While the Green Revolution in India may have been successful in increasing agricultural production at the aggregate level, it had many negative consequences on rural livelihoods. Discuss.
This essay will look at how the Green Revolution in India, implemented in the 1960’s impacted both the agricultural production at the aggregate (collective) level and the rural livelihoods of labourers and peasants. The focus will be on the intention of the Green Revolution and where this succeeded and where it failed. This will include looking at class distinction, the land lords and regions which profited and the impact it has had on nutrition and the environment. Within the scope of this essay I will refer to the capitalistic nature of the movement and how this directly affects India as a whole for the future. I will draw on the works and essays from the 1960s to the present day to support the discussion.
The Green Revolution.
In 1961, a report made by the Ford Foundation entitled “India’s Food Crisis” stressed the need to “transform traditional agriculture” (Patnaik,2000:81) and to produce more food. The intention was to be met through ‘scale-neutral’ technology,that is technology and agriculture methods which all farmers would benefit by economically and self-sufficiently. Whilst this held true for certain members of Indian society it had detrimental results for those in the rural community which continues to make up a large percentage of the population. When the proposal was made and implemented there was no reference made to ‘resource-neutrality’, in other words how the distribution of essential access to irrigation, technology and equity was displaced throughout the country which was of fundamental importance to the livelihoods of peasant farmers.
The Green Revolution gained its name as an alternative to the Red Revolution in Asia; devised by Dr. Norman E Borlaug, an American scientist who conducted research in Mexico and developed high yield varieties (HYV) of wheat. Over only two decades, this project enabled Mexico as a collective to export more than half of its wheat production (previously Mexico had been importing the majority of their wheat). The success of this project and the money which was made led to the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation funding more research into HYV of seeds, which in turn led to further implementation in India. Along with the HYV of seeds came the introduction of monoculture agriculture which requires a high use of fertilisers and pesticides as only one crop leaves the land open to more weeds. A weaker soil and a lack of biodiversity ensued and more problems arose.
The introduction of wheat as the initial mono crop saw, the once 30,000 variety diminish to a mere 10, grown primarily the Punjab region of North India. The risks for mono agriculture are vast, Bernstein states, “A small producer who borrows extensively to meet the cash crops of HYV cultivation runs the risk of becoming greatly indebted” (Bernstein,1995:53) whilst those with more resources, either of economic or natural still run a risk but are in a far better position to deal with those risks.
There were two phases to the Green Revolution; the first spanned from 1960 to the mid 1970’s and was “..primarily concentrated on wheat and was associated with a substantial rise in both yield per unit area and total output, especially in North India.” (Putnaik,2000:81). As targets were reached the profitability of producing cereals rose also. Putnaik states that “…considerable capitalist investment was visible, especially in North India” which was historically associated with colonial British rule and implemented where irrigation systems were already in place.
The second phase of the Green Revolution dated from 1975 to the present day and has seen the Punjab region becoming ‘phased-in’ as a HYV of rice growing region:
“High yielding rice has emerged as a second crop grown primarily for sale in the traditionally wheat-growing region of North India which had already benefited the most from the first round of technical change” (Patnaik,2000: 82). The capitalistic system saw the same people profiting from phase two as did from phase one and the divide continues to widen.
The Implication of Class and Region.
The success came to those with more resources, be it economic, political, natural and often historical, they “…had considerable more access to large scale irrigation, essential for high yield variety cultivation.” (Bernstein,1995:58). The industrialisation and modernisation of the new technology (which did not need to rely on seasonal rains as rural farming does) saw great success of a minority few producers. The advantages led to the elite groups gaining greater power in terms of choice of labour, tenancy of land and eviction of tenants and a new class of wealthy peasants was born. The reliance that was placed on Government funded irrigation projects on the one hand and then privately owned “tubewell-pumpset irrigation on the other, has also led to a sharp decline in traditional small-to medium scale water conservation systems maintained in the past by community labour”. (Putnaik,2000:85). These problems have greatly affected environmental issues with “rapid deforestation contributing to soil erosion and degradation as well a lowering of the sub-soil water table.” (Putnaik,2000:85)This ecological knock on effect led to the greater expansion of already large towns and business ventures, again by the elite few.
India can be divided into three general regions; Punjab, Harayana and Uttar Pradesh in the North, which is fast growing and expansive as we have seen; the West and South West which is seen as stagnating economically and agriculturally and the rest of India which falls into the third group. The first group which has the least share in total output produces the most food and profit the most whilst the other two regions declined: the second sharply and the third region steadily. The concentration of wealth saw the Proletariat rural farmers becoming unable to own land and work it as before due to the expense required for fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation on top of the costs of seeds. It is important to note here that this imbalance of growth by region and class initiated problems between nationalities within the nation. The cultural and social contradictions which were evident before independence from British rule were seen to re-emerge with renewed strength with the Green Revolution, post-independence and the capitalist industrialization. This newly emerging economic differences saw a “…growth of exclusiveness, manifesting itself ideologically at the regional level in religious fundamentalism or in social reaction against minorities.” (Putnaik,2000:87) The vast economic growth, in the hands of the few created fertile ground for aspirations of India as a whole, and for those few which were miles apart and on tender hooks politically, religiously and fundamentally. This disruption of balance can be seen primarily in the Assam and Punjab regions where an up surging of Bengali immigrants gave rise to “an exclusivist movement of ethnic Assamese who demanded the expulsion of those it labelled “foreigners”.”(Putnaik, 2000:88)This movement was both radical in the opposition to capitalist authority and also “scapegoating of identifiable minorities.” (Putnaik,2000:88). In Punjab there was a rise to terrorist movements against the government which are in direct relation to the Green Revolution and the disproportionate economic growth linked with it. This disharmony and its origins can be traced back to the turn of the century and the colonial rule, of which the Green Revolution ignited further.
