The history of modern agriculture in India begins in 1757. In that fateful year, the Indians lost the Battle of Plessey to the East India Company of the British soldier-traders. As a consequence of the defeat, the revenue rights of one district in Bengal—the 24-Pragannahs—had to be ceded to the Company. The foothold thus gained by' the Britishers in the civil and revenue administration of India expanded rapidly. By 1765, large territories of India, particularly En the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, had come under the control of the Company—and agriculture in India had become subject to the British administration and its modernizing influences.
Pre-British period

Before this conquest, agriculture in India was a traditional way of life. It was no mere economic activity. In the autonomous Indian villages agriculture was the basic life-activity of the people. Its major function, if an integrated life activity can at all be analyzed in terms of functions, was to fulfil their life-needs. The needs of the Government, of the market, of the industry were all secondary to that major function.

This independence of the traditional agriculture from external political or economic control was achieved through a social organization that left the village largely autonomous. The obligation of the village to the external political authority was limited to the payment of a small proportion of the produce as revenue. On the basis of the revenue records of those times Dharampal (quoted in Claude Alvares, 1979, p. 174-5) estimates that the proportion of the produce payable to the external authority around 1750 was as small as 5 percent. At the time of Jehangir this proportion was even smaller—about 4 percent. Having met this obligation the village was free to organize its own political and economic affairs. In these affairs the- village was so autonomous that who actually ruled at the centre was not of much concern to the villagers. Marx (1853a) quotes an official report of the House of Commons to the effect that:

...The inhabitants [of the village] gave themselves no trouble about the breaking up and division of kingdoms; while the village remains entire, they care not to what power it is. transferred, or to what sovereign it devolves; its internal economy remains unchanged...

Within the autonomous village, the cultivator was quite independent. According to the estimates quoted earlier, the cultivator paid perhaps another 25 percent of his produce towards various heads of revenue. A large part of this 25 percent however,went towards financing the religious, cultural, educational and economic activities of the village. This share of the produce was jn fact, often paid by the cultivator directly to the individuals or institutions responsible for the above-mentioned activities. The political aristocracy and the militia ended up receiving only 1.5 and 6.0 per cent respectively of the gross produce. Having received its share of the produce the aristocracy had no more rights on the land; in particular it had no right to separate the cultivator from his piece of land. Land was not the private property of the aristocracy—a concept yet to arrive in India

The political-economic independence of the village and the cultivator was further secured through the independence of the village from external industrial and market influences. This independence does not mean that in the pre-British India there was no . industry or no trade. In fact for the first hundred years of British contact with India the British traders dealt only in the manufactured goods of India. Up to 1757, they had to actually import silver and gold into India to be able to buy the Indian manufactures—the Britain of that time had no manufactures to exchange with India (Claude Alvares, 1976). Even in 1840, (Montgomery Martin, an early historian of the British Empire could insist before a parliamentary enquiry that, 'I do not agree that India is an agricultural country; India is as much a manufacturing Country as agricultural;... her manufactures of various descriptions have existed for ages, and have never been able to be competed with any nation wherever fair play has been given to them ' (Dutt R. P., 1940,. Yet this vast manufacturing activity did not interfere with the autonomy of the village and the agriculturist. In fact this manufacturing activity was closely coordinated with agriculture. Textile manufacture,- the most important industrial activity of pre-British India, was carried out almost entirely by the agriculturists in their free time. This close coordination between agriculture and manufacture, this 'domestic union of agricultural and manufacturing pursuits', was in fact, as Marx (1853a) noted, the pivot of the village system. It' was this union that ensured the autonomy of the village, by making agriculture free of the demands of an external industry or market. That is why the spinning wheel (charkha) and the handloom—the basic tools of this union—became the symbols of the traditional Indian civilization of independent cultivators and autonomous villages, for both Gandhi and Marx.

Whatever the differing perceptions of Gandhi and Marx about the historical role of the pre-British Indian civilization, for both of them its essential picture was the same. For both of them it was the civilization of independent agriculturists—organized as autonomous villages—cultivating their land to fulfill their needs. These autono- me. villagesorganized their own economic and political institutions, including the manufacturing activities. No external Government, no external industry, no market dictated what they may or may not do or produce. Such was the independent agriculture that moved into British hands through the events following the defeat of 1757

British period

The Britishers had no use for this Indian concept of agriculture as an autonomous 'way of life. In their eyes, the agriculture on which they acquired control was nothing but a source of revenue. And they set about the task of collecting more and more revenue with great zeal. R.P. Dutt (1940) records that, In the last year of administration of the last Indian ruler of Bengal, in 1764-65, the land revenue realized was £8,17,000. In the first year of the Company's administration, in 1765-66, the land revenue realized in Bengal was £ 1,470,000. By 1771-2, it was £2,348,000, and by 1775-6 it was £2,818,000. When Lord Cornwallis fixed the permanent settlement in 1793, he fixed it £ 3,400,000.' (p. 114). With more and more money flowing into the British hands the village and the producer were left with precious little to feed themselves and maintain the various village institutions that catered to their needs-According to Dharampal's estimates, whereas around 1750, for every 1000 units of produce the producer paid 300 as revenue, only 50 of which went out to the central authority, the rest remaining within the village ; by 1830, he had to giveaway 650 units as revenue, 590 of which went straight to the central authority. As a result of this level of revenue collection the cultivators and the villagers both were destroyed. But that was of little concern to the Britishers as long as the agriculture kept on «- performing its new function of filling the British coffers. How far agriculture lost its previous position of being the provider of the life-needs of the people, and became merely the source of British wealth is tellingly brought out by the communication sent by Warren Hastings to the Court of Directors of the Company, on Nov. 3,1772' a year after the great famine in Bengal that killed perhaps 10 million people. Warren Hastings reports :
"Notwithstanding the loss of at least one-third of the inhabitants of the province, and the consequent decrease of the cultivation, the net collections of the year 1771 exceeded even those of 1738.... It was naturally to be expected that the diminution of revenue should have kept an equal pace with the other consequences of so great a calamity. That it did not was owing to its being violently kept up to its former standard."

Before we move onto the British phase of Indian agriculture, we wish to undo one prevalent misconception—that these decentralized village communities were technically inefficient. All available accounts of those times suggest that : the independent cultivators had achieved almost complete perfection in the art of agriculture' producing 'the most abundant crops, the corn standing as thick on the ground as the land could well bear it' (Walker 1820) ; the ecentralized manufacturers were able to produce the finest specimens of not only textiles, but also of steel ; the village institutions had spread education so well that G. L. Prendergast, member, Governor's Council, Bombay remarked in 1821 that, '-.:there is hardly a village, great or small throughout our territories, in which there is not at least one school,-, there is hardly a cultivator or a petty dealer" who is not competent to keep his own accounts with a degree of accuracy...'; this decentralized civilization was able to produce medical practioners, astronomers, philosophers and artists of the highest order. For further details on these aspects of the Indian civilization, see, Dharampal {1971), Claude Alvares (1976), Dutt R. P. (1940), DuttR. C. (1970).

The independent cultivator of yester-years, who cultivated his land to fulfil his needs, now had become a tool to produce revenues that would fuel the Industrial Revolution of England . He would eat only after the demands oft that Revolution were met. And if after meeting those demands, nothing was left to eat, he may as well have died, as many of them did. He was no more important in himself. Latin American and African Civilizations had previously been sacrificed to prepare for this . great event in 'human' history. Now it was the turn of the Indian Civilization to come forward and be carried to the alter.

