The Myth of Green Revolution

by | Jun 26, 2018

It is a universally acknowledged truth that everybody loves a doomsday prophecy. Media loves them a bit too much. There is something so cathartic about them, that they take away the responsibility.

The doomsday ideas that play up in my mind tend to be about world wars, an asteroid hitting the planet or the dystopian society – all thanks to the content I consume. The media manipulates my imagination of the dreaded end so unrealistically. If it were even a tiny bit realistic, I would be worried about Scientific American’s doom prophecy report that says, “Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues” or UN Report that warns “Water crisis to intensify across India by 2050”.

Here’s my revelation: Media and Education are great mediums of manufacturing opinion. In our culture of consumerism, ‘organic’ seems like a trendy adjective thought out by a creative copywriter to create differentiation for their product. It is a word in marketing that attempts to justify the higher price.

In media, we are always trying to manufacture opinions by setting the context right – the visuals, words, music and intended subliminal connection. If we talk of food products, an illusion of a comfortable cocoon is created for urban folks for whom they come from shelves of retailers or through an app.

If food arrives through a tap on screen, can one really understand the trials and tribulations of a farmer? In my opinion, No…
Think about the way in which an Indian farmer is portrayed in any media setting: The hardworking yet poor, vulnerable victim of circumstances. An image we reinforce because it is true (poverty being the truth, all else remains subjective) but what should be boggling our heads is how hard-work is equated with poverty when all our life we are told working hard results in a better life.
A great exercise in opinion manufacturing is the ongoing aura of the success of Green Revolution. Our schools teach it and we memorize it well enough to recollect MS Swaminathan as the father of Green Revolution in IndiaBefore the advent of Green Revolution, Indian farming was organic as it relied on traditional seeds, organic fertilizers, and bio-medicines based on Ayurvedic medicine. We were more natural and green before it became trendy and with time, expensive.
Manufactured Opinion 1: Large amount of production solves the problem of food scarcity.
Frequent famines in 1940s and Bengal Famine of 1943 had claimed the lives of millions of people. With a large population to feed, India was in an urgent need to evolve from its status of food insufficiency. We found the magic pill in High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds developed by the US agro-scientist Norman Borlaug and the program was started with the support of Rockefeller Foundation. It was a resounding success in the way that India is a food surplus nation today and exports are in the range of $33.87 billion. It was concluded that the chemical fertilizers work, yield goes up and we are now able to feed our people. According to Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian hero Norman Borlaug, organic was not the way. At a conference in 2002, he said, “We aren’t going to feed 6 billion people with organic fertilizer. If we tried to do it, we would level most of our forests and many of those lands would be productive only for a short period of time.”
A logical conclusion of food surplus and exports should indicate that we have come away from the prophesied doomsday situation of mass starvation, but according to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2011 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 67th out of 81 countries and has more than 200 million food insecure people, the most in the world.
While it is alright to appreciate the positive impact that green revolution has brought, It is equally important that our curriculum and media starts reflecting, in the mainstream, about its negative effect that small and marginalized farmers endure. Increasingly, the threat of feeding 9 billion by 2050 is rounding the circles and thus, the need to double our production through increasing yield is the course of action to feed the world.
Manufactured Opinion 2: Increasing yield per hectare is the only way to increase income.
In the conventional green revolution-based farming methods, farmers invest high amount of input from external sources, in terms of engineered seeds and hazardous chemicals like pesticides/fertilizers, drawing huge quantities of groundwater for irrigation while managing unpredictable risks against which they have almost no protection. In a country such as India where 67% of India’s farmlands are held by the marginal farmers with holdings below one hectare, they are subjected to livelihood threats in such an environment of instability, competition and circumstances beyond control.
We have to be critical of the success of green revolution as it came with subsidies on chemical pesticides which are now developing into the removal of critical soil and leading to water crisis. The total subsidy provided to agricultural consumers by way of fertilizers and free power has quadrupled from Rs 73,000 Crores in 1992-1993 to Rs 3 Lakh Crores now. This form of official support encourages buying and using chemicals that are detrimental to our environment.
Our much-touted policy seeks to double the farmer’s income by improving the yield per hectare for a variety of crops resulting in better realization for farmers. If the directed stimulus is to improve the yield through chemical, then it would be like winning a battle and losing the war. It will lead to increase in soil contamination and water pollution.
The first Green Revolution has failed in the long term. A large-scale government acknowledgment of the devastation due to chemicals, is the way forward. The 11 missions associated with agriculture should revise policies that are sensitive to ecological risks of 21st century and the ongoing poverty-debt-malnutrition plight of farmers.
Traditional GDP-based perspective may characterize a growing economy with a lesser share of agriculture in the overall economy of India. It is important to remember approximately 61.5% people (according to 2011 census) depend on agriculture to feed themselves, and the rest of us. Thus, sustainability and a holistic view of this sector should be a primary concern for us. It may not make for a sensational read in the morning, but farmer suicides and protests should not be the only cases to bring out the concerns of majority of India’s population. Our prospects of good future are securely tied to that of our farmers, even if our relationship may only be through the retail shelves or otherwise.
Organic or sustainable agriculture is not a buzzword but the need of the hour if we have to prosper. Before we start our second green revolution, our needs and directions of the institutions (media, government, communities) have to align to face the dreaded climate change. The organic movement in India already has several champions such as Subhash Palekar and Vandana Shiva among many others, and it’s already gaining roots in Sikkim as well as Andhra Pradesh.
In Featured image: The lush green wheat field of Siya Dulari, a Natural Woman Farmer in Kanpur

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