Alternatively, you can register/login faster using
Register Free!


sivakumar.sachin ,  22-Apr-09

Why Green Revolution

The world's worst recorded food disaster happened in 1943 in British-ruled India. Known as the Bengal Famine, an estimated four million people died of hunger that year alone in eastern India (that included today's Bangladesh). The initial theory put forward to 'explain' that catastrophe was that there as an acute shortfall in food production in the area. However, Indian economist Amartya Sen (recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 1998) has established that while food shortage was a contributor to the problem, a more potent factor was the result of hysteria related to World War II which made food supply a low priority for the British rulers. The hysteria was further exploited by Indian traders who hoarded food in order to sell at higher prices.

Nevertheless, when the British left India four years later in 1947, India continued to be haunted by memories of the Bengal Famine. It was therefore natural that food security was a paramount item on free India's agenda. This awareness led, on one hand, to the Green Revolution in  India and, on the other, legislative measures to ensure that businessmen would never again be able to hoard food for reasons of profit.

However, the term "Green Revolution" is applied to the period from 1967 to 1978. Between 1947 and 1967, efforts at achieving food self-sufficiency were not entirely successful. Efforts until 1967 largely concentrated on expanding the farming areas. But starvation deaths were still being reported in the newspapers. In a perfect case of Malthusian economics, population was growing at a much faster rate than food production. This called for drastic action to increase yield. The action came in the form of the Green Revolution.

The term "Green Revolution" is a general one that is applied to successful agricultural experiments in many Third World countries. It is NOT specific to India. But it was most successful in India.

What was the Green Revolution in India?

There were three basic elements in the method of the Green Revolution:

(1) Continued expansion of farming areas;

(2) Double-cropping existing farmland;

(3) Using seeds with improved genetics.

Continued expansion of farming areas

 The area of land under cultivation was being increased right from 1947. But this was not enough in meeting with rising demand. Other methods were required. Yet, the expansion of cultivable land also had to continue.

So, the Green Revolution continued with this quantitative expansion of farmlands. However, this is NOT the most striking feature of the Revolution.

Double-cropping existing farmland

Double-cropping was a primary feature of the Green Revolution. Instead of one crop season per year, the decision was made to have two crop seasons per year.

The one-season-per-year practice was based on the fact that there is only natural monsoon per year. This was correct. So, there had to be two "monsoons" per year. One would be the natural monsoon and the other an artificial 'monsoon.'

The artificial monsoon came in the form of huge irrigation facilities. Dams were built to arrest large volumes of natural monsoon water which were earlier being wasted. Simple irrigation techniques were also adopted.

Using seeds with superior genetics

This was the scientific aspect of the Green Revolution.

Indian Council for Agricultural Research (which was established by the British in 1929 but was not known to have done any significant research) was re-organized in 1965 and then again in 1973. It developed new strains of high yield value (HYV) seeds, mainly wheat and rice but also millet and corn. The most noteworthy HYV seed was the K68 variety for wheat.

The credit for developing this strain goes to Dr. M.P. Singh who is also regarded as the hero of India's Green revolution.

Statistical Results of the Green Revolution


The Green Revolution resulted in a record grain output of 131 million tons in 1978-79. This established India as one of the world's biggest agricultural producers. No other country in the world which attempted the Green Revolution recorded such level of success. India also became an exporter of food grains around that time.




Yield per unit of farmland improved by more than 30 per cent between 1947 (when India gained political independence) and 1979 when the Green Revolution was considered to have delivered its goods.




The crop area under HYV varieties grew from seven per cent to 22 per cent of the total cultivated area during the 10 years of the Green Revolution. More than 70 per cent of the wheat crop area, 35 per cent of the rice crop area and 20 per cent of the millet and corn crop area, used the HYV seeds.

Economic results of the Green Revolution


Crop areas under high-yield varieties needed more water, more fertilizer, more pesticides, fungicides and certain other chemicals. This spurred the growth of the local manufacturing sector. Such industrial growth created new jobs and contributed to the country's GDP.




The increase in irrigation created need for new dams to harness monsoon water. The water stored was used to create hydro-electric power. This in turn boosted industrial growth, created jobs and improved the quality of life of the people in villages.




India paid back all loans it had taken from the World Bank and its affiliates for the purpose of the Green Revolution. This improved India's creditworthiness in the eyes of the lending agencies.