This change of view of agriculture from a source of life in India to source of 'progress' in England brought in its wake untold misery. Irrigation works fell into dilapidation. Vast tracts of cultivable land decayed into a state of jungle. Industry got uprooted. Education got destroyed. All philosophical, scientific and literary activity came to a standstill, people died and trie culture stagnated. The story of that early plunder by the Britishers and the consequent misery or India is well documented, though not so well known amongst the educated Indians . We shall not repeat that story here. It should be remembered that the important point about that sad chapter of Indian history is not the immediate destruction and misery of that period. There had been plunderers before, and perhaps they had spread an equal amount of misery . Such open plunder could not last long. The Britishers themselves soon realized that the type of destruction let loose by their early administrators in India was likely to kill the goose that laid golden eggs. Therefore, some semblance of order had X. to be restored. Cultivation was to reappear in the areas which had reverted to the jungle. Some irrigation facilities were to be provided. Some of the industrial activity, all of which had been moved from the villages to the cities of Lancashire and Manchester in the early British phase, was to return to the Indian cities. Some education was to get reorganized, though only according to the patterns dictated by Macaufay only to produce some lackeys, 'Indian in blood and colour, but English men in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect'. Even some philosophical, scientific and literary activities were to restart, though in the English mould. But, and this is the important 'point about that phase of Indian history, India was never to be the same again. The villages and the agriculturists living there were
never to become autonomous again. Never again would there be independent

cultivators, cultivating their land to fulfil their needs. Those needs would always be subservient to the needs of the state, the industry and the market - all of which were now severed from agriculture. Agriculture was never, again to become a way of life. It had become a mere economic activity. It had been finally 'modernized'

The major instrument of this modernisation, besides the naked force used by 'the early Britishers, was the system of land lordship introduced into India for the first time. Independent cultivators, cultivating their own piece of land, were not likely to put external economic needs before their need to eat and clothe. A landlord, however, assured of his personal well-being, could be relied upon to produce and sell what the industry or the state needed. He could be relied upon to respond to the market. He could be relied upon to divert good food grain land to opium, indigo and soon, while famines stalked the country. By making agriculture responsive to the market and the state the landlord became the modernizing force. Thus, Marx counted landlordism as one of the few regenerative forces introduced into India by the Britishers. 'The Zamindari and ryotwari themselves', declared Marx (1853b) while listing the regenerative forces, 'abominable as they are, involve two distinct forms of private property in land-the great desideratum of Asiatic Society'. Independent cultivators used to grow what they needed to live, rather than producing what was needed to 'progress'. They required the concept of private property in land, personified inthe landlord, to teach them that it is more important to progress, to industrialize, than i to-eat and clothe. The Britishers provided them with the landlord. And modernized them.

How successful were the Britishers in modernizing Indian agriculture—in making it responsive to the needs of the industry and the vicissitudes of the market—can be gauged from the crop output data of the last fifty years of the British rule. The Central Government had started publishing such data by the late nineteenth century. The period before the first World War was marked by a favorable world market in all export crops, and expansion in the domestic manufacturing capacity in textile and jute. Consequently we find Indian agriculture flourishing in this period agricultural out put rising at a rate faster than the growth of population. It is perhaps one of the best periods in British Indian agriculture, with per capita food availability hovering around 540 gms per day throughout this period inspite of substantial exports of rice and wheat. Then came World War I, followed by the Great Economic Depression, and the World War II. Export markets contracted. Prices of agricultural products crashed . And Indian agriculture took a nose-dive. While on-food grain production merely stagnated, the food grain production started showing a declining trend even when population was rising. Per capita food availability for the quinquennium ending 1946 was down to 417 gms per day inspite of some imports. Interestingly the only crop that showed

The general wholesale price index for Calcutta (July 1914 = 100) which stood at 202 in 1920 declined to 173 in 1924 and 141 by 1929 and touched the rock bottom of 87 points in 1933. Indices of cereals, pulses and oilseeds in 1933 stood at 66, 84 and 74 respectively, (Vara Anstey, 1919 ; quoted from NCAR, 1976; Vol. 1, p. 128). Later with the outbreak of the Second World War, food prices increased reflecting general scarcity (NCAR stands for tha Report of the National Commission on Agriculture, 1976).

expansion in this period was sugarcane which was granted protection by imposing new tariffs on import. While famine was on the horizon, the area under this commercially favored crop actually increased by about 40 per cent between 1930-31 and 1938-39.

Thus, in this fifty year period we see the agriculture going up or down with the worldwide [economic forces. These forces, and hot the needs of the people decided how much of what the Indian agriculture would produce. Economics had won, life
had failed.

Post-Independence phase

As noted above, independence came to India at a time when agriculture was passing through a particularly bad phase. Bengal had just passed through a major famine. Per capita food availability was dangerously low (417 gms/day in 1946), Rural indebtedness had been increasing alarmingly - according to the Central Banking Enquiry Committee, rural indebtedness had nearly doubled between 1929 and 1936. Cultivators were finding difficulties meeting their fixed liabilities such as rent, land, revenue, [etc. Many agriculturists were turning into landless labourers (NCAR, Vol. 1, p. 199). I Partition of the country worsened the situation further, and the country was facing art acute shortage of both the commercial crops and the food crops (NCAR, Vol. 1, p! 219). Something needed to be done immediately to improve agriculture.

An obvious line of action was to concentrate on improving irrigation facilities that had been severely depleted with partition (only 19.7% of the net sown area within the Indian Union was irrigated), and to take steps- to put the cultivators back on the land and reduce rural indebtedness through land reforms. Some sort of land reforms had in fact become a political necessity, given the aspirations that people associated with independence. Action on both these fronts was started immediately after independence. Between! 1947-48 and 1949-50 the net irrigated area increased from 18.9 Mha to 20.2 Mha-most of the increase coming from increase in the area irrigated by wells and other minor sources (NCAR, Vol. 1, p. 221). Irrigation facilities kept on increasing at roughly the same pace—achieving an annual rate of increases of 0.67 Mha !of gross irrigated area for the period 1950-51 to 1968-69 {NCAR, Vol. V, p. 43). 'Land reforms were initiated by most states by 1950. These envisaged abolition of r Zemindari, security of tenure for tenant cultivators and fixative of reasonable rents; later some ceilings on land holdings were also introduced. Though carried out in a half-hearted manner, these land reform measures continued to provide some relief to the cultivators right through the fifties and early sixties.

Agricultural production responded well to the restoration of some just order in land relations and to the slowly increasing irrigation facilities. Aggregate crop-output during the fifties kept on increasing at a rate faster than the population growth. Both-V the 'area under crops' and the yield per hectare of almost every crop showed a rising trend.

For information regarding this period of Indian agriculture see, George Blyn (1966). [Also see NCAR, 1976, Vol. 1, ch. 3.

However, Independent India also wanted to become 'modern' and 'industrialized'. And for the modernizing industrializing India, it was not enough that agricultural output should increase. It was also important that agricultural production should respond to the needs of the market. In particular, it was important that food should 1 come to the market for sale. Because, as the NCAR (Vol. II, p. 14) noted,’ The entire industrial sector depends heavily on the supply of food from the agricultural sector. Since a sizeable part of the wages of the industrial worker is spent on food items, a sustained supply of food from agricultural sector is a necessary condition for stability in the industrial sector...'. But production rising through the expansion of irrigation and land reforms was just not coming to the markets to reach the industrial sector. The National Commission moaned that, 'The unique features of the food situation during the Second Plan period were the increasing demand for food grains and a steady decline in market arrivals despite higher production' (NCAR, Vol. 1, p. 188) . It may be that part of the reason for this phenomenon was 'speculative holding of stocks by the grain trade'. But that does not seem to be the only cause, since various experiments of introducing control in the food trade did not help matters and the urban industrialized sector had to be fed with increasing imports till mid-sixties. It seems more probable that the general improvement in the land relations and irrigation which were the causes of the increased production also improved the lot of the cultivators and they simply ate more. This is what is likely to happen in a situation where the average per capital availability of food was low (around 460gm in 1960-61) and a large proportion of V rural population (around 40% in 1960-61 according to Dandekar and Rath 1971) had insufficient purchasing power to buy the bare minimum of 2,250 calories of food per day. Any increase in production achieved over a wide production base under such circumstances is not likely to reach the market. This tendency was further encouraged by the fact that agricultural production in the fifties and early sixties was by-and large independent of inputs from outside the agricultural sector. As the NCA noticed, production depended largely on the amount of labour the culti vator was able or prepared to put in. All inputs were farm produced (Vol. II, p 9). So the agriculture was becoming independent of the urban sector both on the input side and the output side. To the extent it was being freed from the yoke of landlordism it was once again showing traditional characters of being self-sufficient—the characteristics that the Britishers suppressed precisely through landlordism.

