Green Revolution: a Short Lived Boon

Categories: Pesticides

Research Question The advantages of the Green Revolution are undeniable, however, there were significant disadvantages that are continuing to plague India. The policies that were put in place by the government during the Green Revolution catered to farmers with large plots of land and that resulted in the small farmers being at a disadvantage, which created a widening economic gap. To keep up with the demands of the Green revolution, farmers with small plots of land had to resort to taking loans from the government as they did not qualify for the government subsidies that were being provided to farmers with large plots.

Mostly farmers who had taken debts were unable to keep up with the technology and the cycle of debt continued, which led to many of them feeling humiliated and ultimately committing suicide. This problem is still prevalent in India today. Another disadvantage that has made itself prominent in the last two decades has been the environmental effect of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The improper use of the aforementioned technologies has resulted in long-term damage to the soil and groundwater in many areas, which in turn has resulted in the growth rate of diseases, like cancer, in certain areas. This paper will outline the background leading up to the Green Revolution in India and further highlight the long-term advantages and disadvantages by focusing on three factors: public policy, socio-economic effects, and environmental effects. Advantages Of Green Revolution Socio-Economic advantages The most important lesson to be learned from the Indian experience is that agricultural growth should precede modern economic growth based on industrialization.

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The reasons are as follows. In the early stages of economic development, a large portion of a population depends for its livelihood on agriculture and associated activities. These people have low incomes and the share of their household expenditures going to food and beverages is usually very high, around 70 percent (Fujita, 2010). In the aforementioned situation, even if the government tries to promote industrialization (especially heavy industrialization) while neglecting agriculture, it is unlikely to succeed due to the lack of a domestic market for non-agricultural sector products. Nonetheless, since in the early stages of development it is difficult to secure external markets for industrial products, it is still more feasible for entrepreneurs to focus on the domestic market with which they are familiar before attempting to enter an unknown export market. Thus, the existence of a domestic market for domestic products and services is essential when promoting industrialization. The key is to raise incomes and reduce poverty among people in the vast rural areas where the majority live during the early development stage. To accomplish this objective, the development of agriculture, especially the staple food sector, should be a priority because most of the rural population depends on it for their livelihoods.

If increased income is the key objective, then agricultural growth should be led by productivity growth, rather than by expansion of farmlands. The second Green Revolution wave in India that occurred during the 1980s was vital in creating a market in rural areas for non-agricultural products and services, thereby establishing a foundation for rapid economic growth after the 1990s based on development in the non-agricultural sector (Fujita, 2010). The Green Revolution led to sizable increases in returns to land and hence raised farmers’ incomes. Moreover, with greater income to spend, new needs for farm inputs, and milling and marketing services, farm families led to a general increase in demand for goods and services. This stimulated the rural nonfarm economy, which in turn grew and generated significant new income and employment of its own. Real per capita incomes almost doubled in Asia between 1970 and 1995, and poverty declined from nearly three out of every five Asians in 1975 to less than one in three by 1995. The absolute number of poor people fell from 1.15 billion in 1975 to 825 million in 1995 despite a 60 percent increase in population. In India, the percentage of the rural population living below the poverty line fluctuated between 50 and 65 percent before the mid-1960s but then declined steadily to about one-third of the rural population by 1993. Research studies show that much of this steady decline in poverty is attributable to agricultural growth and associated declines in food prices (Rosegrant et al, 2000). The Green Revolution also contributed to better nutrition by raising incomes and reducing prices, which permitted people to consume more calories and a more diversified diet. Big increases occurred in per capita consumption of vegetable oils, fruits, vegetables, and livestock products in Asia. Environmental Advantages Green Revolution-driven intensification saved new land from conversion to agriculture, a known source of greenhouse gas emissions and driver of climate change, and allowed for the release of marginal lands out of agricultural production into providing alternative ecosystem services, such as the regeneration of forest cover. Disadvantages Of Green Revolution Socio-Economic disadvantages Critics of the Green Revolution argued that owners of large farms were the main adopters of the new technologies because of their better access to irrigation water, fertilizers, seeds, and credit. Small farmers were either unaffected or harmed because the Green Revolution resulted in lower product prices, higher input prices, and efforts by landlords to increase rents or force tenants off the land.

