Inequalities of the Green Revolution

By Janelle Germanos

          In order to obtain a full view of the effects of the Green Revolution and the change it has brought about in modern society, it is necessary for one to examine the social consequences that this revolution’s technology has had on certain segments of society, specifically the poorest and most marginalized members of society. Many scholars have argued that the Green Revolution has caused inequality amongst members of societies where these changes have taken place. Some go even further to argue that it negatively impacted poverty, making it worse in many places (Niazi 245).  How has the Green Revolution affected poverty? Several authors also demonstrate the Green Revolution’s effect on inequality, arguing that it has ignored people in certain areas and of a certain socio-economic status (Pingali 12303). Examining these elements will allow for the true effects of the Green Revolution to be demonstrated. Conditions in certain countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Ghana, will be examined to determine the consequences of the Green Revolution in terms of social implications.
According to some, the Green Revolution would be the force that ended poverty, rural unemployment, and malnutrition (Niazi 244). It is important to examine if in fact the Green Revolution lived up to the promises. The factors that caused certain members of society to be unable to see the benefits of this revolution should also be taken into consideration, as it is necessary to determine why these benefits are not positively affecting the poorest members of society. The research has shown that the Green Revolution has truly affected inequality, but the consequences associated with poverty still remain contested by many scholars. These questions will be further examined in this paper.

Brief History and Overview
          Certain elements of history of the Green Revolution were discussed by several colleagues in other papers making up this project, including Aman Parikh’s discussion of the ability of the Green Revolution to reduce hunger in the essay “The Historical Effectiveness of the Green Revolution in Reducing Hunger.” The Green Revolution has, regardless of any inability to actually reduce hunger in some areas, allowed for the world’s food production to dramatically increase (Das 55). The increases in wheat and rice as a result of improved varieties, fertilizers, and other chemicals have affected the supply of food and incomes in developing countries (Pinstrup-Andersen and Hazell 1).  While this Green Revolution may have allowed for more food to be produced, it certainly had other implications as well (Pinstrup-Andersen and Hazell 1). This includes the inequality of the spread of technologies leading to higher food production because of elements such as farm size and gender. These factors have resulted in a decline and income and tenant security, discussed later in this paper. As mentioned and examined by my colleague Aman Parikh in his essay on the history of the Green Revolution, the social infrastructure in countries with widespread inequality must be examined in order to determine why hunger still exists.
The Green Revolution components included the high-yielding variety package, which was implemented in certain areas of India during the 1960s (Beck 162). Erika Roberts’ discussion of India and the inequality within this country demonstrates the fact that these technologies were not implemented everywhere, causing inequality to rise in developing countries. Roberts’ essay about Punjab and the Indian Green Revolution should be read in order to gain a fuller understanding of the conditions affecting India.  According to Beck, opponents of the Green Revolution argue that the implementation of the HYV package in certain areas had led to rural classes becoming increasingly polarized, leading to more agrarian conflict (162). These opponents also argue that the Green Revolution has caused social unrest and landlessness (Beck 162). In order for the Green Revolution to be praised as opening up social change, it is important to examine these factors surrounding the inequalities that may have resulted.

Inequalities: Location
          Although the Green Revolution has led to an increase in food production, the benefits of this increase is often spread unevenly across geographic areas. Some authors argue that the Green Revolution is responsible for poverty reduction (Pingali 12303). However, negative consequences did occur, which Pingali says is not a result of the Green Revolution technologies but rather the results of the policies that were put into place to increase the supply of food (12303). According to Evenson and Gollin, productivity gains are uneven across regions (758).  Certain areas were left out of the agricultural development of the Green Revolution (Pingali 12303).
The Green Revolution strategy was to increase development in favorable areas, meaning that those on the marginal environments still faced poverty, especially in South Asia where the poorest areas that rely on heavy amounts of rain for agriculture growth face increasing disparities with other nations (Pingali 12303). The modern varieties were only introduced on the land best suited to grow these crops, leading to unevenness and causing only the areas with the best land to be affected (Cleaver 180-181). This practice can be demonstrated in India. According to Bajpai and Sachs, government policies in India failed to decrease disparities among regions (2).