Thus resulted the dilemma of increased production and declining market arrivals along with increasing independence of the agricultural sector from the urban sector. The Indian planners saw the solution—in making the areas which were already surplus in food, more surplus. The idea was to concentrate resources in those areas that were already well-endowed. Such areas being already surplus would have no alternative but to bring their extra production to the market and transfer it to the industrial sector. In this scheme there was no danger of the producers consuming the increased produce as was bound to happen when the resources were allowed to flow to the deficit areas. This line of approach in fact was introduced into Indian agricultural planning rather early. 'Instead of spreading the efforts thin all over the country it was decided in 1950-51 to concentrate such efforts in compact areas called intensive cultivation areas

which possessed assured water supply and fertile soils' (NCAR, Vol.1, p. 143). In 1959, 'the Agricultural Production Team of the Ford Foundation recommended the intensive approach anew', (ibid, p. 149). And with the visible failure in the Second Plan to get the food to the market inspire of increasing production, a new Intensive Agricultural District Programme (1ADP) was launched in the closing years of the Second Plan. The expressed objective of the programme was to concentrate resources and efforts in specially endowed areas to achieve a quick break-through in production. The programme was expanded in 1964 under the name of Intensive Agricultural Area Programme (1AAP) to cover more of the well-endowed areas. 'All along, it was made sure that only areas with adequate production potential in terms of assured water and infrastructural facilities be chosen, and that emphasis be directed towards profitability at the farm level.

The ostensible argument in favor of these 'intensive' approaches was that resources spread thin over a large area are lost leaving no appreciable effect on production ; that only a package of practices involving concentrated doses' of recourses could be technologically effective ; and that increased production achieved in these areas with improved practices would have a 'demonstration' effect in[other areas. The latter argument obviously had no weight—there were just not sufficient resources to [spread such intensive practices elsewhere—especially in areas which were to begin with not 'well endowed'. As for the other argument of technological efficacy of an intensive package the fact is that there were no agricultural technologies in use that could absorb and respond to intensive doses of resources.

Traditional technologies, evolved in a more egalitarian context, evolved in a context where the food needs of cultivators were more important than the needs of surpluses to support 'progress', were just not capable of absorbing more than their due share of resources. And within that context, there was little that the experts of the Ford Foundation could teach the' Indian farmers by way of possible improvements. Long back in 1889, Dr. J. A. Voelcker, deputed by the Secretary of State for India to advise on the application of agricultural chemistry to Indian agriculture had noted this perfection. He reported that: must be remembered that the natives of India were cultivators of wheat centuries before those in England were. It is not likely, therefore, that their practice should be capable of much improvement. What does, however,1 prevent them from growing larger crops is the limited facilities to which they have access, such as the supply of water and manure...' (quoted in Alvares 1979).

Therefore it is not surprising that the efforts of Indian planners to) achieve increased production through 'improved' practices in areas which did have access to facilities like supply of water and manure, should prove abortive. In fact, the

It should be noted that the thrust of the IADP and IAAP was not on introduction of new technologies, but on an intensive application of resources like irrigation, fertilizers, etc.

attempt was a complete failure. According to NCAR {Vol.1, p. 411) rice yields in the 12 rice districts and wheat yields in the 4 wheat districts under the lADP' averaged only 13.3 quintals and 13.5 quintals per hectare compared to the pre-package average of 12.4 and 10.2 quintals. As against these marginal increases in yields, (the added costs of the recommended packages were equivalent to 10 quintals of wheat on the average, and 10 to 12.4 quintals of paddy for most of the districts-The efficiency of the package for other crops was even worse.

Thus the intensive package approach to agricultural development being tried out in India since the fifties had really nothing to do with technological efficacy. The policy in fact only expressed a political wish for a technology that would respond to these measures—a technology that would allow the concentration of resources and production in a few compact already surplus areas. The policy was asking for a technology that would achieve technologically what was achieved by the Britishers politically through thai landlords—namely, responsiveness of agriculture to the needs of the industry and the market in preference to the life-needs of the cultivators. In other words, the developments sought for in the agricultural sector was not one that will primarily meet the needs of the rural population, but one that will provide the resources and capital needed for the industrialization taking place in the urban centers. What was needed was to break the independence of the rural sector and bring it into increasing dependence on the urban sector

make it enter into increasing exchange relations with the latter—the terms of exchange being manipulated to be so unequal as to enable the urban sector to extract the maximum possible surplus from the rural sector. Thus the need was for a certain technology to be introduced into the agricultural sector that would bring about such a transformation. No such technology was available at the time the intensive approach policy was being formulated and implemented. By mid-sixties, however, such a technology became available in the form of new 'miracle seeds that had proved successful in Mexico. These seeds were genetically selected to absorb huge doses of chemical fertilizers. Since these seeds had not evolved under natural conditions, they were susceptible to a number of pests and pathogens and needed to be grown under the protective cover of pesticides. The new seeds also required new sophisticated practices for irrigation, tillage etc. This was just the ideal technology to fit the bill. It would make the policy of concentration of resources economically and technologically viable. At the same time it would make the agriculture critically dependant on industrial inputs like chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and make the cultivator dependent upon the urban expert for the knowledge of the correct agricultural practices, thus removing the "dangerous tendency" of self-sufficiency in the agriculture sector for good. This technology, being so expensive could not possibly be extended over the whole country. But that did not matter. All that was required was to make the surplus areas a little more surplus, so that the urban-industrial sector would be assured of its requirements. However there was a snag. Acceptance of this technology would involve import of large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, for India did not produce these. D. K. Desai (1969) and Dorris D. Brown (1971) have analyzed the IADP programmes in detail.

In the initial stages even seeds would have to be imported. Providentially, there was a widespread failure of monsoon in 1965 and 1966 in India, as well as over the rest of South Asia and South East Asia. This failure led to the' specter of a major famine—foreign experts predicted doom, some of them suggesting the possibility of one million starvation deaths in Bihar alone (NCAR, Vol.1, p 27 ; Speech of the Chairman, NCAR, Shri C. Subramanian). This situation removed all hesitation about accepting the new seeds even if it involved massive imports. The ever helpful attitude of the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation further encouraged the acceptance of the new technology. And in 1966-67 the New strategy of Agricultural Development, with" the programme of introducing the new technology, mainly in the areas covered by IADP and IAAP was launched. Similar programmes were adopted in all of South and South East Asia at around the same time. The programme was declared an immediate success. This success is what came to be known as the Green Revolution. In the following we wish to look at this 'success story' in some detail.

We have given such a long historical introduction to this analysis of Green Revolution, because we feel that, without an appreciation of the continuous conflict of 'tradition' versus 'modernity' in Indian agriculture since the arrival of the Britishers, it is not possible to assess the merits of this revolution. Without knowing this historical urge for modernity in agriculture—for making agriculture responsive to the needs external to the life-needs of the cultivator—it is impossible to see how this event which did not increase the aggregate rates of growth of agricultural output, did not decrease import-dependence of agriculture, did not enhance per capita availability of food, came to be termed a revolution


The new technology of the .'Miracle seeds' and associated practices was indeed successful in generating high yields, wherever sufficient resources to effectively implement it could be mobilized. For some especially endowed areas, the increase in yield could even be justifiably characterized as revolutionary. This was amply borne out by a number of studies carried out to make a scientifc evolution of the response of different crop's in different areas under the High Yielding Varieties (HYV) Programme . However, our purpose in this article is not an evaluation of the Green

This was how the programme to introduce new technology in certain well endowed i areas was officially styled. The programme was monitored by the Programme Evaluation Organization of the Planning Commission during 1967-69. The relevant 1 results on] the yields of different crops in different areas under the HYVP have been gleaned from the ] various PEO evaluation studies and summarized in Appendix 4.2 of NCAR, Vol 1, by the National Commission on Agriculture. In Appendix 4.3 of NCAR, Vol 1, a summary of a study on the relative economic v returns from HYV and local varieties carried out by the Agro-economic Research ' Centers at various locations in the country in 1968-69 and published by Ram Saran (1972), is also available. From these studies it can be said that HYV wheat faired rather well in almost all areas. The main kharif crop of rice, however, seems to have showed almost no response to HYV cultivation. This incidentally was the fate of the monsoon rice crop all over South and South East Asia. The- studies, also show a wide variation in the response to HYV from area to area.