Some developed countries, especially Canada, which were facing a shortage in agricultural labour, were so impressed by the results of India's Green Revolution that they asked the Indian government to supply them with farmers experienced in the methods of the Green Revolution. Many farmers from Punjab and Haryana states in northern India were thus sent to Canada where they settled (That's why Canada today has many Punjabi-speaking citizens of Indian origin). These people remitted part of their incomes to their relatives in India. This not only helped the relatives but also added, albeit modestly, to India's foreign exchange earnings.

 Sociological results of the Green Revolution

The Green Revolution created plenty of jobs not only for agricultural workers but also industrial workers by the creation of lateral facilities such as factories and hydro-electric power stations .

Political results of the Green Revolution


India transformed itself from a starving nation to an exporter of food. This earned admiration for  India in the comity of nations, especially in the Third World.




The Green Revolution was one factor that made Mrs. Indira Gandhi (1917-84) and her party, the Indian National Congress, a very powerful political force in India (it would however be wrong to say that it was the only reason).


 Limitations of the Green Revolution


Even today, India's agricultural output sometimes falls short of demand. The Green Revolution, howsoever impressive, has thus NOT succeeded in making India totally and permanently self-sufficient in food. In 1979 and 1987, India faced severe drought conditions due to poor monsoon; this raised questions about the whether the Green Revolution was really a long-term achievement. In 1998, India had to import onions. Last year, India imported sugar.


However, in today's globalised economic scenario, 100 per cent self-sufficiency is not considered as vital a target as it was when the world political climate was more dangerous due to the Cold War.




India has failed to extend the concept of high-yield value seeds to all crops or all regions. In terms of crops, it remain largely confined to foodgrains only, not to all kinds of agricultural produce. In regional terms, only Punjab and Haryana states showed the best results of the Green Revolution. The eastern plains of the River Ganges in West Bengal state also showed reasonably good results. But results were less impressive in other parts of India.




Nothing like the Bengal Famine can happen in India again. But it is disturbing to note that even today, there are places like Kalahandi (in India's eastern state of Orissa) where famine-like conditions have been existing for many years and where some starvation deaths have also been reported. Of course, this is due to reasons other than availability of food in India, but the very fact that some people are still starving in India (whatever the reason may be), brings into question whether the Green Revolution has failed in its overall social objectives though it has been a resounding success in terms of agricultural production.




The Green Revolution cannot therefore be considered to be a 100 percent success.

  India’s Second Green Revolution

400 million tons of food grain production as opposed to about 214 million tons in 2006-07 is the target of “Second Green Revolution. It is unlikely to happen to-morrow or next year, but it possibly may happen by 2020. To achieve the forgoing amount of production a growth rate of 5 to 6% in agricultural sector has to be maintained over next 15 years.

Current growth rate in this sector is stagnant or at best 2% (in last ten years). The latter has depleted the country’s food stock and forced the government to negotiate import of 5 million tons of wheat. With practically no more land to farm and some depletion of the agricultural land, this miracle is not easy to achieve. Science and technology has to play its big role. High productive seeds, private sector involvement and expenditure on long stalled irrigation schemes are key to achieving higher production.

Population growth in India is at the rate of 1.8 to 2.2% a year. With rising population and slow rate of agricultural growth, situation is likely to get alarming if not worst next in 5 to 8 years. Food self-sufficiency of nineties will be a forgotten achievement. Shortages will loom. Famines may not visit India, but shortages will visible shaken the national confidence.

To quote an old Chinese saying – "When price of rice goes far beyond what a common man can pay, heaven ordains a new ruler". Agrarian distress is much more worst than industrial unrest. It has already ejected an otherwise a finely run government of National Democratic Alliance in 2004. Farmer suicides and other agrarian issues prevented some state voters from voting for the NDA. Situation is no different toady, except that timely rains this year have brightened the prospect of the Rabi (wheat) crop.

What is Required to Start the Second Green Revolution?

If the gains of “First Green Revolution” 1970-90 are to be strengthened, then a Second Green Revolution is to be initiated. The First Green Revolution was made possible with the availability of miracle wheat variety, electricity at the farms and land reforms. The triumvirate of Swaminathan, Venkatraman & Indira Gandhi, provided the leadership. With its success, the begging bowl stereotype of India in the West was laid to rest. Instead a new India, still poor but confidant, proving IR, BPO and KPO service to the world was born. There was a 15 years respite from a bad news on the agricultural front. A lot of food grains were exported. We in the West, with Indian heritage, who still prefer Indian basmati and daals, loved to purchase all things Indian. We still buy the same but are also reading a few bad reports like depleted reserve food stocks etc. Wheat is arriving from Australia. It has dampened the inflationary mood in the country a bit. Luckily, the rains of February and March have helped. Need to import the full 5 million tons of wheat shortfall may not be necessary. The issue at hand is not today but what is likely to happen in next 10 years, if the agricultural production stayed sluggish.

