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Indian Villages

Gilbert Etienne

Part III – The All India Rural Picture and the Future

Chapter 10 – Maya, Ignorance and Prejudices

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1The shortcomings of the present agricultural policy observed in the field will be tackled at the all India level in the next chapter. Before that we must try to understand why, following the early success of the Green Revolution that was boosted by people having a fine grasp of the main issues, villagers have been neglected since the 1980s; although, in recent years, there have been some improvements. Also, why is there a growing emphasis on poverty alleviation through special schemes in favour of the poor, instead of emphasizing the indirect approach involving more productive investments and faster growth benefitting the poor, as seen in the field?

2There is an odd combination of Maya, the word for “illusion” used by Hindus, with ignorance and prejudices. One must also recognize that many of the wrong assessments are not confined to India. One finds them in other developing countries and in North-South cooperation.

The Gap Between Urban Elites and Villagers

3The gap between the urban elites and the villagers is not new since it can be found in many past as well as present civilisations. However, in India and other developing countries, it has increased substantially in the past 50 years, and the advent of the society of consumption in cities is making the gap still wider.

4Already in 1975, the great anthropologist M. N. Srinivas wrote about “the dual cultures… The country’s officials and other professionals are largely recruited from the urban middle class… including high and middle castes… The ignorance of the urban middle class about rural life and agriculture would not have mattered much but for the fact that officials, and a variety of specialists, largely hail from it and have an important say in decisions which affect villages” (Srinivas 1992, 79–80).

  • 5 See Ministry of Finance. 2011. Economic Survey 2010/11, pp. 187.

5One comes across many instances of such ignorance. Important political leaders and official reports refer to the need for a “second Green Revolution”.5 Nirupalam Bajpai and the well-known economist Jeffrey Sachs propose a similar “Second Green Revolution” in (India Today, 3-7-2006). Such statements grossly overlook the fact that the next steps in agriculture should be quite different from the Green Revolution in the years 1965-1975. As we have seen, it was a relatively easy performance, whereas the tasks lying ahead in villages are much more complex, costly and time consuming, as will be seen in the next chapter. Even worse are the frequent suggestions of introducing the Green Revolution in rainfed areas, which shows a deep ignorance of geography. The President of India, Pratibha Patel, told business people to go and make investments in rainfed areas “in order to introduce a Green Revolution” (Business India, 4-9-2011). The lady is not supposed to be an expert on agriculture but what about the competences of her entourage? In the Approach Paper for the eleventh Plan, one reads that “a second Green Revolution should focus more on dry land areas” (Mahendra Dev 2008, 429). What makes things worse is that most media have no agronomists in their staff and consequently publish such statements without any critical comment.

6Another negative factor concerns development institutes in India and elsewhere, including Western countries. Village studies, since at least a few decades ago, are no longer fashionable. The classical approach, as illustrated by M. N. Srinivas, André Béteille, the well-known French anthropologist Louis Dumont, my dear friend Jean-Luc Chambard and others, involved a stay of 12 to 18 months in one or a few villages, observing farmers rich and poor, understanding how they feel about their problems and recording their reactions towards government policies and local administration. In other words, it was necessary to tackle technical and economic issues, behaviours, and socio-political factors. For foreigners, learning the local language was equally essential. This way of approaching the rural world is extremely enriching for the researcher. Eloquent or sophisticated theories stand or collapse in the paddy field, in front of a TW lacking power, when facing bad roads, or observing the load of the bullock cart. You learn to become practical. It is also very enriching to observe a society which one is not familiar with, and to observe the ability of the farmers to find solutions to various difficulties. Again, to quote M. N. Srinivas (1992, 82), “I found everyone in the village had something to teach me, including illiterate boys.”