Revolution technology as a breakthrough in the 'science of agriculture'. We want to evaluate the Green Revolution as an event in the growth of Indian Agriculture. These two ways of looking at this new technology can give quite different results. For an evaluation of the Green Revolution as an event in the history of growth of Indian agriculture, it is not sufficient to assess the success of a few crops in certain localized areas. What we need to look at is the aggregate response of Indian Agriculture to the event of. Green Revolution.

Aggregate rates of growth

In Table 1, we have put together the compound rates of growth of some of the important parameters of agricultural development for the periods before and after the Green Revolution. We have taken the year 1967-68 as the dividing line, when Green Revolution is supposed to have set in. The pre-Green Revolution period considered runs from 1949-50 to 1964-65 and the post-Green Revolution period from 1967-68 to 1977-78, excluding the disastrous years 1965-66 and 1966-67. There is some controversy about the correct dividing line for these two phases of post-Independence agriculture. However, most of the results that we shall notice are quite independent of the variations in the dividing year. For an analysis with a different dividing line we may refer to the paper of George Blyn (1979) where the rates of growth for the period 1949-50 to 1973-74 are studied taking 1960-61 as the dividing year between the new and old phase of India agriculture. We shall often use some of his data.

Looking at Table 1 the first thing we notice is that the rate of growth of aggregate crop-production is lower in the post-Green Revolution phase as compared to the earlier




(percent per annum)




































Foodgrains .














All Crops




























phase. While total agricultural production rose at a compound rate of 3.20 per cent per annum in the earlier, period, the rate declined to 2.50 per cent per annum in the second period. The decline, was visible in both the food grain output and non-food grain output George-Blyn (1979), covering a slightly shorter period 1949-50 to 1973-74 and dividing it at 1960-61, finds even a sharper decline of the trend rate in the later period. ' Keith Griffin (1979) analyzing the crop-output trends over all of the underdeveloped world finds the trends declining after the Green Revolution (1965 is the dividing year in his. analysis) in all the major regions except the Far East, where the growth rate is found to be practically the same in the pre and post Green Revolution periods (see his Table 1!.1 and 1.2). Thus it can be safely asserted that the compound rate of growth of aggregate agricultural production, as also of total food grains and total non-food grains production was lower in the post Green Revolution phase.

The decline in the rate of growth of agricultural production is often explained away as a consequence of the declining availability of additional area that could be brought under cultivation. In fact there is considerable statistical evidence that the decline in the growth rate of production must be to some extent attributed to the decline in the growth rate of area under the crops. From Table 1 we see that the total area under [all crops grew at a rate of 1.60 per annum during 1949-65 but the rate fell to 0.55 during 1967-73. An interesting aspect of the trend rates of area, that should; be noticed is that throughout the period 1949-78, during which food situation in1 the country remained precarious, area under non-food grain crops rose at a rate much faster than the area under food grains. In the later period the trend rates of area under food grains and non-food grains were 0.38 and 1.01 respectively, a difference of about 3 times.

Though decline in the rate of growth of area does explain part of the decline in the rate of growth of production, it does not explain all of it. In fact, the rate of growth of yield, production per unit area, itself declined. Thus, as shown in Table 1, while the aggregate yield rose at a rate of 1.60% annually during 1949-65, the increase was only 1.40% annually during 1967-78. Interestingly, on disaggregation into food grains and non-food grains, we find that while for food grains there is a slight decline in the rate of growth of yield, non-foodgrains show a slight improvement. Yet HYVP was supposed to have revolutionized foodgrains production I Further disaggregation of foodgrains into the major crop of rice, wheat and pulses shows more interesting features. We find ths rate of growth of rice declining sharply from 2.09 to 1.46, and that of pulses which was already negative going further below, from-0.24 to -0-42. Only wheat shows an improvement in the trend rate. Keith Griffin (1970) notices the same trend of increasing wheat production (except in Africa) and decreasing rice production all over the under-developed world.

The above statements of course refer to the data presented in Table 1, which is gleaned from the statistics put out by the Government (NCAR 1976). There are somewhat different data available elsewhere in the literature (see for example Gail Omwedt (1981),Ranjit Sau (1931), which employ either different sources or different base years etc. But from these data also, the same general trends are obvious : the decline in the rate of growth of aggregate agricultural production ; !no increase in the aggregate agricultural yield; marked decline in the aggregate yield of crops such as rice, pulses, etc.

It is tempting to try to explain the decline in the growth rate of aggregate yields by referring to the law of declining marginal productivity. What it means in simple terms is that with the given technology and resources the productivity during the years before the Green Revolution had reached a saturation level, and without a technological change maintaining the earlier rates of growth would have been impossible. If the new technology had not been introduced, the rates of growth of productivity, which admittedly declined a little after the Green Revolution, would have plummeted. Now to state that this law had started operating around 1964-65, one must show that by that period the possibilities of expanding irrigation and improving land relations, which were responsible for the increasing yields till then had been exhausted in India. At a later stage in this paper we shall examine whether such a situation had actually arisen. For
the present let us only look at the statistical evidence, if any, in favor of the assumption that the Indian Agriculture in 1954-65 had reached the saturation level. If this had happened, we should be able to observe a declining trend in the rates of growth of productivity in the years preceding the Green Revolution. In Table 2, we display the plan-wise rates of growth of agricultural production, area and productivity. What we see there is that during the Third Plan period (1961-62 to 1964-65), i.e., during the period immediately preceding the years when the decision to implement the HYVP was made, the productivity had reached an all time high rate of growth. The rate of growth "of productivity in this period was 2.7% per annum, as compared to the annual growth rate of 1.4% and 1'8% achieved during the First and the Second Plan periods. Thus the productivity graph, far from having reached a plateau, was actually moving upwards in the years before the Green Revolution. During the Fourth Plan (1969-70 to 1973-74), i.e. during the five year period immediately following the introduction of the Green Revolution technology, the rate of growth of productivity, however, touched an ail time
low of 1%. Thus it is obvious that the decline in ;the growth of productivity after the Green Revolution cannot be trivially explained by taking recourse to the law of declining marginal productivity.

Table 2

Plan-wise Compound Rates of Growth of Agricultural Production, Area and Yield

Plan Period



Area Under




(% per annum)

First Plan

(1951-52 to 1955-56)







Second Plan

(1956-57 to 1960-61)







Third Plan

(1961-62 to 1964-65)







Fourth Plan

(1969-70 to 1973-74)







There is no "way to escape the fact that, notwithstanding highly visible increases in production and yields of a few crops in a few areas, both agricultural production and agricultural productivity in the aggregate showed a lower rate of growth after the Green Revolution technology was introduced. Even if one doubts the statistical significance of small changes in the trend rates; it is still impossible to maintain that there was any improvement in the growth rates of aggregate production and productivity. There definitely was no revolution in the Indian agriculture with the introduction of the new'revolutionary' technology.

It must be admitted that maintaining a growth rate of about 2.5% per annum for aggregate production and above 1% per annum for aggregate productivity over a period of about 3 decades is no mean Achievement, even if the growth rates did decline a little in the later period as compared to the earlier period. If we have pointed out this 'decline it is only to establish that ho revolution occurred in Indian agriculture with the onset of the so-called Green Revolution. What we want to criticize however are the special features associated with the attempt to achieve this growth through the new technology in tire later period. It is to those features that we turn our attention now

Costs of production

The rate of growth of production and productivity of Indian agriculture decline ' with the advent of the new technology. What is worse, however, is the fact that high price had to be paid to achieve even this reduced rate of growth. The HYV technology is known to involve fairly high costs in terms of energy, in terms of
depletion of soil-fertility and deterioration of the environment, and in terms of money.