Hence Government of India is back into square one i.e. what needs to be done to trigger higher agricultural growth in India. We may wish to call it the “Second Green Revolution”. But it is a high-end initiative with both Federal and State governments are full participants.

It will also require:
1.Genetically modified (GM) seeds to double the per acreage production i.e. technology,
2.Private sector to develop and market the usage of GM foods i.e. efficient marketing of the ideas,
3.Linking of rivers as much as economically possible to bring surplus water of one area to others i.e. linking of the rivers.

Not only that, a significant contribution is to be made by the farmers themselves. They have to get out of the ancient mode of being peasant farmers on small land holdings. They have to become businessmen, who trade in agricultural products. Just like any other businessmen they have to look for the most economical way to boost productivity and profits to themselves. Splitting of land holding, after a father passes away, into multiple children have depleted the economic viabilities of farms. Farm economics have to be revisited and economic size of the farm re-established. Continued dependency on government bailout during any crisis has to be minimized. Lesser the government involved, more likely is that controls and state trading in grains will be eliminated. It requires farmers to become responsible businessmen.

Consumer has to grow up a bit also. “Genetically Modified Food” is here to stay. It is the salvations of the rapidly increasing population. Opposition to the GM food in India is wholly politically motivated. It has to be ended in favor of adopting new techniques to boost productivity. Forty years back, a similar political lobby opposed the introduction of Mexican wheat variety in India. This in fact began the first green revolution. Today, results of this wheat variety are wonderful. Now a similar campaign to demonize GM food is under way. Believe it or not some of these well-tried concepts are India’s ultimate salvation.

GM Food and India

GM food is new and its concept is not well understood, especially in India. Communications are faulty. Everybody who wishes to oppose US in more than one-way, have found a new way to continue his or her tirade against the GM food. GM food is an American private innovation. Governments had nothing to do with it. Private sector innovated it and marketed it. Today a significant amount of daily-consumed foodstuff in North America is GM food. In a nutshell GM is about improving the crop (such as yield), pest resistance, herbicide tolerance etc. to name a few. It will improve yield from the same fields by about 25% to 50%. It is something every farmer would wish to have. It is something a consumer would wish to have as pest free food gets to the dinner table. Shortages would cease to exist.

There is definitely a health risk with GM food. Because it is a recent innovation, its long term and very long-term impact on human body is not well understood. But North American consumer is the best laboratory for it. They have been consuming it for the last 15 years. If any untoward issue surfaces, they will be the first to feel it. Crop area under GM food production in last 10 years in US alone has increased 50 times. In India, maize, oil seeds, fruits & vegetables, soybeans, wheat crop yields will dramatically increase. Other beneficiaries will be cotton, potato, onion etc.

Building on this success in US, President George Bush during his March 2005 visit, began a $100 million initiative - Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agricultural Research and Education. Its precise intentions are to begin the Second Green Revolution in India. Its details are not well known. One reason for a bit of secrecy is the political sensitivities in India. Without knowing the details and analyzing the benefits, people who oppose it have called it as an Indian sell out to American corporate interests. Even if a small (20%) land comes under GM cultivation in India, it will add 30 to 60 million tons of additional food for the consumer. Not only that, farmer on these parcels of lands will be lifted out of poverty. This is just the beginning. Fifteen years hence, GM food may lead the way to lift all the rural population out of poverty. Why Do We Wish that Private Sector, instead of Government Manage the Second Green Revolution.

There are obvious reasons for wishing corporate participation in India’s Second Green revolution.

First, the above-mentioned triumvirate, which guaranteed the success of the First Green Revolution, may be difficult to form. Leadership issues and party politics will make any government initiative difficult to succeed. Make up of governments in last 10 years and 10 more years to come, has been and will be a hotchpotch of political ideology. Hence, it will be harder to find a coherent policy for some time to come.
Second, efficient delivery of services will be the key to higher agricultural output. Governments, especially the democratic governments, are not geared for efficiency and effective delivery of any services. Current food marketing and storage system all owned by the government (FCI) is key example. Rough estimates indicate that anywhere from 20 to 30% of the food is spoiled, before it hits the dinner table.
Thirdly, US multinationals (Wal-Mart & Monsanto) would prefer to deal with the private sector than with government officials.