7Some important experts and scholars started their careers in a village. Professor Schultz in his Transforming Traditional Agriculture relied heavily on the thesis of one of his students, David Hopper, who spent 18 months in a village of Benares district. Later on, he worked for the Rockefeller Foundation in India before holding an important position at the World Bank. Nicholas Stern, former vice-president of the World Bank and author of a well-known report on the environment, also started his career in a village of Moradabad district, Western UP (Bliss and Stern 1982)

8Unfortunately, similar examples are becoming rare. The trend is to rely on statistics and surveys about food, poverty, and development as a whole. There is reluctance towards engaging in fieldwork, and going and seeing things with one’s own eyes. One prefers to speak about the poor instead of with the poor, even if the surveys are not too reliable. This is particularly obvious in international North-South conferences on poverty eradication. Let us also consider young and smart holders of MBAs coming out of the best Indian business schools. They belong to a city high class/high caste. If visiting a village, they are nearly like foreigners.

9There are, nevertheless, more positive attitudes to be found. Some companies like Hindustan Lever are particularly interested in rural markets. When they recruit new young cadres, they first send them to a village for six weeks in order to meet and study people and make a report. They begin frightened and mostly return happy to have learned about farmers and their lives. Lakmé, a cosmetic firm, focuses on small rural towns where new cadres are first sent.

10During their two years probation period, following successful recruitment examinations, young IAS officers spend one full year in a district getting trained in the main tasks, from administration to development of various types. This has, of course, a deep impact on their activities when they take direct responsibilities.

11Though welcome, such currents should greatly expand when remembering that rural people account for 68% of the total population. On the occasion of the budget 2009/2010, three prominent magazines, Frontline, India Today and Outlook altogether devoted 44 pages to the comments of dozens of important personalities. Only one of them, Ashok Gulati, then director of the International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi, raised questions about agriculture and irrigation.

12The gap also concerns the politicians and the farmers. We have seen in our field studies a number of district magistrates touring villages without any retinue, sitting with farmers, recording their grievances or suggestions, and controlling district operations on the spot. When he was secretary of the Planning Commission, my friend Ashok Mitra, a fine ICS officer, used to visit a village several times a year; he remained faithful to his old habits when, as a young officer on his bicycle, he was fighting the Bengal famine in 1943.

13The late Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was well aware of this lack of contact. “We have waited for long. It is time we go to villages ourselves… I propose to go without pump to a village and stay there for three or four days and getting a real touch with the people. Once in a year or twice it should not be difficult for us.” (Indian Express, 2-6-1964). Notwithstanding Shastri’s own success as he died in January 1966, it does not seem that any of his successors, or other important leaders, have followed his idea. While speaking with one of them in 2005, he stated: “You cannot do this for security reasons.” He no doubt hada point, but an unannounced visit to a village, if possible incognito, with one personal aide and one bodyguard to protect him against a possible lunatic would not be so risky. A discreet TV operator could make such a visit known. Instead, you often see pictures of a dignitary, Indian or foreign, surrounded by all kinds of local neta (leaders/politicians), bodyguards and officials. In 2008, in a village of Orissa, I saw one of these typical scenes, a state minister addressing farmers from a distant platform separated from the crowd by a barrier and then leaving immediately after delivering his speech. Should we remember Harun al-Rashid going incognito in the bazaar of Baghdad to know what the people thought of his rule?

The Great Fallacy

14My field studies amply demonstrate that the Green Revolution did also benefit the poor: the marginal landowners having below 1 ha, and the landless labourers in terms of income and jobs. A number of Indian scholars reached similar conclusions, like B. Sen (1974), and C. R. Hanumantha Rao (1975). However, our views have been quickly overshadowed by a man of genius (I could not trace him) who coined the mantra: “in the Green Revolution, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, thus leading to social tensions and increased poverty. It spread all over India as well as in other Asian countries and in the West.

15The mantra was particularly welcome by Marxists and other leftists in India and in other countries. At a time (1965-1970) when the US was particularly unpopular because of the Vietnam War and the activities of their multinational corporations, how could something good come from the Americans? Now even the cleverest propaganda has been unable to deny the sharp increases in yields brought by the HYVs, hence the mantra. It spread so far that it was increasingly accepted by Indians and others, including Western scholars who had no connections with leftist ideologies.

