The Paradox of the Green Revolution in India

By Erika Roberts

Throughout Indian history poverty and starvation have been significant problems which affect all levels of Indian society. As the Green Revolution movement began to prove itself as a leader in agricultural development, India embraced the movement with fervor. India saw the Green Revolution as a means of solving the nation wide problems that plagued their nation. Although the products of the Green Revolution have enabled areas of India, such as Punjab, to develop economically as well as  agriculturally the advancement has not been universal. Agricultural development in India has favored a select few and has caused the divide between rich and poor to grow increasingly wider. This paper will discuss the reasons why the area of Punjab has prospered during this paradoxical divide wrought by the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution refers to a series of technological improvements within the agricultural world. Most notably these technological advancements include development in High Yielding Crop Varieties (HYVs), fertilizers, pesticides and, irrigation practices. These new ways of farming changed the agricultural world especially in developing countries such as India. The adoption of new high-yielding varieties (HYV’s), most notably rice and wheat, have enabled both India’s agriculture and economy to prosper significantly. India has used the Green Revolution to strive for self-sufficiency in agriculture “both by extending acreage and by increasing productivity” (Harriss 72). In this way India aimed to make their country, as a whole, an agricultural hub were poverty and starvation where rare. Unfortunately, not all of India transitioned to the new agricultural technologies as the same time. This lag of adoption is the first of many reasons why specific areas have prospered more than others. Started in 1960, the Intensive Agricultural District Programme (IADP) was one of the first government programs to organize the new agricultural movement in India. The IADP was “based on the premise that concentration of scarce resources made its best impact through the organization of selected districts as primary units”(Harriss 73). Through this decisive concentration of the new agricultural program in specific districts, the Green Revolution naturally favored those areas that the IADP focused on. One of these concentrated areas was Punjab which reaped almost immediate benefits.

As the agricultural areas concentrated on by the IADP prospered more farmers throughout India began to adopt the new technologies. Poorer farmers who previously did not have the “resources to invest in farming” and did not have stable “security against crop failure”(321 Chakravarti) began to see the profit in adopting the new technologies. This movement sparked a more stable market for companies developing new agricultural technologies. More governmental programs, colleges, and companies began to use Punjab “as a pilot area for the field trials of HYV wheat and bajra”(Harriss 88). Punjab became the early center for agricultural experimentation because Punjab had naturally fertile soil, adequate rainfall, an established agricultural society, and a system of “economic infrastructure and social attitudes” (Harriss 88) previously established by the IADP. Being the center of experimentation enabled Punjab to reap the most benefits from agricultural experimentation, especially in regards to HYV wheat, because the refining of these techniques was based on the field results done in Punjab.

HYVs have been a very important advancement for Indian agriculture.  Land in India is scarce and the increased use of  HYVs helped raise the yield on all types of farms.  The most successful of these HYV’s however has been wheat. Punjab’s wheat production for instance increased yield from 1.9 million tons in 1965 (Kohli and Singh 2) to 18.69 million tons in 2011 (M.L Sharma, 143).  Adoption of HYV wheat has allowed Punjab to produce more than traditional seed varieties could thus allowing Punjab to make more money off of the increased crop production. The phenomenal success of HYV wheat gave those regions whose farmers produced wheat more economical and political power than those who produced other crops.

Other HYV grain varieties, such as rice, did not have the same success as HYV wheat. The main regions that grow rice are in the south of India however Punjab, the central area of HYV experimentation, is located in the northern part of India. This being said, HYV rice “sufficiently adapted to environmental conditions, especially those of drought, deep flooding and water-logging”(Farmer 207) which are significant factors of the agricultural environment in India’s southern regions. Rice crop also tend to suffer more problems with pests and diseases than wheat crops (Chakravarti 325). These problems together have caused a significant increase in the amount of money needed to produce rice while also decreasing the overall yield. Rice farmers are thus not receiving the same input to output ratios as wheat farms nor are they able to make enough money to significantly invest in new technologies to improve yield. This situation creates a cycle of economic disparity between regions who produce rice over wheat which only grows larger as time passes.

Crop differences become even more central to the growing disparity as access to new technologies become increasingly limited by access to capital. As more famers used HYV’s they also began to use chemical fertilizers to further increase yields. Punjab’s demand for fertilizer for instance, grew by  25% as a result of introducing new HYV’s of wheat (Sidhu and Baanante 455).  As production increased in order to keep up with the Indian population increase, the land became over worked and the continual use of HYVs and chemical fertilizers deteriorated the soil. (Dayal 117) Continued use of these technologies resulted in “increased erosion, thus requiring larger quantities of fertilizer to simply maintain yields”(Yaba 270). This cyclical process forced farmers to continue using chemical fertilizers and other technologies in order to keep up with the demand for their crops, adding another expense towards production. Although new technologies enabled all farms, despite size, to increase output only larger farms had the capital and influence to get their hands on “costly inputs like fertilizers, tube wells, and power-pumps”(Farmer 206). This cyclical process is a key factor in the growing poverty rates all over India, including Punjab though this area has faired better than most.

Continued electric and irrigation technologies have also began to rise in their use within Indian agriculture due to the smaller yields received under the continued use Green Revolution technologies. Since HYVs of “rice and wheat account for 95 percent of the increase in food grain production in India”(India’s Green Revolution Has Turned Sour) India has seen a drop in water levels as well as deterioration. This has created “critical dependence of farm productivity upon the electricity and water supply sectors”(Pollard 19) in order for farms to pump and disperse enough water to continue irrigating their crops.

New technologies such as wheat threshers and  pump-sets cut man hours by a quarter. (Billings and Singh.) This efficiency allowed for the increased development of the land for agricultural use. Tractors in particular allowed for farmers to  develop more land because they decreased the amount of labor needed to produce by thirty percent for wheat, the main stable crop, and twenty percent overall. Tractors also allowed farmers to use previous fodder land, used to feed the work animals, for growing cash crops (Billings and Singh). This increased the overall productivity as well as income for the farmer. The mechanization of labor  however is a double edged sword because although labor saving machines are efficient they also increase rates of unemployment and poverty. This agricultural development caused “great economic imbalance among farmers, and is further contributing to large interregional disparities in agriculture”(Chakravarti 319).  Punjab however has a relatively small population of landless laborers “only 10% of the total rural labour supply”(Billings and Singh). This means that Punjab’s agricultural and economic development is relativity unhurt by the mechanization of previously man worked labor. Other regions of India have much higher landless populations and thus “land holdings are distributed in a very skewed manner, the distribution of gains has [thus]also been quite inequitable”(Bhalla and Chadha 876).

With the Green Revolution came many benefits but those benefits were not the solution to the problems that plagued India. Poverty and unemployment were the issues that the Green Revolution was meant to solve but it created an even greater divide between the rich and poor. New technologies and techniques brought prosperity to regions like Punjab because they were favored with good land for agriculture. Early adaption to the Green Revolution alongside their natural advantage of good farm lands has enabled the area of Punjab to maximize their benefits from the Green Revolution. Those regions that were not as blessed agriculturally tried to follow in the footsteps of Punjab only to find themselves using new expensive technologies to simply survive. The Green Revolution has created a paradoxical divide which has made the rich richer and the poor poorer.

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