Private sector in India is very willing to enter this profitable sector. A joint venture between Bharti Telco’s Milltal and E L Rothschild (a British investment firm) is making foray into export of fresh fruits & vegetables. It has leased 50,000 acres of land in Punjab and will grow vegetables for export to Europe. It will also become a laboratory for new ideas. A $50 million investment initially, is expected to export $15 million worth of produce in the current year rising rapidly in next three years as shipping and storage issues are overcome. Reliance, which in last 15 years has become an industrial giant, has plans to invest about $6 Billion in agricultural retail sector. Their retail outlets will be linked to farms in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and West Bengal. This has potential to revolutionize handling and distribution of the food in the country. It will also deliver better returns to the farmers. The forgoing is a US model where corporate giants like Cargill run distribution and manage farm output. The present government in India has to readjust its policy to let the private sector play a role. The latter is most likely to succeed. Success of ventures like this will persuade governments to give up its complete control over food distribution in the country.

Linking of the Rivers to Transfer Surplus Water to deficient Areas

It is no longer a pipe dream, although there are a few un-surmountable obstacles. East India (Brahamaputra valley) is surplus in water. This water during July to October each year causes havoc. This could be transferred to West and South. Similarly rainy season surplus water in the Gangetic plains can reach the southern India and develop agriculture in areas unknown before.
But there are problems. Bangladesh would not permit digging of any canal from Assam to Central India through its territory, even though; it benefits them as much as it benefits India.

Again, the Gangetic plains are at lower elevation and 400 miles wide mountain ranges, rising at places from 3,000 feet to 6,000 feet in central India’s geography prevents any easier transfer of water.

Hence, although agriculture will benefit immensely with both these river link schemes, solutions are not forthcoming in next 20 to 30 years. Bangladesh issue may never reach solution. They would prefer to float in floodwater year after year than to let India dig a canal through its territory. Hence water of Brahamaputra may never reach central India.

For north-south link of rivers, technology may some day, make digging of tunnel-canal link easier. That is a hope. A garland canal link traveling the contours of Indian peninsula is possible. It has been previously suggested but has not gone beyond the feasibility stage. It will circumvent the mountains in central India but does not deliver water to the arid lands of south-central India, where it is needed most. Moreover the garland canal is useless until it gets a huge water supply from the Assam valley.

Without loosing heart on possible river links, India has to explore other possibilities. A scheme to transfer Gangetic basin water westwards towards Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat is a possibility. The latter scheme will be a great engineering achievement. This, half the size of the original scheme, will increase the land under cultivation by 15%. Impact on local economy of this water will be huge.

India has about 150 million hectares of land under cultivation. This is down by about 10% from land under cultivation 20 years back. Urban encroachment, unprofitable cultivation, water logging etc. are key reasons of this reduction. Of the total land under cultivation, only 45 million hectares are irrigated. This delivers about 55% of the total food output. Rest of the 95 million hectares of land is rain fed or ground water irrigated. This bulk of the land produces 45% of the total food production. This latter is the area to concentrate most to boost food output. Whereas progressive Indian farmers can experiment with GM food in the irrigated lands, minor and major irrigation schemes have to play a major role in boosting productivity in the un-irrigated areas. This is where the state and federal governments have to play a bigger role.

Whether it is interlinking of the rivers or local irrigation schemes, something more need to be done. Government initiatives are the key to the success. Funding for the local schemes is to be readily made available. Current Budget envisages a much higher level of funding for rural schemes. This increase is partly an election year politics and partly to boost funds for the rural areas which previously were not a top priority. Whether this increased availability of funds will translate into start of much delayed irrigation initiatives or not, time will tell. Usually any government schemes requires 3 to 4 years of paper work before the first shovel of dirt is thrown at site and another 4 years to complete. Any initiatives taken now will bear fruit in about 6 to 8 years. This time frame on new projects is an acceptable consequence of democracy. Projects, which are already in progress or on which progress is slow, can be expedited. Speedily appropriated funds can to expedite projects already in the pipeline. This will fill-up the gap before newer and bigger projects like river links become a reality.


The Second Green Revolution of boosting food-grain output in India to 400 million tons in next 15 years is need of the day. Its achieving is not very difficult. Rather it is achievable if mindset on introducing newer technology is changed. India has to whole-heartedly embrace the new technology. Private sector is better suited to deliver results than government managed schemes. Governments on the other hand can play a key role in expediting irrigation schemes and managing water resources.

Other resources by sivakumar.sachin
Related Resources on this topic
Report Abuse

©2008-2021 All rights reserved