Inequalities: Farm Size
           Inequalities as a result of the Green Revolution can be viewed by looking at the sizes of farms in society. Smaller farms were also less likely to reap the benefits of the Green Revolution (Feder and O’Mara 59). There are many reasons that larger farms are able to adapt the technologies of the Green Revolution better than a smaller farm is able to. One reason is that credit is limited in certain regions, constraining farmers from being able to obtain the capital necessary to implement the various fertilizers and pesticides (Feder and O’Mara 59). During the beginning of the implementation of the technologies of the Green Revolution, governments in some countries, such as India, tried to make credit easier to obtain (Chen, Bhagowalia, and Shively 561).However, having a larger farm was still a benefit that led to those with smaller farms lacking necessary resources. Larger farms are able to more easily adapt to the HYV (Feder and O’Mara 59). Smaller farmers are also said to have risk aversion and face uncertainty with the new innovations (Feder and O’Mara 59). The small farmer’s sense of uncertainty and risk aversion displays the ways that poorer and smaller individuals were often left out of the practices of the Green Revolution. According to Feder and O’Mara, the small farmers often avoided these high yielding variations because of the high cost and time that it would take to receive and learn the information about these variations (62). Morris and Doss explain that although modern variations are supposed to be able to be applied to any size farms, wealthier farmers are more likely to afford the cost of fertilizer (4). Das explains that even if smaller farmers are able to access the new technologies, they may not be able to continue using it (58).

However, Pinstrup-Andersen and Hazel argue that studies saying that the Green Revolution was only for larger farmers were wrong (9). It is evident, however, that small shareholders were often left out of the benefits. According to Pingali, policies existed that discriminated against smaller shareholders, including “subsidies for mechanization or crop and scale bias in research and extension” (12304). This means that government credits, mentioned earlier, were given to those with larger farms.

Pakistan and Ethiopia
          Pakistan and Ethiopia are ideal countries to examine when analyzing the effects of the Green Revolution. According to Niazi, “not only did it consolidate pre-existing socio-economic differences, caused by uneven access to key productive resources, such as land, therefore, but it also added to these differences” (254). The Green Revolution has not ended hunger, unemployment, or poverty in Pakistan as it was promised (Niazi 242). Just like some general inequalities mentioned before, Niazi asserts that the Green Revolution led to an inequality in distribution (250). The Green Revolution’s contribution to inequality in Pakistan can be divided into three different sections, including a decline in tenurial security, income inequality, and a decline in rural employment. Poverty in Pakistan has worsened, with the rural areas facing extreme poverty (Ahmad, Ludlow, and Mahmood 846) In Ethiopia, although the Green Revolution led to an increase and food production, social tensions were created as a result of the Green Revolution because of the intense focus on production (Cohen 347).

Decline in Security of Tenants
          According to Niazi, owner-operated farms increased as a result of the Green Revolution, and smaller tenants were pushed out of holding any land (250). This demonstrates the Green Revolution’s negative effects on the smaller and poorer member of society. From the 1960s to the 1990s, tenant operated farms decreased as owner operated farms increased (Niazi 250). Smaller farmers in this case felt that they were unable to afford the costs of farming, and leased their land to capitalist producers (Niazi 251). This led to increased poverty and inequality, as more capitalist producers now owned the land.