A lot of data is available on the energy costs of the new technology of agriculture. And it clearly indicates that the HYV technology is energetically inefficient compared to the traditional technologies. If all outputs from and inputs into agriculture are converted into equivalent energy units and output to input ratio is analyzed, then the new [technology invariably turns out to be inferior to the traditional technologies. For the traditional technologies the output/input ratio is often greater than one, indicating that these! technologies are efficiently fixing the freely available solar energy. .For the new technologies this ratio is, however, always less than one. The difference] in the energy efficiencies of the old and new technology can be as large as 50-250times.

A 1968 comparison of the energy efficiency of British . agriculture as a whole with that of shifting rice cultivation carried out by Oyaks and Ibans in Borneo showed that while the efficiency of the former was only 0.20, that of the latter ranged between 14.2 and 18.2 (quoted in Caldwell (1979) p 56). A more relevant comparison is perhaps the one carried out by Lockeretz et al (1977). They compared; two sets of farms in the U.S. corn belt that differed from each other only in the in fact that one set used only organic manures and no inorganic fertilizer or pesticide ' , while the other set used these inputs. They found that while the two sets of farms showed comparable economic efficiency the organic farms used 2.4 to 2.5 times less energy per dollar of output. Incidentally, the organic farms were also able to employ 12% more labour, a commodity plentifully available in India. See, for enauple Reedy 1976

The new agricultural practices are known to have a deleterious effect on the environment and the soil-fertility. Chemical fertilizers change the soil flora and destroy the equilibrium of the soil. Consequently, more and more of chemical inputs become essential to get the same yield from a piece of land under this type of cultivation. This processor increasing chemical inputs year after year can even lead to permanent damage to the soil. Pesticides, an essential component of the new technology, form another component of the ecological costs. These pesticides have a way of being carried from food to man and other living beings, and form an almost permanent health hazard. All these ecological and energy costs of the new technology are important in any evaluation of the Green Revolution. However, in this paper we are mainly concerned with the economic costs of this Green Revolution.

The new technology of agriculture is capital intensive. Since this technology depends critically upon industrial inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, it commits the nation to large investments in these sectors. Thus in nitrogenous fertilizer alone the indigenous capacity had to be increased from 0.37 mT of nutrients in 1967-68 to 2.23 mT in 1979-80 . Generation of 2.23 mT of nutrients capacity means in today's (1980) prices an investment of Rupees 6000 crores. Even such a heavy investment in fertilizers has not been sufficient to meet the fertilizer requirements of the Green Revolution, and in 1979-80, 1.3 mT of nitrogenous nutrients alone had to be imported. Besides production capacity had to be generated for tractors, diesel-sets, etc. In addition to this capital investment in the industrial sector, every farmer adopting the new technology had to invest capital in acquiring the necessary machines. This capital too often came through the public financing agencies. If the idea of introducing the revolutionary new technology was to provide new avenues of-investments . for the industrial sector, and not bother about the cost of food production, the Green Revolution technology has clearly done the job well.

Even more important than the capital costs are the actual unit costs of incremental production obtained through the HYV technology. It is difficult to put a uniform value on these costs since there is a lot of variation from place to place and year to year. Just to have an idea of the costs involved we can look at the evaluation studies of 1967-69 referred to earlier (footnote on page 96). From these studies we find that additional costs per quintal of additional wheat produced through HYV varied between Rs. 25 to Rs. 45. On the average the costs of fertilizer application per hectare alone were around Rs. 230, which at best would have produced an incremental response of 10 quintals. These costs look favorable given the 1968-69 wheat procurement price of Rs. 76 per quintal. However, it should be remembered that the price of wheat in 1968-69 had almost doubled from its pre Green Revolution level, and that most of the inputs were heavily subsidized. These subsidies and price changes, in fact, make any evaluation of These figures are taken from Economic Survey, GOI, 1980-81. Figures for 1979-80 are provisional.

the economic feasibility of the new technology meaningless Once the decision
to implement a technology is made, output prices and input subsidies can always be manipulated to make the new technology economically feasible. The high costs of production through the new technology can however be inferred from the rising prices and the [fact that there is perhaps no country in the world where production I through the new technology can be maintained without subsidies and price supports. In India it is perhaps an indicator of the high costs of HYV production that procurement price of wheat, the major crop to come under HYV, has been rising at a much faster rate than that of paddy, which largely remained under traditional cultivation. And demand for higher paddy prices got some force only when the surplus Green Revolution farmers took to HYV cultivation of Rabi paddy.

External dependencef

It is commonly believed that, the Green Revolution made India self-reliant in
agricultural production. This belief is based on the impression that foodgrain imports after the Green (Revolution substantially declined. In fact, however, the net amount of cereal imports in the decade before the Green Revolution, i. e. between 1956-65, at 43 mT were only slightly more than the net imports of 38 mT in the decade 1968-77 following the Green Revolution. It is true that the imports did not rise with the increasing population. But, as we have seen, the rate of growth of foodgrain production actually decreased after the Green Revolution, while the population growth did not! show a corresponding decline. Under these circumstances, what could the declining cereal imports really mean? Imports of cereals in India have always been resorted to in order! to feed the urban sector. Reducing the imports for this purpose became possible after the Green Revolution because more food started flowing into the Government stocks, not because there was actually more food per capita to go [around. The increased availability of food with the Government was
caused by a lopsided growth of agriculture on which we shall comment in the
next subsection. The important point to remember, however, is that decreased imports of cereals did not imply a decreased foreign dependence of agriculture. What was gained in terms of reduced cereal imports was lost in terms of increased imports of agricultural requisites, especially fertilizer. Before Green Revolution, expenditure on imports of agricultural requisites used to be almost nil. In 1950-51, seven crore rupees were spent on this head, in 1960-61, the expenditure was thirteen crores. In 1970-71, this expenditure rose to 102 crores, and in 1973-74, it doubled to 201 crores. Then came the spurt in fertilizer prices, and in 1974-75,'expenditure on fertilizer import alone stood at 532.5

An idea of the level of subsidies can be obtained form the following : Naphta, the major raw material for the production of nitrogenous fertilizer, is sold to the fertilizer industry at a controlled price of Rs 900/ton while for other users the price is Rs 2350/ton (1980 prices). The fertilizer produced is then further subsidized. While price support and subsidies are legitimate rights of the farmer if they must produce via the new technology, it should be borne in mind that these measures help only a miniscule proportion of Indian farmers, who use the new technology and produce for the market.

crores. Thus the import dependence of Indian agriculture had in fact been rising quite fast. Let us look at this data in a different perspective. The price of nitrogenous fertilizer on a rough average remains around 3 times the price of wheat. In the decade 1967-76, on the average 0.72 mT of nitrogenous fertilizer was imported per annum . This is equivalent to the import of 2 mT of wheat per annum, implying that the equivalent wheat imports in the post Green Revolution decade had actually increased by 50%. And we have not yet counted the imports required to build up indigenous capacity in fertilizers and tractors etc., which should also in fact be counted under this head.

Thus, after the Green Revolution, dependence of the agricultural sector on foreign inputs increased in diverse ways. While earlier food alone had to be imported, now a number of varied inputs had to be brought in. While the Government had to depend on foreign countries for a large proportion of the new requisites of agriculture, the agriculturist had to depend even more on the Government and the industrial sector. There was an increased external dependence all around.

In addition to this dependence for tangibles like fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, etc., of the farmer on the Government and of the Government on foreign suppliers, an intangible, but not any less important, external dependence for knowledge of the agricultural processes appeared. The farmer who till now was the expert on agricultural technology became ignorant in one sweep. He had to look up to the university expert to acquire knowledge of the correct processes. And those experts themselves looked up to the so-called international community of agricultural scientists to learn the latest on the new technology.

Disparities in growth

Vast disparity in growth, from, crop .to crop and from area to area, was an inbuilt feature of the new technology. While a few crops in a few areas showed enormous increase in production and productivity, most of the crops and most of the cultivated areas in the country stagnated, and perhaps actually deteriorated.

