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1-The Green Revolution and Nutrition

Much has been written about the Green Revolution in India and elsewhere . Below we very briefly look at the Green Revolution from the point of view of nutrition and sustainable processes for the poor.

We have discussed in Chapter 3, some of the effects of the Green Revolution technology aids like new seeds, pesticides, fertilisers, excessive irrigation, indiscriminating tapping of ground water resources, and so on. This kind of technology requires more money just to get going and as a result the large amounts required have led to a debt trap for the poorer peasants. Those who find this technology economically viable are those with medium and large farm holdings. A related issue is how today in India the politics of agriculture and rural economy is one that is largely addressed to the concerns of the richer farmers, thus further marginatingthe poorer peasants, the landless and low income share croppers.

Another area of concern related to the Green Revolution in India is the emphasis on producing , procuring and maintaining a large food stock, with its related compulsions for appeasing the big farmer lobby by giving periodic increases in procurement prices of grains, by periodically subsidising fertilizer companies* to the relative neglect of bothering whether food really reaches the hungry and whether we are doing anything really to increase the ability of poor people to eat better ?

Apart from the long term ecological damage done to the land,soil, and water, to the pool of traditional seeds, to naturally occurring pests and to human beings by eating pesticide and fertilizer infested foods, the Green Revolution by focussing on a few areas of the country has resulted in the neglect and fund starvation of large areas of the country. The SeventhPlan document admits that developed areas accounting accounting for less than 15 percent of the area under food grains in the country, contributed as much as 56 percent of the in food grain production in the post Green Revolution period , which means that 85 percent of the area under foodgrains in the country contributed as little as 44 percent of the increase in the post Green Revolution period.

These are also disputed questions about the employment effects of Green Revolution and the money making and the consumerist ethos that the post-Green Revolution phase has triggered. Some sociologists have found connections between the Green Revolution characteristic of selective affluemnce in a few pockets of Punjab, the resulting glaring disparities and the instability in Punjab during the late seventies and early eighties. There are others who see the Green Revolution as an outstanding example of a patriarchal science and technology that denies the feminine principle in nature. It is pointed out that the states that are most successful in the Green Revolution, Punjab and Haryana, are also the states with the most adverse sex ratio.

While we will not examine these, mention must be made of atleast three other trends which have marked the post-Green Revolution phase and that have a direct bearing on nutritional status of large populations. The first is the relative neglect and decline in some cases, of pulse crops and of millets which constitute the staple food of some of the poorest people. The second is the 'Green Revolution type' revolution: the white (milk) and the oilseeds revolution. The third trend is the widespread propagation of the Green Revolution as the major paradigm of 'progressive' agriculture.



Millet crops are grown on roughly 35 million hectares of land in India, mostly in semi-arid, unirrigated conditions with low rainfall. Millets include jowar (sorghum), finger, millets (ragi, marua and nagli), bamyard millet (sanwa), Italian millet (tenai), Kodo millet (kodon), common millet(chena, parivaraga), foxtail millet (kukum) and little millet (samai,sawan). These millets are hardy and can grow in adverse conditions known to exist over various parts in India. Sanwa, samai and sawan are especially known to withstand drought and water logging.

Table 4 shows the change in pattern of food production from the early fifties to the early eighties. The relative decline of jowar with respect to wheat and rice is evident. In 1950-51, the production of barley, ragi, sanwa, kodo, etc. was together almost equvalent to that of wheat (64 million tonnes). While it is difficult to trace the cause of this per capita decline in the availability of millets, one reason certainly appears to be the focus of the government on the Green Revolution miracles...rice and wheat. This is a matter of concern especially as many of these millets have high nutritioned value.