The term “parasitic landlordism” (Bernstein,1995:53) was coined to represent those who owned the land that was worked on by the majority. The system of land distribution made it profitable to control land by charging rent from the peasants who worked it and kept the outlay of wages lower still. These fixed rents which were payable in money, pressurised peasants at times of bad harvests and created more poverty. The money that was extracted from rentals, usually from landowners who were not present, was not invested back into farming and thus the word “parasitic” was used. This capitalistic investment was much more evident in the Punjab region and “widespread petty tenancy continued” (Putnaik,2000:81). Statistics drawn from “the official National Accounts Statistics showed that total property income, that is profits, rent and interest, as a proportion of total income….rose steadily from 8.7% in 1978/9 to 12.5% by 1984/5.” (Putnaik,2000:84) It is clear that per food capita increased greatly in North India whilst a stagnation of production in other areas registered at a much smaller rate. In relation to the population increase in India and displacement of people, a rise in employment in the more affluent areas has been seen. In contrast, a rise of unemployment has risen in the rural areas. Punjab has, as a result of the Green Revolution seen a vast increase in land concentration and labourers employed by the minority holding the land. This,as Putnaik states completes “the classic scenario of capitalist development in agriculture leading to the displacement of small producers and to proletarinization.” (Putnaik,2000:87) and from this arises the issue of migration of people for work. This migration affects the peasants and labourers on a rural level through economic and social means, and in turn enables the capitalist landlords to settle abroad. It is interesting to note that it is Western educated bourgeoisie who staff the local agricultural universities and own the textile companies, which monopolises the industry further. “These circumstances have also encouraged cultivators to mechanize operations” (Harriss,1988:234) and bring in more technology that is incompatible with rural life and farming which squeezes the small land holders more, effectively organising the rich peasants and landowners as a new class. This is reflected in the elite’s capacity to avoid taxation and to maintain high agricultural prices “in their forceful political presence.” (Harriss,1988:234). The small peasants continued to try and compete on the market which has led to greater and greater debt and, in turn to the loss of land to the larger owners along with the necessity of selling their grain at a small price, immediately after harvest to keep up with the payments. So the business of money lending became more profitable for the petty bourgoisie than agricultural production itself and in turn created a whole new class divide with political and economic difficulties.
The enhanced yields and incomes that came with the implementation of the Green Revolution meant much higher initial and on-going costs and greater risks associated with it. Heavily and mechanically irrigated land of the bourgeoisie allows for two to three harvests per year and so production is vastly higher than the subsistence farmer who relies on the seasons for harvesting once a year. The mechanization of technology has meant that women especially have been deeply affected in terms of work they are able to do. When once they milled grain by hand providing a steady income and resource for the household, the new technology introduced now meant that the job was done by machinery that is controlled by men. “Most critical for the poorest women is the mechanization of rice milling (now a male task) because dehusking by hand used to be an important source of their income.” (Bernstein,1995:62). The rise in food grains associated with the Green Revolution left the cotton and sugar trade hit hard and with it came a reduction in the traditional pulses and lentils which were part of the staple diet. The grains that are grown are not evenly distributed throughout society and concentrated within certain social groups of higher class, those of the minority. As a direct result the “nutritional balance of the average Indian’s food intake has worsened, with a fall in the share of pulses relative to cereals.”(Bernstein,1995:82).
Whilst fixed rents were created the real value of the rural wage remained the same which led to migration becoming a necessity for the men of the house; “…nearly two-fifths of the rural workforce comprise agricultural labour, supplemented seasonally by migrant labour from the poor and backward state of Bihar some 1,000 miles away.” (Putnaik,2000:89). In conjunction with this, education was only improved in the Punjab region for the minority. The largest declines on all fronts were seen in Western, Southern and Central India:
“The results from Foster and Rosenzweig (1996), for example, suggest that agricultural technical change is likely to increase inequality in schooling in rural areas because it increases schooling returns for landed households, who make decisions about the adoption and management of new seeds, but not for landless households, who undertake such tasks as weeding or harvesting crops.” (Foster et al,2004:88).
As three fifths of the rural population are peasants and labourers, the implications for education, nutrition and poverty are undeniable.
The intention of the Green Revolution to produce more food and revolutionise the agricultural production on the aggregate level succeeded in a very short period of time. However, the promise that all farmers would benefit did not occur. As a direct result of the introduction of HYV seeds there has been a direct impact on the rural lives of peasant farmers and their families: nutrition has declined, along with access to education and environmental issues. The widening class divide has brought political, religious and economic problems which “reflects an understanding of the effects of the introduction of the new varieties as stimulating the development of capitalism in agrarian society,..” (Harriss,1988:233). The undisputed impact has benefited a select few of higher class with political power and directly impoverished the majority of those in rural livelihoods. As a direct result of the Green Revolution we see a modern day India where there is indeed no famine, but instead there is widespread and persistent unemployment and poverty, especially in rural areas. There does not seem to be much sign of a turnabout and as business of the western world continues to look for cheaper labour and production costs we could see the divide significantly increase.
Bernstein, H., Crow, B., Johnson, H. (1995). Rural Livelihoods: Crises and Responses. Oxford University Press. Print.
Foster, A., Rosenzweig, M. (2004). “Technological Change and the distribution of Schooling evidence from Green revolution India.”Journal of Development Economics 74. 87-111. Print.
Harriss, J. (1988) “Capitalism and Peasant Production: The Green revolution in India.” Peasant and Peasant Societies. Ed. Shanin,T. London. Penguin. Print.
Patnaik, U. (2000 ) Some Economic and Political Consequences of the Green Revolution in India. London. Earthscan. Print.