(a) Crop to crop disparity :

We have already noticed that of the major foodgrain crops only wheat showed an increased rate of growth of production and productivity after 1967-68. To show this disparity of growth amongst various crops a little more concretely, we have, in Table 3, displayed the absolute figures for the area, production and yield etc., of the three main foodgrain crops of India (viz., rice, wheat land pulses) for every fifth year since 1950-51. In 1950-51, of the total foodgrain production of 52.58 mT, 21.81 mT was rice, 6.34 mT wheat and 8.33 mT pulses. In 1963-64, towards the end of the first phase of post-Independence agriculture, foodgrain production had increased to 83.38 mT. Of this 36.17 mT

Data in this para are taken from NCAR, Vol. 2, p 79 and Economic Survey, GOI, 1980-81. In conventional economics, this increased dependence will appear as development of new 'linkages' showing a positive effect on the overall Economy. But objectively, what is really positive about loss of self-reliance of the agricultural sector was rice, 10.96mT wheat and 11134 mT pulses. The production of the three crops had thus increased at the same pace. - In 1950-51, rice, wheat and pulses formed 41.5, 12.1 and 15.8 per cent respectively of total foodgrains production, in 1963-64, their respective share was 43.4,' 13.1 and 13.6 percent. The relative importance of the three crops in the total foodgrain production of the country remained essentially unaltered, except for a r small decline in the share of pulses. Interestingly, though the area under wheat increased at a faster rate than that under rice, the difference was made up by a higher growth of yield in the latter. In 1970-71, after the Green Revolution, however, we find wheat production jumping from 10.96 mT to 23.44 mT, while rice moved from 36.17 mT to only 41.91 mT, and pulses remained static. The share of wheat in the total foodgrain production rose from a mere 13% in 1963-64 to 22% at the cost of rice, pulses and other crops. While yield of rice and pulses remained almost unchanged, yield of wheat rose by 62%. Of the 6.35 mha of additional area brought under irrigation 4.89 mha went under wheat. [The same trend continued in 1975-76. Of 3.65 mha of additional irrigated area under foodgrains, wheat, accounted for 2.84 mha ; and of 6.41 mT of additional foodgrains wheat accounted for 3.88 mT. Output of pulses remained unchanged, while that of rice increased only slightly. All the benefits of growth thus went to the relatively prosperous wheat areas, while paddy growers, who formed the vast majority of the small cultivators were left to stagnate.


Area, Production and Yield of various Foodgrain Crops











. Area









































































































































One reason for this imbalanced growth between rice and wheat Is simply that the Western countries, where the new technology evolved, are no rice-producers. Long back in 1820, Alexander Walker, while describing the failure of an experiment to introduce English agricultural technology in an Indian village, had commented, inter alia, '..-It should also be well considered how far our agricultural process is suited to the cultivation of rice, the great crop of India, and of which we have no experience'. The problem is now solved simply by making the great crop of India, the less important.

However, the explanation of the phenomenon of the spurt in wheat production does not He merely in the fact that the countries where the technology was developed are wheat producing countries. It was also convenient to increase wheat production to meet the policy objectives which had in the first place led to the acceptance of this technology. There already were areas, almost surplus in wheat, and well-linked with the urban market economy. By increasing wheat production therefore, it was easier to meet the policy objective of bringing more food to the urban market. Hence it seems no accident that out of the 10mha of additional irrigation potential generated between 1963-64 and 1975-76, 7.73 mha has gone to. wheat areas. What is more, the Government has taken pains to supply a favorable market to the wheat growers. While, the wheat prices were maintained around the international market prices, the price of rice was kept substantially below the international price. For instance, as Keith Griffin (p. 170) notices, in. early 1978, ex-farm price of rice in India was $ 165 a ton, less than half the U. S. price of $ 335 a ton, which also represented the international price, since USA is a major rice exporter. On the other hand ex-farm price of wheat at that time was $ 135 a ton, compared to the US price of $110 a ton. The policy proved extremely successful. In January 1978, the country had 18 mT of surplus stock of wheat while about 300 million people in the country were below the poverty line, not having enough purchasing power to eat the food that was lying surplus.

The decline in the growth of pulses resulted from the same reasons that caused the spurt in wheat. Pulses, grown largely in rain-fed conditions, were not Notice that in 1950-51 total production of wheat in India was only 6.34 mT. Incidentally, wheat is also the major grain traded in the international market. In 1974, under-developed market economy countries imported 31.2 mT of wheat and only 2.0 mT of rice. See Table 6.7 and 6.8 of Keith Griffin (1979). Also see his tables 6.1 & 6.2 to get a profile of the international wheat and rice trade. Incidentally, before the Green Revolution, Asia was a net rice exporter. After the Green Revolution this region had become a net importer. In 1964, 181,100 tons of rice was exported from Asia; in 1970, 1,135,000 tons of rice was imported into Asia. Part of the reason for the higher domestic price of wheat is perhaps to be found in the higher input costs of this crop because of the adoption of the new technology. (See, the section on costs.)commercially viable. And the , countries derived their protein requirements from meat procured through the expensive process of feeding good corn to cattle and pigs . In largely vegetarian India, however, pulses forced the main source of proteins Yet the availability of pulses per head per day continuously declined, from 64.0 gms In 1962, to 58.0 gms in 1964, 48 gms in 1971, 45 gms in 1976 and only 40 grams in 1979 . the solution was seen in trying to teach the Indians to change their food habits and shift to commercially more profitable proteins. Let 'us give an example of the ridiculous extent to which the idea of changing the food-habits of Indians in a commercially favorable direction was carried. The Literacy House in India is a component of World Education Inc., a corporation that had, with the help of World Bank USAip and some other multinational agencies, taken up the, task of preparing the rural masses in the Third World for Green Revolution. This House in 1978 brought out an adult literacy primer, "Aao Charcha Karen". In that primer one finds the explicit message .

Eating just rice has a bad effect on health.

Eat eggs to make up for protein deficiency.

So, Indians were malnourished because they had the silly habit of being vegetarians If a commercializing society fails to produce vegetarian proteins., they should learn to shift to other things.

(b) Area to area disparity

Wheat and rice in India are traditionally grown in different areas. The fact that only wheat increased in production and productivity, already gives an indication that the much vaster rice areas must; have suffered stagnation after the Green Revolution. However, we can form a clearer idea of the type of disparities that arose in HYV and non-HYV areas by looking at Table 3 a little closely.

Let us start with the assumption that all increases in yield in 1970-71 were due to the marginal productivity of HYV and of irrigation at the official yardstick of 0.5 t/har (i.e., irrigating one hectare of land increases the output by 0.5 t),which almost jcertainly is an underestimate. Now after subtracting the contribution of the' marginal productivity of irrigation from the productivities shown in Table 3, we find that from 1963-64to 1970-71 productivity of rice (after subtracting the contribution of irrigation) rose from 827 Kg/ha to 922 Kg/ha and that of wheat from 634 Kg/ha to 1034 Kg/ha. If we assign all this increase in marginal productivity of 1.12 t/ha for HYV wheat and 0.62 t/ha for HYV rice. For wheat this implies that yields per hectare of unirrigated, irrigated and HYV-irrigated land were 634 Kg/ha, 1134 Kg/ha and 2254 Kg/ha, respectively.. The 1968-69 PEO studies based on field data from HYV areas gave average yield of HYV wheat as 2560 Kg/ha (NCAR, Vol. 1, Table 4.4). This means that our estimate of marginal productivity of HYV is a slight underestimate. It seems that the assumption that productivity innon-HYV areas remained unchanged is not entirely correct, it may have slightly declined. Now let us look at the figures for 1975-76 in Table 3. Once again we subtract the contribution of irrigation from the entire production and obtain the productivity of rice and wheat at 932 Kg/ha and 1065 Kg/ha, respectively, interestingly they are not at all different from the corresponding figures of 922 Kg/ha and 1034 Kg/ha in 1970-71. But the area under HYV rice had increased by 7.3 mha and that under HYV-wheat by 5.9 mha, between 1970-71 and 1975-76. Where did all the expected increase in production from these additional HYV areas go ? Some increase in productivity over the 1970-71 figures can be observed if instead of comparing 1970-71 yields with 1975-76 yields, we make the comparison with 1976-77 yields to include an abnormally good year 1977-78 in the average. (Productivity, after subtracting contribution of irrigation of rice and wheat, then comes out to be 1018 Kg/ha and 1106 Kg/ha respectively, with total HYV area under the two crops being 13.77 mha and 14.50 mha). Yet the marginal productivity of additional HYV rice and wheat does not approach anywhere near the earlier figures of 0.62 t/ha and 1.12 t/ha, which themselves seem underestimated. One way to explain this phenomenon is to say that as HYV areas were expanded, all the necessary resources could not be made available, and hence additional HYV areas did not show appreciable response to the new technology. Alternatively, one must assume that productivity in the non-HYV areas had declined to balance the increased productivity in HYV areas. In practice, both these process are likely to have operated. Since bringing an area under HYV involves considerable expenditure it is not likely to be done unless there is some corresponding increase in productivity. What is more, the consumption of nitrogenous fertilizer almost doubled between 1970-71 (1.37 mT) and 1975-76 (2.4 mT) and this increased use. of fertilizer must have produced some response In the HYV areas. If the aggregate productivity still did not show any appreciable improvement, the only plausible explanation seems to be that as more and more resources got diverted to HYV areas, the productivity in non-HYV areas actually declined. Micro-level studies will be required to isolate the detailed causes of this phenomenon, but the aggregate trend of declining productivity in non-HYV areas seems unmistakable. And it is not very surprising. As prices rise all around and even ordinary inputs become expensive, those whose inputs are not protected by subsidies and those who do not gain by the increased prices of the outputs are likely to stagnate and deteriorate,