Table 4
Foodgrains production (in million tonnes)
(Approximate percentage share in total foodgrain production is given in brackets)

Rice20.6 (40%)59.2 (39%)
Wheat6.4 (13%)45.2 (30%)
Jowar5.5 (11%)11.9 ( 8%)
Bajra 2.6 ( 5%)7.6 ( 5%)
Maize1.7 ( 3%)7.9 ( 5%)
Other cereals 6.1 (12%) 6.5 ( 4%)
Pulses8.4 (17%)12.6 (8%)
Total foodgrains 50.8 (100%)151.5 (100%)
Source : Based on data given in Sixth and Seventh Plan documents and Annual Economic Surveys. From Dogra, op.cit.


Every Indian family would like to use some form of pulse (dal or lentil) withtheir daily staple food. Pulses are important sources of protein in an essentially cereal based diet of a polutation that is largely vegetarian. Being legumes, they are good natural nitrogen fixers and enrich the soil fertility by adding up to 30 kgs of nitrogen per hectare--which is a far more energy efficient process than using industrially produced nitrogenous fertilizers and soil nutrients. Table 5 gives the production of pulse grams in India and the Table 6 shows how pulse production has vitually stagnated in India . The reason for this include : high risk small proportions of irrigated area, low profitability, inadequate use of modern inputs and gaps in technology.

Table 7 on availbility of pulses and cereals shows a 50 percent decline in quantity of pulses available per capita from 1961 to 1988. Table 8 gives a comparative performance of various foodcrops.

Pulse production has occured in the 85 percent of the non-Green Revolution area mentioned above. The stagnation of pulse production is really a "part of the overall stagnation of agricultural production in the vast main land of Indian agriculture, only in this case low productivity in the mainland is not offset by the relativelymuch high productivity in a few pockets".

Table 5
Pulse Crops of India

(million tonnes) (million hectares)
Bengal-gram (chana)4 to 57 to 8
Black-gram (urad)12.5
Green gram (mung)0.82.5
Horse gram (kulthi)0.52.0
Lentil (masur)0.450.9
Moth bean (moth)0.21.7
Peas (matar)0.470.5
Pigeon pea (arhar)1.8 2.5
Cow-pea (lobia) -- --
Chickling pea (khesari) - -
Pulses (All)11 to 1222
Source : Handbook of Agriculture, Indian Council of Agriculture Research, 1980. Quoted in Dogra, op. cit
Note : Other pulses grown in India include rajma (frenchbean), Sem (Indian bean), clusterbean (guar) and some others.

Table 6
Performance of Pulse Crops

(million(Kgs. per(million
First Plan Average 1951-5621.147410.1
Sixth Plan Average 1979-8422.948011.0
Source : Derived from Annexure 1, Planning Commission, Seventh Plan document. Quoted in Dogra, op. cit.

Table 7
Availability of Foodgrains

Net quantity available
Annual total*
(Million tonnes)
Per capita per day
CerealsPulsesCereals Pulses Total
* 87.5% of total domestic production, the balance 12.5% being provided for feed & seed requirements etc. plus imports, minus expots and net changes in Government stocks.
Source : Statistical Outline of India 1989-90, Tata Services Ltd., Bombay, July 1989.

Towards Sustainable Food Production

One of the major long term consequences of the Green Revolution and of the post-Green Revolution phase is the denial , neglect or lack of serious debate about other modes of agricultural production or other methods of agricultural knowledge practices. The Green Revolution culture is advertrised as the major model of 'successful' and 'progressive' agriculture. Wherever such intensive large scale deployment of technology and management has gone in as in oil seeds or operation flood (for creating milk surpluses), often, traditional , more sustainable forms of food productionthat guaranteed food access to more of the poor tend to be overlooked . A feature that goes with these intensive applications of technology is the incorporation of ordinary food items like milk and oil as part of a centralised market economy with little possibility of control or influence by actual users. Often ,attempts to modernise the oilseeds and milk economy has resulted in upsetting the ecology of animal nutrition flows in rural areas. Oil cakes are far less easily available as feed concentrates to individual milch cow owners. When milch cows are scientifically bred to enhance lactation, the mail is often unequal to the purpose of draught.

