Hayami 175). Without increasing the availability or efficiency of land the labor supply will increase with a constant demand, causing the prices to collapse (Hayami 175).
With the growing income inequality among farms one would wonder how the workers are affected. In India, “It has become part of the new orthodoxy in official circles…improving the economic conditions of the weaker sections of the [labourers] is to encourage fast economic growth through subsidization of the chemical-biological breakthrough in production and through the promotion of agrarian capitalism in the countryside.” (Bardhan, 1239). The Indian ministry of food and agriculture found that from 1960-1967, “…prices (of agricultural labourers went up by 93 per cent in Punjab…” (Bardhan 1240). Despite the apparent growth,
“…National Sample Survey…report[s] average daily wage rates for male agricultural labourers in Punjab…between 1956-57 and 1964-65 the average daily male wage went up by 17 per cent…the retail consumer price index (general) went up by 34 per cent in this region, pointing clearly to a fall in the real wage rate.”
Conflicting data regarding the change in wages hints at the complexity of the phenomenon at hand. The effect on agricultural laborers was debated. However, when taking into account factors that the green revolution placed on the lower rural classes: low demand for labor, decreased demand for food, and swollen local markets, one can infer that the green revolution placed additional burden on the lowest of the low in Indian and Pakistani society. By developing a landowning elite based supported new technologies, pitted against the peasant laborers, class conflict is nearly inevitable.
“Peasant revolts and agrarian conflicts were by no means unknown in India…” (Oommen, A-99). The roots of agrarian conflict stem from the uneven distribution of income; larger farmers have more ability to implement green revolution changes and reap the benefits. Thus, the small farmers and peasants, “The increased disparity leads to a sense of deprivation…occasionally leading to the eruption of violence.” (Oommen, A-99). The Green Revolution has a unique ability to catalyze these conflicts, as the implementation of new techniques allows for rapid development of income inequality. In addition to the “Class Polarization” (Oommen, A-99) Green Revolution India was rapidly modernizing in other regards. “Even when those at the lowest stratum feel deprived, rationalisations such as the theory of Karma and Reincarnation may be effectively utilised to silence them.” (Oommen A-99). T K Oommen goes on to suggest that the lack of social mobility “…meeting the aspirations of the deprived without…destroying the essentials of the system.” (Oommen A-99). The democratization of Indian society destabilized the old social boundaries, “Adult Sufferage and…one-man-one-vote are revolutionary instruments of change when introduced into a closed society.” (Oommen A-99). The Green Revolution served a twofold function in India: One was a sharp increase in agricultural production, while polarizing the class divisions in rural Indian society.
The Green Revolution served a complex function within South Asia. The introduction of modern agricultural techniques and practices such as petrochemical fertilizers, mechanized labor, and high yielding varieties of seed enabled sharp growths in productivity and farm output. Unfortunately, these changes, as in many rapid economic developments, unevenly benefitted South Asia. The larger landowners and wealthier farmers were able to implement Green Revolution innovations much more effectively then smaller farms with less available capital. Ultimately, the effect of the green revolution was positive in terms of production and food supply while social events of the period coupled with Green Revolution trends to introduce instability into Indian society.
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