16When I published, in 1982, my first book referring to the Green Revolution and its socio-economic impact, T. N. Ninan, a very alert journalist, wrote in his review: “This is an eye opener of a book that will not make the experts happy. The author challenges every bit of accepted wisdom on the Green Revolution.” (India Today, 30-11-1982). In other words, nearly twenty years after the advent of the new seeds, the abovementioned mantra was still accepted by many Indians, often carrying big responsibilities in development, even without any ideological bias. As for André Béteille, a leading Indian anthropologist, he concluded upon my book: “It is unlikely that the author will convert the prophets of doom to his point of view on the impact of the Green Revolution.” (Indian Foreign Review, 1-12-1982)

17These wrong appraisals illustrate, once again, the gap between urban elites and villagers, but these also have important consequences on the development policy. “There was a rethinking on the needs for a direct attack on poverty.” (S. Mahendra Dev 2008, 345) through special programmes for the poor which kept on increasing in the late 1970s and after. Various means were used: subsidies for buying cows, or for getting a new house; food subsidies; and, in particular, employment projects. As a result, public investments and recurrent expenditures in agriculture were reduced in favour of growing expenditures on such schemes.

18Although the social benefits of the Green Revolution have now been accepted by a growing number of persons including Indian Marxist economists, one still comes across followers of the mantra as late as 2011. “The gains (of the GR) have not reached the majority of small and marginal farmers” or “Small and marginal farmers have not been able to get benefitted as expected through the GR” (For both quotations see M. Kalyanasundaram and K. Kumaraswamy in The Hindu, Survey of Indian Agriculture, 2011).

19As for the direct attack on poverty, it has hardly been corrected, as seen with MGNREGA being introduced in 2005, following the victory of the Congress Party at the elections of 2004 (see next chapter).

Various Controversies

20A whole set of controversies has been growing since 1970-1980 and have exerted a negative impact on development.

21The famous TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) with its public infrastructure has been important in the New Deal of President Roosevelt. In the 1950s, it became a model for Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and elsewhere, leading to major works: dams producing electricity and feeding wide networks of irrigation canals. A number of major projects were created in Asia, including India. In the 1990s, the wind changed: NGOs from the North and the South, and individual militants started condemning big dams which were giving low results, displacing populations, and making people poorer.

22On one point, militants were and remain 100% correct; this is their condemnation of the R&R (resettlement and rehabilitation) of persons displaced by such works. It is shocking to come across, from Latin America to Africa and Asia, the same criticism of poor R&R. For instance, villagers displaced by the huge Tarbela dam in Pakistan, completed in 1974, were still waiting for compensation in 2002. (The News, 15-11-2002, Pakistan). In India, 21.3 millions people have been displaced by hydroelectric works, roads and mines between 1951 and 1991. 40.5% of the displaced, i.e. 8.5 million, were Adivasis. According to the Planning Commission only one-third of the displaced persons had been rehabilitated by 2008 (World Bank 2011, 251).

23Wherever plenty of groundwater is easily available through TWs for irrigation, it is cheaper and simpler to follow that option instead of major works. However, there are cases where big reservoirs and canals are the only solution. In deserts and semi-desert conditions, as in the area of Kandahar in Afghanistan, reservoirs and canals were the only solution. In peninsular India, one often comes across similar conclusions about old projects (Tunghabadra dam in Karnataka, Nagarjunasagar in Andhra), or more recently with the Sardar Sarovar dam in the Narmada project. One must, however, device means to reduce silting of dams, which reduces their capacity in the long run.

24Small reservoirs are empty or half empty in drought years, whereas a big reservoir holds enough water to withstand one bad monsoon. In this context comes the future of tanks which were important in the past, especially in South India. Their performance has gone down since independence.

25Another type of controversy concerns growing criticism of the Green Revolution, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It is quite common to see NGOs from India or other developing countries joining hands with and being supported by equally militant Western NGOs. Their basic argument is that bio agriculture can save the world: farmers using their own seeds, relying heavily on farm manure, compost and other means, including vermicompost. Such a strategy is legitimate wherever poor rains and limited irrigation prevent, as we have seen, the use of HYVs, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The anti-Green Revolution activists are correct to criticise attempts to push HYVs and chemical fertilizers in such terrains.