Decline in Rural Employment
          The rate of unemployment in Pakistan could have been as high as 65 percent (Niazi 252). Although the employment rate in the agricultural sector has grown from 9.8 million in 1963 to 1964 to 16.6 million in 1994 and 1995, the “ labour absorption capacity of agriculture is falling behind the growing number of those in Pakistan who come within the employable category” (Niazi 252). This causes a major problem in Pakistan, as the annual job growth is not even one tenth of the population of employable laborers (Niazi 252). It seems that the architects of the Green Revolution did not consider what to do with these extra workers in society. While some authors argue that migration out of rural areas intro urban ones will fix the rural unemployment problem and will reduce poverty, it is often not considered that migration from rural areas can occur faster than job growth in the urban areas, leading to poverty simply moving from the countryside to the city (Pingoli 12304). Those unemployed in rural areas move to more urban ones (Lele and Mellor 20). This means that the problem of poverty just shifts from rural areas to more urban ones.

Rural Household Income Decline

As a result of the increasing unemployment in rural Pakistan, one in three Pakistanis is stuck in a cycle of poverty (Niazi 253). An appropriate indicator of rural poverty is determining the monthly income level of a household. This number has actually risen, but does not account for any major changes because of inflation (Niazi 253). In fact, it almost has no effect at all, as Niazi says “one takes into account the inflation rate; this ‘increase’ is deflated to the point of vanishing” (253). This evidence demonstrates that poverty is becoming worse in rural Pakistan, an area many thought would be positively affected by the Green Revolution. The gap between the rich and the poor has gotten larger, as the rural households share of the national income has decreased from 8.3 percent in 1969 to a mere 6 percent in 1990 and 1991 (Niazi 253). The rich in Pakistan, however, have seen their share of the national income increase from 41.35 percent to 47.4 percent (Niazi 253). These trends demonstrate the inequality that has occurred as a result of some practices of the Green Revolution.

According to Niazi, peasants and agricultural workers are the most vulnerable members of society as poverty as gotten more intense since the 1980s (253). In Pakistan, two of every three individuals living in a rural setting were classified as impoverished in 1998 to 1999 (Niazi 254). This trend is attributed to the dispossession of land faced by the peasants and poorer agricultural workers (Niazi 254)
Green Revolution technology favored the rich in the rural areas of Pakistan as opposed to the landless tenants, leading to commercial farmers and those that were better off to reap the benefits (Niazi 254). Financial capital gave producers the ability to purchase farm inputs, which were costly, machinery, and energy needs (Niazi 254). As a result, poor peasants were unable to participate in this cultivation, and many looked for work in the cities (Niazi 254).