To conclude this section, then, it is clear that no revolutionary improvement in the production and productivity of Indian Agriculture as a whole occurred with the so-called Green Revolution. If anything happened, it was that the rates of growth of Indian agriculture declined. What looked like a revolution was merely a spurt in the growth of a few commercially important foodgrains in a few areas which were already surplus. This growth too was achieved at a very high cost of resources, and at the cost of an enormously enhanced dependence' of agriculture on external, often imported, inputs. The increased costs pushed up prices all around, and made the subsistence fanners who were not protected by input subsidies and were not helped by higher output prices, since in "any case, they had no surpluses to sell—even more impoverished. The yields in those subsistence farms consequently seem to have declined below the pre Green Revolution levels. From the urban-industrial perspective, however, the change was truly revolutionary. With the growth concentrated in already surplus areas more and more food flowed into the urban market and the Government kitty, and the urban industrial sector became self-sufficient in food, even though large numbers of people still could not generate sufficient resources to get 2400 calories of food. (That is the official poverty line for rural areas and more than 300 million people are still below this line). The improvement in the food availability in the urban-industrial sector was in fact so revolutionary that to-day the leading economists can already advise resistance to the demands of surplus farmers for higher prices on the ground that we do not need more food. It is now being declared that the country has already lost enormously by producing more food than what is necessary, that the prices of foodgrains should now be kept low so that the surplus farmers are forced to more essential commercial crops. (See, the many recent editorials on this issue in the 'Times of India ) 'And this at a time when 300 million people in the country are still hungry ! These are the achievements of this Green Revolution .

Incidentally the salient features of the Green Revolution—decline in the aggregate growth, increased production in localised areas at high costs of often imported fresources, decline of production in less favoured areas and control of production by a small sector etc., are typical features of all modern technologies.! The theory and1 practice of modern science and modern technology was evolved in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, The driving concern of that evolution was as clearly stated by Bacon, the prophet of the Scientific! and Industrial Revolution—simply power, power through control of nature, of production and necessarily of people. Resource efficiency ecological efficiency", distributive justice, etc., were nowhere in the minds of the people 'who' initiated this development. All ethical injunctions ensuring justice were in fact dismissed as obscurantist nonsense which the scientist or the technologist could have nothing' to do. He was to expend all his energies in increasing control—and hence profits. Justice and equality would, it was assured, follow as a result of that single minded search for power and control, [through some inscrutable dialectical process. Resource efficiency, of course, was something, about which the technologists of that era could not have cared much. All ' the resources of the colonies were there to be taken, almost free, till you could devise processes that will consume these resources efficiently or otherwise—within the mother country. It was under such conditions and such considerations that the science and technology that we call modern, emerged and it still carries its birthmarks with it. All the features of the Green Revolution that we have noticed are obvious manifestations of these birthmarks.


Was there an alternative to Green Revolution The answer to that question depends upon what one expects a revolution in agriculture to achieve. If what is expected to be achieved is only a steady flow of food and resources to the urban market and the Government stocks and industries, then Green Revolution was perhaps the best way to achieve it. The HYV technology, with its high requirement of commercial resources, was designed to be applicable to only those areas which were already surplus in food. By making these surplus areas more surplus, it ensured that al! additional outputs will find their way into the market. If, however; our expectation from a revolution in agriculture is that first of all it enables the millions of subsistence workers living below the poverty line to produce their essential requirements, then of course there would have been no question of even considering the Green Revolution technology. In some form, our subsistence farmers already had an 'alternative' to the Green Revolution technology. Even a cursory, but sympathetic, study of their agriculture (with the above objective in view) would have led to the conclusion that what was needed was not so much new technology but immediate action to remove the various resource constraints which were putting tremendous pressure on their agriculture resources such as wood (fuel), manure, water, fodder and of course land. However, any step in providing 'free' access to such locally available resources to our cultivators, would have meant reversing the policy of achieving 'progress', (the policy initiated by the British administration), the policy of appropriating all the resources our people for the 'industrial revolutions' in the international and national metropolises. Let us consider, !for instance, two of the major requirements for traditional agriculture : access to water and access of labour to land. As we shall see below, India had, and still has, a vast untapped potential of these resources.

Irrigation :

Irrigation is the most important input for the traditional agricultural technologies. It insures the farmer against the vagaries of the climate. It opens up the possibility of multiple cropping. It considerably enhances the employment potential of the land. (And it almost doubles the productivity of individual crops).

Costs of irrigation are difficult to work out because there is large variation from area to area. For peninsular India, where irrigation costs are relatively higher, Irrigation Commission in 1972 estimated the cost of irrigating one hectare to be roughly equivalent to the price of a quintal of foodgrains (NCAR, Vol. 1, p. 437), which would give a return of 5 quintals of foodgrain. On the other hand, as discussed earlier to bring one hectare of crop under HYV costs 2-3 quintals of foodgrains, and the return expected is about 10 quintals. Thus,'in terms of economic efficiency, irrigation competes well with HYV cultivation. The possibility of developing this alternative also existed as according to NCA
estimates, our country has enough water resources to irrigate 110 mha of crops, whereas,in 1965-66, the year before HYV crop was launched, the gross irrigated area was32.2mha.

Since mid sixties, some additional irrigation facilities have of course been generated. But it has been seen as only one of the inputs in the HYV Technology and the stress has been on providing more irrigation in those areas which already had irrigation and had adopted new technology. This is obvious from the fact that of the additional 10mha of foodgrain crops brought under irrigation between 1963-64 and 1975-76, 7.73 mha went to the major HYV crop, and only 1.44 mha to the vaster rice crops {Table 3). Besides, the massive schemes of modern irrigation being launched in India has proved to be problematic in various respects.

However, one can conceive of alternative strategies for irrigation. In our country irrigation has traditionally been the responsibility of the community and the state. Traditionally, non-conventional ways of generating irrigation using community labour and locally available materials have been used. Such a system of irrigation would be cheaper. More important, it could benefit small and marginal farmers—put their agriculture on sound, footing instead of making it economically unviable as the Green Revolution technology has done. Such an irrigation will make all the difference between prosperity and hunger, between a living thriving culture and stagnation.