26On the other hand, it does not make sense to advocate bio agriculture in irrigated areas because crop yields will be quite limited and small farmers would be unable to grow enough food grain. 0.5 hectares, well irrigated, double cropped with HYVs, using chemical fertilizers and organic manure along with pesticides, can yield 2,000 kg of wheat and 1,700 kg of clean rice, hence a total of 3,700 kg of grain. When assuming a consumption of 200 kg per adult per year, the landowner enjoys a substantial surplus of grain for sale. Under irrigation and bio agriculture, he will not grow much more than 600 to 700 kg of wheat and 700 to 800 kg of clean rice.

27As we have seen in the field, and I will refer to it in the next chapter, serious defects of the Green Revolution need to be corrected with substantially more organic manure, and nutrients combined with chemical fertilizers to prevent soil deterioration.

28Since many people, particularly among the elites, are ignorant of agriculture, militant lobbies enjoy a rather free hand allowing their dubious arguments to flourish without much opposition. In 2010, Vandana Shiva, a prominent leader of the anti-Green Revolution lobbies was declaring in Bhutan that: “The agricultural system is destroying the planet, destroying the farmers”. She convinced the Bhutanese government to become the first country in the world to have agriculture that is “100% organic” (Vandana Shiva’s speech on December 19, 2010 in Bhutan, in the presence of the approving Prime minister). She could, no doubt, be right when referring to rainfed crops, but Bhutan also enjoys irrigated lands and a rather fast growing population.

29Finally, as seen earlier, in spite of its defects, the Green Revolution has saved Asia from the danger of famines for the first time in history. In most countries, a large number of small farmers with 1 ha or less did, in fact, improve their living conditions, as did landless labourers (Etienne 1985 and 2009, Maurer on Indonesia 1986).

30Like Western Europe, India is a theatre of violent polemics on GM (Genetically Modified) crops. Sharp criticisms are levelled against Monsanto and Mahico Monsanto, the main suppliers of Bt cotton (a GM crop) in India. It spread since 2002 when the Genetics Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the Union Ministry of Environment, gave its approval; in 2012 this variety covers most cotton fields. The major advantage of Bt cotton is that it reduces the need for pesticides. This is important in India where, before the introduction of the new seeds, one-half of the total consumption of pesticides in the country was devoted to cotton – spurious pesticides included (A. Narayanamoorthy et al., Economic and political Weekly, 30-6-2006).

Table 5: Cotton Cultivation in India from 2004-2012


Area (million ha)

Output (million tons)

Yield (kg/ha, lint cotton)













Source: Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, 2011, pp. 106–109.

31A substantial part of the growth was achieved in Gujrat. From 29% of the total output of cotton, its share grew to 39% in 2007. Part of the progress was in Maharashtra, the second largest producer, but with very low average yield. In the past ten years no other crop has achieved such an increase. This, however, does not prevent the anti-GM crops militants from remaining very active. One of their major claims is that Bt cotton is massively responsible for farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha (East Maharashtra) and Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, as has been advertised by Vandana Shiva in her book Seeds of Suicide, 2000, a theme repeated by other Indian and foreign NGOs.

32This thesis is highly questionable, because the wave of suicides in many parts of India is linked to various causes. In his book, Arvin Panagariya (2010) mentions many other factors: overspending, gambling, drinking, family problems, dowries, falling prices of agricultural products, excess borrowing for construction of houses, and failure when boring a TW in peninsular India. Suicides occur in both rich states like Punjab and Haryana, as well as in poor states like Orissa and Bihar, two states which grow little cotton. There is a link between suicides and drought prone areas where all crops suffer, as mentioned by A. Vaidyanathan (Economic and Political Weekly, 23-9-2006). R. J. Herring and N. C. Rao show that the net return income can reach double that of traditional yields (Economic and Political Weekly, 5-5-2012). It is equally clear that: “Cotton fails when water is inadequate”. This happens in Maharashtra where only 3% of cotton is irrigated. The two authors also refer to new public sector Bt cotton as “not hybrid, but an open pollinated variety designed to facilitate seed saving for farmers.”