Inequality in Gender
Gender often played a role in the distribution of benefits that resulted from the Green Revolution. Mary Gillespie effectively demonstrates in her essay the background associated with women and their roles and contribution within villages in developing countries. According to Pingoli, women heads of households and women farmers gained less from the Green Revolution than their male counterparts (12304). The transfer of technology focused on men rather than women and ignored women’s social conditions and technology needs. Men were more likely than women to use certain Green Revolution practices such as fertilizer and  insecticide (Chen, Bhagowalia, and Shively 561). Women were shown to be just as effective as men when implementing the technology, but these women faced barriers to the resources needed (Pingoli 12304). Women have always played a prominent role in the management of natural resources, especially in developing countries (Sobha 107).
The Green Revolution has impacted the role of women within agriculture differently than it has affected the role of men. According to Sobha, food production and the shift to a market economy led to the displacement of women (107). Peasants in developing countries, who were often women, have made innovations in agriculture for centuries, but “the knowledge of agriculture which was acquired for over centuries began to be eroded and erased with the introduction of western model of green revolution” (Sobha 107). Although gender subordination has always existed, women continue to be oppressed through development and the implementation of Green Revolution technologies (Sobha 107). Women have found their roles shifting as “Farming as a process of nurturing the earth to maintain her capacity to provide food has changed with a masculinist shift in looking at farming as a process of generating profits” (Sobha 108). Sobha’s assertions demonstrate the conflicts in India between the marketization of food and the want to stick with traditional food crops, instead of the new crops of the Green Revolution.
Technology adoption by certain members of societies often plays a role in how affective certain aspects of the Green Revolution are in certain areas. In Ghana, for example, it was found that modern varieties and fertilizer were less likely to be used by women than by men; as during the cropping season of 1997, 39 percent of female farmers used modern varieties compared to 59 percent of male farmers (Morris and Doss 2). Because land ownership in Ghana is often related to gender, with men owning more land than women, these men with more land are more likely to be able to afford the fertilizer and more likely to take the risks than women are (Morris and Doss 7). Women also have a more difficult time obtaining labor in Ghana, as men are often chosen for the tasks associated with farming, such as clearing and plowing (Morris and Doss 7).  The concept of extension services also impacts the likelihood of women to be affected by Green Revolution technology. Extension agents are those people who provide technical advice and the inputs necessary (Morris and Doss 7). Women in this study in Ghana had fewer contact with these extension services and agents (Morris and Doss 7).
To conclude, these findings lead to Morris and Doss discovering that maize farmers face unequal land access (8). This seems to be because women often hold less land than men, demonstrating that owning less land leads to reaping less benefits of the Green Revolution. According to Beck, in West Bengal, India, the poor are the least affected by the benefits of the Green Revolution, especially in households where women are in charge (161). Inequality and patriarchy reigned in the village Beck studied in West Bengal, as women did not work on farming operations (166). Women were negatively affected, as “Class and patriarchy combined in such a way that it was the poorest women who received the least benefit from the green revolution” (Beck 166). The poorest people in this village reported to Beck that they felt no benefits from the Green Revolution and were simply watching their neighbors become richer (177). In this village, the introduction of Green Revolution technologies benefited only the richest, as those who already held the power were able to use this power to control the irrigation facilities (Beck 179). This study displays the importance of socio-economic factors and their impact on the distribution of benefits from the Green Revolution.
In order for poor members of society to receive the benefits of the Green Revolution, the political environment must be satisfactory enough and economic policies must be effective (Lele and Mellor 22). If the political environment is in turmoil and inequality is widespread, the technologies and new practices of the Green Revolution will not help those negatively affected by this political turmoil. This means that the systems in which the Green Revolution technologies were adapted must be examined in order for these technologies to be effective. Gender disparity and a shunning of the power still exist in many societies, and change must be made. Lele and Mellor sum up the thought by asserting that “If the extraordinary promise of the emerging agricultural technologies is to be realised, a drastic change in policies towards employment and industrialisation will be needed” (22).
Consensus on the issues of inequalities resulting from the Green Revolution has not yet been reached. According to Freebairn, scholars have yet to agree on the effects of the Green Revolution on income distribution (265). Katy Dalenberg mentions in her essay that there is a connection between having more money and food. This topic is also discussed by several other colleagues in the History section, something the reader should review in order to get more background on this paper’s arguments.
It has been demonstrated by examples in this paper that certain inequalities have indeed taken place as a result of different factors of the Green Revolution. While they might not all be a direct result of the actual technologies, it seems to be easier for richer members of society to adapt these changes. Poorer peasants, specifically women, are often left behind. The underlying social and economic factors need to be examined in order for the Green Revolution to truly help all people.

Works Cited

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Bajpai, Nirupam, and Jeffrey D. Sachs. “Trends in inter-state inequalities of income in India.”  Development Discussion Papers, Columbia University. (1996).

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Chen, Susan E., Priya Bhagowalia, and Gerald Shively. “Input Choices in Agriculture: Is There A Gender Bias?.” World Development 39.4 (2011): 561-568.

Cleaver, Harry M. “The contradictions of the Green Revolution.” The American economic review 62.1/2  (1972): 177-186.

Cohen, John M. “Effects of green revolution strategies on tenants and small-scale landowners in the Chilalo region of Ethiopia.” The Journal of Developing Areas 9.3 (1975): 335-358.

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Doss, Cheryl R., and Michael L. Morris. “How does gender affect the adoption of agricultural innovations?.” Agricultural Economics 25.1 (2000): 27-39.

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Feder, Gershon, and Gerald T. O’Mara. “Farm size and the diffusion of green revolution technology.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 30.1 (1981): 59-76.

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