Access of labour to land

Besides irrigation, the other major prerequisite of traditional agriculture is labour. Productivity of this type of agriculture depends largely upon the amount of labour that the farmer is willing to or is capable of putting in. This fact is confirmed by the well-known observation that almost everywhere in the Third World, small farms, even farms of size less than one hectare, on 'which labour is necessarily intense, are able to obtain much higher productivities than larger farms. The first series of form management studies carried out in (1954-57 (NCAR, Vol.1, Appendix 4.1) brought out the fact that the difference between the gross output per hectare of the smallest and largest size groups was always Jmore than 30%,, except in U. P. and Maharastra (Akola and Amravati districts), where the districts studied were largely under cash crops, and in Orissa where the productivity was rather low irrespective of the size. In Tamil Nadu (Salem and Coimbatore) the difference was as large as 170%, in Maharastra (Nasik) 109%, in 'Andhra Pradesh (West Godavari District) and Punjab (Ferozepu and Amritsar) around 40%. Similar data on other Third World countries. (eg. Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan etc.) is available in Keith Griffin (1979). That the smaller holdings were able to utilize the available resources much better, is also clear from data found in 1971 Agriculture Census quoted in NCAR, Vol, 1, Table 4.1 and 4.2 (see table 4). Out of 33.8 mha commanded by holdings less than 2ha, 30mha was sown, 7.7 mha of it more than once, giving a cropping intensity of 125. Holdings of size less than one hectare, fared even better with cropping intensities of 134 and 123 respectively for unirrigated and irrigated land, while holdings of size greater than 10ha sowed, achieved cropping intensity of only 109. Another study carried out at the ANS Institute for the Kosi Command Area in Bihar (Prasad 1972, quoted in NCAR, - Vol.11, pp 37-38) shows the following. On introduction of irrigation, whereas large " farms (greater than 8ha) irrigated, during Rabi season, only 26.5% of the area irrigated during Kharif, this ratio was 102.5% for small forms in size group 0-8 ha. Yet, according to the 1971 census, the most wasteful of farmers (of size greater than 10ha) commanded 30% of the total area, whereas small efficient farms (with operational holding less than half the average size) commanded only 9% of the total area.


Size-wise Distribution of Area

Size Group

Number of


Net Area

Gross Area

0-1 ha





1-2 ha





2-4 ha




















What is therefore urgently needed is land-reforms. Land to the tiller would not only result in an increase in agricultural production, but also the increase will benefit the small farmers, who need it most. The Green Revolution technology, however, is changing all this . The small farms are being made commercially unviable, whereas,. the larger farms, with access to this technology are producing more and earning profits. With the new technology, "Land to the tiller" may not be capable of contributing to increase in productivity. The demand is losing force.

However, if the objectives are to improve the livelihood of our people, improving the access of labour to the land by redressing this skewed distribution through land reforms, and improving the availability of water, clearly offered a vast potential for a green Revolution by making commercial cultivation with new technology economically more' viable (at the cost of subsidies and price supports) seems to have partially neutralized the advantage of the small farms. Thus in Punjab (Ferozepur) whole the farms above 20.0 ha showed the lowest gross out put per hectare of all sizes in 1954-57, in 1957-70, farms of 24.0 ha and above showed the highest output of all sizes. However, in most of the country the small farms still retain their advantage (NCAR, Vol. 1, 431).widespread and genuinely revolutionary improvement in agricultural production and productivity.

This was an obvious alternative to the Green Revolution driven by a new, expensive and elitist technology. In fact the existence of this alternative is well known to -g anyone who has any know. edge of agriculture. The National Commission on Agriculture (1974) itself had recognized that small farms as a class are more efficient units of production compared to large farms when considered from the point of view of productivity and employment potential.' It had also recognized that providing water to these small farms, 'would have by and large solved their problems'. If inspite of that a choice was made in favour of a technology that improved the fate of only already surplus farmers arid yet did not accelerate agricultural growth, then it can only be surmised that solving the problems of small farmers was not the most important policy-objective. That in a commercial society, the 'point of view of productivity and [employment potential is not the correct point of view.

By bringing out the viability of the non-technological alternative, we do not wish to imply that in agriculture no technological change will ever be required-But it seems that technological changes which will emerge from well-fed farmers with a view to improve their own lot will have to be qualitatively different from the technological [changes advocated by elite practitioner of the Baconian science of control with [a view to commercial viability. The analysis above makes us agree with Lappe and Collins (1977) that, 'Once it is manipulated by people, nature loses ' its neutrality. Elite research institutes will produce seeds that work perfectly well for a privileged class of commercial farmers. Genetic research that involves ordinary farmers will produce seeds that are useful to them' (p. 123). And also, perhaps, a Genetic .Science that incorporates their view of nature'. But then ordinary farmers in traditional cultures have been carrying out such research for centuries.

Author: J. K. Bajaj


* An early British observer of Indian agriculture. Col. Alexander Walker, noted the following about agriculture in Malabar in 1820: 'in Malabar the knowledge of Husbandry seems as ancient as their History. It is the favorite employment of the inhabitants. It is endeared to them by their mode of life, and the property which they possess in the soil. It is a theme for their writers ; it is subject on which they delight to converse and with which all ranks profess to be acquainted... (Walker, 1820),

* For Gandhi, these were also the symbols of a resurgent India, of an India
made free' again through the independence of its agriculture and its villages.

* The revenues extracted from India after the Battle of Plassey have been recognized to be of critical importance in setting in motion the Industrial Revolution, by many observers. For details and references to some of the authors who have commented upon it, see R. P. Dutt (T940), p. 116-119.

* Both Dutt R.. P. (1940) and Dutt R. C. (1970) give a detailed account of this destruction. These books also contain detailed references to the historical accounts of this period.

* Though, there seems to be an important qualitative difference between the plunderers that visited India, before, and the Britishers. The earlier robbers, like the notorious Ghazani, looted the surplus accumulated m temples and with the aristocracy, leaving, the life in the villages more or less unaffected. The legalized plunder by Hastings etc., and their hordes,-on the other hand, ravaged every hut in every village.

* (a) Gleaned from NCAR 1976 (Vol. 1, Ch. 3, p. 230-241)

* (b) Estimates of Area and Production of Principal Crops in India, 1978-79 of Economic Statistics. published by the Directorat

* Plan-wise growth rates have been calculated on the basis of triennial averages with the base and last year of each plan as the mid-years, except for the Third and Fourth Plan whan insiead of the triennial periods the years 1964-65 and 1973-74 respectively were taken as the end periods, to avoid including especially bad years at the end.

* 1965-66, being an exceptionally bad year, has been excluded. Source: Table 3.16 of NCAR, 1976, Vol. 1

* All figures refer to triennial averages with the year indicated as the mid year. Units : Area,' in mha. Production in mT, Yield in Kg/ha ** 1963-64, instead of 1965-66, has been chosen in order to avoid including the the two abnormal years 65-66 and 66-67 in the average Source : Various 'issues of 'Estimates of Area and Produclion of Principal Crops in India,' published by the Directorate of Economic Statistics. HYV area is taken from Economic Survey, GOI, 1980-81.

* The process is so expensive that non-vegetarian U.S.S.R., imports about 50 mT
of cereals" every year to raise the domestic availability of foodgrains to about
a ton per capita per year.1 Vegetarian India can feed itself with just about
1/5 of a] ton per capita.

* Triennial [averages based on data in the Economic Survey, GOI, 1980-81.

* Quoted from Ross Kidd and Krishna Kumar (1981). About the aims of the . adult-literacy programme, launched by the World Bank etc., in late sixties, ""** in conjunction with Green Revolution, the authors have the following to say: "The purpose of the new] programme was to cover all aspects of a peasant's life that-would facilitate his initiation into a consumer society; aspects such as agriculture, health, sanitation, fertility and small-scale entrepreneurship..."

* A comparison of data based, on INJSSO crop-cutting experiments for 1970-71 and 1971-72 shows that compared to unirrigated crops, yields of irrigated crops were higher by about 80-95% for paddy and 105-115% for wheat. According to a statistical analysis based on aggregate crop-production in fifties, quoted" in NCAR, the differences in irrigated and unirrigated yields were 1.28 ton/ha and 0.46 ton/ha respectively, for" wheat, and 1.47 ton/ha and 0,47 ton/ha for paddy. Official yardstick for the marginal productivity of irri¬gation is, however, 0.5 ton/ha. (NCAR, Vol 1, 437-438).


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