33Bt cotton is not the only factor of growth: progress of irrigation in some areas, possibly good weather for rainfed fields and better practices enter the picture. There may be teething troubles: farmers not following recommended practices, spurious Bt seeds, or new pests. Yet, the basic advantage of Bt cotton is to reduce the use of pesticides. Until now, in most of Asia, cotton was absorbing the highest amount of them, often in excess of actual needs, and was possibly of poor quality.

34For a lay man like me, it is difficult to pass a definite judgement on GM crops, a highly technical issue. Difficulties may be encountered, but one is inclined to share R. J. Herring and N. C. Rao’s views when they refer to “A clear refutation of the failure of Bt cotton narrative. Farmers’ adoption and diffusion ratify most convincingly the technology behind Bt cotton” and these are adopted by rich and poor farmers alike. One may add that China, the other largest producer of cotton in Asia, has also fully adopted Bt cotton.

35To respond to criticisms (Marie Monique Robin 2008), at an international conference under the FAO in Rome in 2008, Monsanto declared that, by 2030, they intend to double the yields of corn, cotton, and soybeans which would curb poverty and malnutrition. Such a forecast seems at least questionable since, unlike the HYVs of the Green Revolution, genetically modified food crops have so far contributed to yield increases of only 10 to 15 %, their main advantage being a reduction in the use of pesticides. To respond to other criticisms, and legal cases against them, Monsanto intend to help poor farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. To conclude, one can, no doubt, express criticism or reservations about Monsanto which has faced legal cases for dubious practices, but, when considering their success in India and China, one must recognize that it is not the arch-villain as often described by activists in India and elsewhere.

On the Poverty Line

36There have been countless studies of poverty since the study by V. M. Dandekar and N. Rath (1973). They are no doubt useful to indicate broad trends of income and for assessing the level of poverty, but questions must be raised. Without giving up these types of surveys, like the NSS (National Sample Survey), one could also envisage a complementary approach for two reasons:
1. Present studies with their emphasis on the Poverty Line and the BPL estimates are not too reliable.
2. It could also be useful to conduct field studies through a selection of areas where poverty is clearly going down and others where poverty alleviation is slow or hardly apparent. This would help strengthening development policies on the basis of success stories.

37In his study of a South Indian village, the French anthropologist Louis Dumont wrote: “It is difficult to give estimates on yearly consumption, especially among the poor, because their diet is irregular, they buy and live from hand to mouth” (Dumont 1957, 110). In my village surveys I came across similar difficulties. However, one can draw a line between extreme misery and less acute poverty, which seem more difficult to measure. However, when I meet people (landless, often Dalits) who have no extra clothes except their shabby dress, or when I enter their huts where there is nothing except an earthen pot for water and some towels, not even a charpai, one does not need further enquiry and calculations about their BPL status.

  • 6 See Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 10, Issue No. 8, February 22, 1975.
  • 7 Ibid.

38When looking at diet and calories, there may be pitfalls. Dandekar’s study was severely criticized by P. G. K. Panikar6 for claiming that in Kerala, 90% of the people were BPL, while several sources of food, tapioca, fish and some other items had not be counted. M. N. Srinivas has been no less critical of other surveys neglecting various sources of diet, often not mentioned by the poor. As for P. V. Sukhatme, he raised a point, which seems forgotten nowadays. He stated that the average requirement of 2,450 calories per day for an adult are highly uncertain because the actual requirements of two persons of the same sex, weight, age and occupation, may vary by 300 calories above or below the average (Indian Journal of Agricultural Economy, 1977). Referring to large-scale surveys, M. N. Srinivas also expresses doubts over the qualifications of the surveyors who are not always fully committed to a job, which can be tedious.7 How far have these shortcomings been reduced since then?

