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Indian Villages

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Gilbert Etienne

Part II – The Green Revolution and After

Chapter 3 – The Green Revolution

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1The Green Revolution (GR) in India remains a model operation because all the ingredients of success were put together at once. In a way it is the victory of the intelligence and competence of all parties involved.

2First, it had the required political will and commitment at the top. When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister, following Nehru’s death in May 1964, he showed a deep concern for agriculture and was critical of the lack of contact between the elites and the peasants. After the death of Shastri, in January 1966, Indira Gandhi became Prime minister. She was no less committed to the improvement of agriculture and getting free from US grain dependency.

3Second, there was the issue of implementation. The PM, Shastri, selected C. Subramaniam, one of the most efficient statesmen, as minister of agriculture. Subramaniam, in turn, was assisted by some bright and dedicated ICS/IAS officers and by excellent scientists like M. S. Swaminathan (who is still active at more than 80 years of age).

4Third, it had dependable foreign assistance. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations already had representatives in India, men with solid experience of the country and great sympathy for its people. They were equally worried about the future of agriculture. In 1959, the Ford Foundation had prepared the Report on India’s Food Crisis and Steps to meet it, published by the Ministry of Agriculture. In the meantime, the American Norman Borlaug, an agronomist, was promoting research in new high-yield varieties (HYVs) of cereals. Both foundations introduced from their respective institutes, CIMMYT in Mexico and the Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, Mexican seeds of wheat and filipino rice seeds. The properties of these new seeds (already introduced for wheat cultivation in the West in the 1950s) were as follows:
1. The new seeds reacted better, genetically, to higher doses of chemical fertilizers than traditional varieties. They are shorter, or dwarf breeds, to avoid lodging. They often mature earlier than traditional varieties, which facilitate double cropping on the same soil within the year.
2. Chemical fertilizers require, in many areas, a better water supply than traditional varieties cultivated without or with small doses of chemical fertilizers. Hence the key role of water, particularly irrigation.
3. Areas with poor and erratic rainfall and low irrigation potential are unfit for the Green Revolution.
4. Since HYVs are genetically more homogenous than traditional varieties, they are more vulnerable to pests, especially during the monsoon. Hence they require pest control.
5. The new seeds must be replaced every four to five years, otherwise the yields decline. Hence they require a continuous process of research. As for hybrid seeds (at that time for maize and sorghum) they must be replaced every year.
6. Any new seeds’ variety may not be suitable to any physical milieu and climate, hence the need for careful testing.

5As we have seen, good irrigated yields without chemical fertilizers, or only with small doses, amounted to 1,000–1,300 kg/ha of wheat and to 2,000 kg/ha of paddy (1,300 kg/ha of clean rice).

6During the early years of the GR, as we will see, yields of wheat grew to 2,000 kg/ha, and paddy to 3,500 kg/ha (2,200 kg clean rice). In 2011/2012, the state-wise national average yields are as follows:

Table 2: State-wise Yields of Wheat and Rice (Kg/ha)*

Crop

Tamil Nadu

Andhra

Punjab

Haryana

UP

Wheat

-

-

4900

5030

3100

Clean rice

3420

3140

4000

3000

2360

* The data refer to areas that are 90-99% irrigated, except rice in UP with 78% irrigation

Source: Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, 2012.

7Rainfed paddy, under the best conditions with a good monsoon, has hardly increased, with a yield of around 2,000- 2,500 kg/ha (660–1,000 kg clean rice). As for coarse grain, mostly rainfed in peninsular India, there has been some yield increase, with the possible use of small doses of chemical fertilizers and improved seeds, which are often not HYVs. In the best cases (Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh) a good year’s jowar (sorghum) reaches 1,100 to 1,500 kg/ha versus India’s national average of 950 kg/ha. The national average for bajra (small millet) amounts to 700–1,000 kg/ha with good rains, but is only half this number with poor rains and can be zero in a drought year. Maize does better: now 25% irrigated versus 13% until 1964, with a present average yield of 2,000-2,400 kg/ha.

8The data fits quite well with our field observations. The absolutely key role of irrigation is obvious. Yet, as we will see, today a number of influential Indians keep on advocating for a Green Revolution in rainfed areas. There is some scope for improving yields of rainfed crops, particularly through watershed development projects and biotechnical agriculture, but they will remain far behind irrigated HYVs. As for crops in the dry season, they can hardly increase in their yield.

The Achievements

9The first Mexican wheat variety proved to adapt well to the northwest of India, from Punjab to Western UP. By a happy coincidence, the conditions for a Green Revolution had already been created: the consolidation of holdings and the advent of electricity had paved the way for a fast growth of private tube wells, leading to new irrigated lands and to better irrigation. Besides, locally dominant castes like Sikhs and Hindu Jats, though mostly illiterate, were quick to adopt the new seeds. In Punjab, the support of the state was particularly active. As will be seen, the introduction process was very simple, so that in one or two years most farmers were more or less able to double their yields.

10The introduction of new rice varieties was more complex because rice is quite sensitive to a variety of micro climatic conditions. Some of the first varieties coming from Taiwan failed. Later on Filipino varieties proved successful. After a first round with foreign seeds, local research institutes and the new Agricultural Universities created with US assistance, like in Pantnagar in UP, started producing their own seeds.

11Thanks to the Green Revolution, cereal imports fell from 10 million t in 1966/1967 to 3 million t by the early 1970s. India is now more or less self-sufficient in food grains except in pulses. It exports rice and, from time to time, wheat. Such progress enables the government to buy part of the grain and store it for use in case the monsoon fails and for distribution to poor people.

12The Food Corporation of India was set up in 1965 to store part of the grain purchased from farmers on the basis of a minimum support price. A public distribution system functioning under various state-wise rules releases subsidised grain to people below the poverty line. The whole system for output and distribution relies on a wide array of subsidies for electricity (which is even free in some states), for chemical fertilizers, food distribution, and petrol. As will be seen, such subsidies have been useful to promote the GR but now they have become a heavy burden for the exchequer, at both the central and state levels. The issues of waste and corruption still persist.

13The Green Revolution is not without technical weaknesses, which prove to be very slow to be corrected with regard to the use of new inputs. These have led to some levelling off of yields, which has been very obvious in recent years as we will see. Unbalanced use of chemical fertilizers, defects in the use of pesticides, and a lack of organic manure contribute to damaging the soils, an increasingly worrying issue which needs urgent remedies. Spurious chemical fertilizers, pesticides and seeds are another source of trouble for the farmers.

14However, when drawing a final balance sheet of the Green Revolution, its advent has, for the first time in history, banned any risk of famine in India. One may add that a similar process, aided by the US foundations, has occurred in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. As for China, it started its Green Revolution with its own means. After 1971, following its return to the UN and its improved relations with the US, China also benefitted from outside assistance.

15It is no less striking to observe that the breakthrough of wheat and rice opened the way to a global process of rural development, i.e. the diversification of cropping patterns and the growth of all kinds of local non-agricultural activities which have increased job availability and overall social progress compared to rainfed areas. On the whole, daily wages for agricultural work in Green Revolution villages amount to double or more for the same jobs in rainfed areas.

16Finally, one may notice that the Green Revolution is not so new in Asia. In the eleventh century, under the Sung dynasty in China, a new variety of paddy was introduced from central Vietnam, with many chain reactions. Francesca Bray refers to “development policies, so sweeping in scope that they may well be compared to the so called green revolution in Asia now” (Bray 1984, 597–600).

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