Critics also argued that the Green Revolution encouraged unnecessary mechanization, thereby pushing down rural wages and employment. Although several villages and household studies conducted soon after the release of Green Revolution technologies lent some support to early critics, more recent evidence shows mixed outcomes. Small farmers did lag behind large farmers in adopting Green Revolution technologies, yet many of them eventually did so. Many of these small-farm adopters benefited from increased production, greater employment opportunities, and higher wages in the agricultural and nonfarm sectors. Moreover, most smallholders were able to keep their land and experienced significant increases in total production. In some cases, small farmers and landless laborers ended up gaining proportionally more income than larger farmers, resulting in a net improvement in the distribution of village income. Development practitioners now have a better understanding of the conditions under which the Green Revolution and similar yield-enhancing technologies are likely to have equitable benefits among farmers. “These conditions include: (1) a scale neutral technology package that can be profitably adopted on farms of all sizes; (2) an equitable distribution of land with secure ownership or tenancy rights; (3) efficient input, credit, and product markets so that farms of all sizes have access to modern farm inputs and information and can receive similar prices for their products; and (4) policies that do not discriminate against small farms and landless laborers (for instance, no subsidies on mechanization and no scale biases in agricultural research and extension)” (Rosegrant et al, 2000). These conditions are not easy to meet. Typically, governments must make a concerted effort to ensure that small farmers have fair access to land, knowledge, and modern inputs. Another shortcoming of the Green Revolution was that it spread only in irrigated and high-potential rainfed areas, and many villages or regions without access to sufficient water were left out. Although evidence suggests that even in these cases villagers obtained important indirect benefits through increased employment and migration opportunities and cheaper food, the benefits were rarely sufficient to prevent further widening of income gaps. In India, for example, poverty in many low-potential rainfed areas has improved little even while irrigated and high-potential rainfed areas have progressed (Pingali, 2012).

Because of the building stress related to socio-economic distress of the Green Revolution, many farmers have committed suicide by ingestion of pesticides. The number of suicides in 1966 was 37,848, making the suicide rate 7.6 percent. Five percent of these suicides were caused by poverty or economic reasons. The suicide rate in 2000 was reported to be 10.8 percent, with about nine percent being related to poverty, unemployment, or bankruptcy/change in economic status (National Crime Records Bureau). In his 2009 article A.R. Vasavi focuses his studies on the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Punjab. On average these states have had the highest number annually of reported suicides. Vasavi reported that suicides in places like Maharashtra were becoming so common that the prime minister visited the region to grant monetary packages to the farmers. Suicide notes had been written to the government in many cases, as the act became political; one in which the farmers were trying to make a statement about the conditions in which they were living. Environmental Disadvantage The Green Revolution has also been widely criticized for causing environmental damage. Excessive and inappropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides has polluted waterways, poisoned agricultural workers, and killed beneficial insects and other wildlife. Irrigation practices have led to salt build-up and eventual abandonment of some of the best farming lands. Groundwater levels are retreating in areas where more water is being pumped for irrigation than can be replenished by the rains.

And heavy dependence on a few major cereal varieties has led to the loss of biodiversity on farms. Some of these outcomes were inevitable as millions of largely illiterate farmers began to use modern inputs for the first time, but inadequate extension and training, an absence of effective regulation of water quality, and input pricing and subsidy policies made modern inputs too cheap and encouraged excessive use also created negative environmental impacts. The increasing pressure of the population on the land dictates the need for the potential utilization of all available land. However, large parts of the land are degraded by desertification, soil salinity, waterlogging, floods, and droughts, due to inefficient agricultural practices, and deforestation has caused excessive soil erosion. Approximately 95–98% of the area under rice-wheat is irrigated. Irrigation from groundwater accounts for 60–65% of the total irrigation requirement and the remaining 35–40% is met through canals (Singh, 2000). This intensive exploitation has caused groundwater problems. The use of agro-chemicals in Haryana is the highest in India. Fertilizer consumption has increased from 3 to 130 kg ha−1 in the last 30 years. Fertilizer use for rice and wheat is 160 and 170 kg ha−1, respectively (Singh, 2000). There is an imbalance in the N, P, and K consumption ratio in rice-wheat crops. The use of K is also low in this region. There is a definite trend in the accumulation of nitrates to toxic levels in the groundwater. Effects On The Population The toll that the inaccurate use of Green Revolution technologies has taken on the physical environment is vast and it will take years for the soil to get healthy, that is if there is an active move towards sustainable farming practices. However, what is even scarier is the indirect toll that the pollution of the soil and water has taken on the people living in these areas.