39A clear weakness of such studies is the amalgamation of average data getting hidden by large area-wise variations of income. For instance, district data may be accurate when the area is homogeneous in its rural economy, but not in a district which covers irrigated plains and rainfed plateau. Roadside villages are also usually better off than villages deeper in the interior. BPL data for very poor states like Bihar, Orissa and its neighbours may reflect, more or less, the actual situation, but the same cannot be said of other states where the overall level of development may vary area wise, as can be seen even in a rich state like Punjab. That is why one could easily envisage collecting data based on relatively homogeneous areas: advanced, medium, and very slow moving.

40NSS, the latest Human Development Report and other surveys give global data on Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims’ poverty or poverty alleviation. They overlook the differences within scheduled castes and within scheduled tribes mentioned in my surveys. Clearly, there are people whose living conditions have not improved in the past 30 years or so, while other poor people are less poor today.

A Complementary Approach

41After more than sixty years of development, it is relatively easy to identify rural areas where poverty alleviation is clearly progressing and others where progress is slow or hardly noticeable. An evaluation of the same would require looking at:
1. Ann initial macro type of information that could involve measuring the total population of Green Revolution districts and/or Taluks and Tehsils. This would give us some broad information.
2. Surveying some Green Revolution areas.
3. A selection of poor, but potentially rich areas (the eastern plains).
4. Relatively isolated areas in peninsular India, facing severe agricultural constraints, such as hills and rainfed plateau in Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and parts of Madhya Pradesh.
5. Other peninsular areas also facing physical agricultural constraints but enjoying more jobs outlets, as in the cities of Maharashtra and parts of Gujrat.
6. Semi-desert areas in Rajasthan and parts of Gujrat.
7. Adivasi areas deep in the interior of the eastern side of the peninsula.
8. Rainfed areas in the interior of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

42Instead of massive surveys one could rely on a limited number of studies conducted by researchers trained in village studies, spending at least a few weeks in one village or in a cluster of villages, after gathering basic data from the district head office. A very fine example of such studies is the book by the Rodgers et al. on Bihar.

43In such studies it is not always easy to approach the poor, because, when you enter a village, you are taken care of by the local netas or upper-ranking farmers. Such gatherings are useful to get a broad picture of the village, but one has to move around, including making visits to the fields, stopping in Dalits’ and other poor quarters in order to question them without bigger/high-caste landowners attending such meetings.

Some Guidelines On What to Incorporate in Surveys

441. Average yields of the main crops now and thirty years ago, importance of animal husbandry and milk, of fruit, vegetables, and poultry.
2. Daily wages of agricultural workers (with or without food) in cash or kind, often for harvest. Wages twenty-thirty years ago in cash and kind.
3. The approximate number of non-agricultural workers out of the total; those working fully in the village or outside of it locally and commuting from and to their village; and workers working permanently in some city, with their families having stayed in the village.
4. The caste pattern and the local dominant caste.
5. Infrastructure, roads, and electricity.
6. Some appreciation of District & Block institutions, the role of the District Magistrate (directly recruited or promoted IAS), of the district agriculture, education and health officers, their respective operations, and the role of the panchayat.

45One could partly readjust NSS techniques with an emphasis on homogeneous areas and add some more detailed but more limited studies, focussing on agricultural and non-agricultural activities, particularly among the poor.

46The latest estimates on the poverty line released by the Planning Commission give the following data:

Table 6: Percentage of People Below the Poverty Line (BPL) from 2004–2010







Tendulkar report





Planning Commission




47BPL estimate of daily consumption expenditure per head and per day: for urban people Rs 28.3 and for rural people Rs 22.4. (The Hindu 20-3-12)

48These data have been strongly denied by the All India Democratic Women’s Association. They claim that poverty is much more widespread. The above data may be questionable, but two things are clear: poverty has been declining in the recent past, but when adding other data to BPL percentage, namely health and nutrition, particularly of children, considerably greater efforts are needed, especially in rural areas.