Table 8
Agricultural Production

(Prov) *
Million tonnes
Rice56.460.663.853.6 42.2
Wheat 45.144.3 47.1 36.323.8
Jowar11.99.2 10.2 10.4 8.1
Maize5.6 7.6 6.6 7.0 7.5
Others 5.15.5 5.76.3 6.9
Pulses 11.011.7 13.410.611.8
Others 4.7
Groundnut (in shell) 5.0 6.1
Rapeseed & Mustard
Others 3.3 2.8 3.02.1 1.5
Tobacco0.30.46 0.44 0.48 0.36
Cotton (lint)$ 7.0 4.8
Jute $ 5.8 7.4 10.9 6.5 4.9
Sugarcane (cane wt.) 196.7 186.1170.7154.3 126.4
Tea@0.670.62 0.660.570.42
Coffee0.12 0.19 0.12 0.12 0.11
* 1988-89 (170 million tonnes)
# Comprising groundnut, rapeseeds and mustard, sesamum, linseed, castorseed, nigerseed, safflower, sunflower and soyabean.
$ Cotton in million bales of 170 kg. and jute in million bales of 180 kg. each.
@ Calender years
Source : Tata Services Ltd., Op. cit.



The milk revolution has drained milk out of rural areas to the extent that even buttermilk --a good source of nutrition---that was freely available in rural areas is not anymore avauilable.1 While we are not arguing against an oil seeds or milk revolution, care must be taken to make milk and edible oil easily accessible to the poor in rural and urban areas,2 as well as not upset overnight the ecological balancesbuilt over centuries.

There have been however responses in India and the world over that show an alternative way of doing farmig and growing food. We mention these here not as definitive answers but as indications of possibilities.

Appendix 2 is a brief description of Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution, an attempt to grow food without resort to modern tools like fertrilizers, pesticides, etc. Appendix 3 is an extract from Dr. R. H. Richharia's Rice in Abundance for alltimes through Rice clones - A Genetic Forecast.

Dr. Richharia, a scientist, and ex-director of Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, suggests a system of hybridisation of rice seeds that are indigeneous to the country. At one time, he had collected more than 4000 varieties of rice grown in India, revealing in the process an amazingly large number of varities being grown by tribal farmers. Many of the traaditional varieties, were capable of giving yields equal to or greater than the Green Revolution HYVs (High Yielding Varieties) with much lesser fertilizers and with no pesticides.

Some of Fukuoka's and Richharias techniques have been implemented with good results at Friend's Rural Centre, Hoshangabad, MP, and at the Gloria Land farm at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry--both places have combined elements of organic farming and natural pest management with the above.

The Green Revolution was thus a 'revolutionary' phenomena in some areas and for some crops and is being sought to be extended for even other items like milk and oilseeds. However, a true revolution based on the nature of ownership of cultivable land is yet to come. The West Bengal government's land reforms (Operation Barga) over the last 12 years is therefore something to be commended and studied for its effect on nutritional status, keeping mind,of course, the complex of factors outlined in Figure 2 earlier that go to determine nutritional status.

At the risk of overdramatisation, let us quote Susan George on Norman Borlaug :


  • Dr. Norman Borlaug, one of the Rockefeller Foundation's original bright young geneticists who founded CIMMYT, received the Nobel Peace Prize (Peace, not Biology) in 1970 for his contribution to the development of the Green Revolution. He concluded his acceptance speech to the Nobel Academy with his passage from Isaiah :
    And the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as he rose--and the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water....(35:1,7).
  • Dr. Borlaug did not tell the Academy that the Prophet foresees certain changes as imperative before this blossoming can take place:
    And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken ...the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly.
    The vile person shall no more be called liberal, nor the chart said to be bountiful.
    For the vile person will speak villany and his heart will work iniquity; to practise make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
    The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right. (32:3-7).
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