Even though not many studies have been conducted, the rise in health problems in the northwest region of India, like Punjab and Haryana, has reached epidemic proportions. A few research studies which have been mentioned highlight the impact of pesticides on people more particularly on women, who are assigned these hazardous tasks. Instances of illegal land-fills in urban areas have also affected the women in the form of their breast milk getting poisoned. Using of biomass has affected the women and the girl children as they are the ones involved in cooking. Women exposed to pesticides such as DDT have hypothyroidism – a situation in which the thyroid gland is unable to, produce requisite processes. This leads to problems such as weight gain, lack of energy, and falling hair. Pesticide exposure can lead a Leukemia in children. This has been proved by studies conducted by Sachadeva and Dutta (2002) Department of Pediatrics at Lady Harding Medical College, New Delhi who stated that, Pesticides cause biological changes in the body that enable cancer cells to multiply, raise the incidences of brain cancer and acute lymphocyte Leukemia are commonly found among children. High exposure to toxic compounds like pesticides (especially organophosphates) has long been recognized to cause nerve damage; called the nerve gas syndrome. Recent news coverage in the Indian state of Punjab has picked up a specific story of the “Cancer train”. The train that passes through multiple small towns and villages of the state has become infamous for becoming the prime medium of transport used by the growing number of cancer patients in the state so that they can get to the Government hospital in the neighboring state of Rajasthan. From Business Insider to Al Jazeera to NPR, have all picked up this story to bring to the forefront the devastating effects that are becoming visible on the human population. The human component has shaken people up in India and people are becoming more and more varied in chemical technologies, however, the pressure to keep up high yields makes it hard for small land-owning farmers and large land-owning farmers to turn to other sustainable practices like organic farming. The loss of knowledge about traditional farming practices has also resulted in a complete handicap for the farmers of this generation, as they are not equipped to go back to traditional farming practices. Furthermore, it is a serious possibility that the land has been irreparably damaged and might never be fertile enough to be farmed organically. Conclusion The Green Revolution is a great example of compelling and crucial information about technological change in general and technology transfer in particular. It shows that technology is a form of knowledge created by humans and that technology can transcend cultural barriers provided pragmatic institutional changes are implemented. It shows that technological change is a problem-solving activity and essentially a form of knowledge. The Green Revolution involved a change in the knowledge base of the peasant farmers. It occurred as the outcome of a specific set of actions and learning experiences by a wide array of social and institutional actors.

Apart from some of the problems associated with the Green Revolution, such as the unregulated use of pesticides and agricultural machinery by some farmers, it represents a case of a successful technology transfer. Because of the Green Revolution, India became self-sufficient in food grain production. The Green Revolution also lifted large numbers of poor people out of poverty and helped many nonpoor people avoid the poverty and hunger they would have experienced had the Green Revolution not occurred. The largest benefits to the poor were mostly indirect, in the form of lower food prices, increased migration opportunities, and greater employment in the rural nonfarm economy.

The direct benefits to the poor through their on-farm adoption, greater agricultural employment, and empowerment have been more mixed and depend heavily on local socio-economic conditions. In many cases inequalities between regions and communities that adopted Green Revolution technologies and those that did not also worsen. At the same time, the Green Revolution has had many negative environmental impacts that have still to be adequately redressed. The pollution of the soil and the effect of irresponsible irrigation practices has pushed the most fertile land in India to become a desert. India, like many of the emerging economies, where gains from the first Green Revolution were concentrated, is well on their way to agricultural modernization and structural transformation. The policymakers of India now need to move away from the mindset of the 1960s and 1970s where production was the main focus; instead, they have to start reevaluating the methods of production so that sustainable farming can, once again, become mainstream.

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Green Revolution: a Short Lived Boon. (2022, May 28). Retrieved from

Green Revolution: a Short Lived Boon
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