A Look Beyond India

49The neglect of agriculture, along with ignorance and prejudices are not confined to India. They are equally obvious in other Asian countries, in Africa, in North-South relations and in international assistance to developing countries. In spite of uncertainty on poverty data, it is admitted that, usually, acute poverty is less widespread in cities than in rural areas, meaning that agriculture and the rural economy should receive priority in debates and actions on development.

50Around 2000, and in the following years, there have been several international conferences on poverty alleviation under the auspices of the World Bank, the IMF, the UNDP, and the FAO. Good government, education, health, the condition of women (the so-called gender issue) are prominent, while agriculture was hardly being mentioned as can be seen in the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, aiming at the reduction of poverty by half by 2015.

51The total public aid to agriculture declined by nearly 50% between 1986 and 1996, with another fall of 30% between 1996 and 2002 in real terms (FAO Report 2002). There has been a fall in infrastructure as a percentage of total aid: from 6 to 4% for Africa, and 11 to 5% for Asia. In Cairo in 2002, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation spoke of “A Dramatic underinvestment in agricultural research” in agricultural institutes of developing countries and in international development agencies. According to John Mellor, one of the best American experts on development, the number of American agronomists in developing countries fell by 80% in the past twenty years. In 2002, during a conference at one of the best European business schools on the future of Asia, there was no session on agriculture. As already mentioned, village studies are on the decline in most Western development institutes.

52Instances of ignorance are not lacking. The UN Economic Commission for Asia stated that India “needs another Green Revolution” (Financial Times, 2-5-2008). A number of people like Kofi Annan and the Bill Gates Foundation recommend a Green Revolution in Africa while Jeffrey Sachs, the maestro of the Millennium Development Goals, wrote about Sub-Saharan Africa that: “Yields could triple within the next few farming cycles” by using the Asian model (Financial Times, 14-9-2006). He apparently forgets or ignores that the factors behind the Green Revolution in Asia in 1965–1970 are either missing or scarcely operate today in Sub-Saharan Africa. Asian countries enjoyed 30–70% irrigated arable land in 1965 versus 4–5% currently available in Black Africa. The techniques applied in Asia were more productive, and already there were the foundations of electricity and roads. The extension services were more advanced. In other words, there are undoubtedly large possibilities of development in Africa but they will need much more time and investments than the Green Revolution in Asia. It is quite disquieting to see one of the best daily papers in the world publishing such articles without a word of criticism. In other newspapers, such poor judgments can be more common.

53Changes of orientation began to appear in 2007. The World Bank, which, under the pressures of militant NGOs, had stopped financing big dams and had given more emphasis to health and education, “rediscovered” infrastructure, major works, big dams, roads and agriculture (World Development Report 2007). Bilateral aid agencies are also returning to the peasants.

54The State of Food Insecurity in the World (2012), released by the FAO, is even clearer. The number of undernourished people has fallen from 980 million in developing countries in 1990/1992 to 852 million in 2010/2012. However, in spite of progress, in South Asia there are still 304 million undernourished (327 million in 1992) versus 232 million for South East and Eastern Asia (395 million in 1992). In Sub-Saharan Africa the number has increased from 170 million to 234 million. The report emphasises the contribution of agriculture towards the reduction of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. “In Asia, during the Green Revolution, smallholder farmers adopted new technical innovations, increased productivity… The demand for labour in rural areas increased, generating jobs for the rural poor and increasing wages for unskilled workers.” This is a clear confirmation of what has been seen in our Indian Green Revolution villages. The report insists on the tasks ahead: “Better rural infrastructure such as roads, markets, storage facilities and communication services.” Progress of organized trade through contract farming is mentioned. Extension services and agricultural research are key factors of growth, involving both private and public sectors (30).

55All these changes are most welcome, but, as an official of the World Bank was telling me recently, in aid agencies including the Bank, the lack of experts in agriculture may take time to be overcome, hence the need for special training programmes including village studies.


5 See Ministry of Finance. 2011. Economic Survey 2010/11, pp. 187.

6 See Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 10, Issue No. 8, February 22, 1975.

7 Ibid.


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