Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Did the Green Revolution Succeed in India?

Saby Ganguly (an Indian business writer who was a former editorial consultant to the World Organization of Building Officials (WOBO), an affiliate of the United Nations) wrote a report on the success of the green revolution in India entitled: “From the Bengal Famine to the Green Revolution

Yield per unit of farmland, Ganguly wrote, “improved by more than 30 per cent between 1947 [when India gained political independence from the British] and 1979 when the Green Revolution was considered to have delivered its goods."
The ‘green revolution’ didn’t begin until 1967 so the writer is counting 20 years of increasing agricultural yield from India’s ‘Land Transformation Program’ and only 12 years of increasing yield from the Green Revolution. The tick for success in this period, however, is given by Ganguly to the GR. This is also irrespective of the fact that the variety of crops used in the GR needed more water, more fertilizer, more fungicides and other chemicals.

Then, later in the article, Saby Ganguly switches tack altogether and refers to the green revolution as being a success in terms of the extra gross domestic product (GDP) generated. That is, the author changes the evaluation methodology for the GR. Extra food yield per unit of land is discarded as a measurement. Instead the GR’s worthiness is now linked to the large number of new jobs created in chemical and fertilizer production and distribution, in ‘scientific’ research, in the building of dams for irrigation and so forth.

India eventually became a food exporter the writer notes. However, farmland areas were increased to grow more food under both the Indian Land Transformation Program and the Green Revolution. Saby Ganguly then makes a rather extraordinary understatement in his summation:

“Even today, India's agricultural output sometimes falls short of demand.”

Someone had to point out to him "there are over 200 million hungry people in India today. The FAO estimate that 61% of children under the age of five are malnourished in India, ranking it second highest in the world."

I wondered why Saby Ganguly limited his analysis of the GR to 1979 and not beyond. Very much later in the article he writes: "In 1979 and 1987, India faced severe drought conditions due to poor monsoon..."

That isn’t the end of the drought story, however. In 2004 it was written:
"In last four years India has been experiencing fluctuating foodgrains production but it had never witnessed such a steep fall as in 2002-03 when the decline in foodgrains production is apprehended to be anywhere between 13-14 percent. This is attributed to the worst drought the country has ever experienced. The month of July that normally records highest rainfall in monsoon in India, registered the lowest rainfall in the past 100 years..."[1]

"In the Punjab (known as the bread basket of India), wheat yields have been dropping for a decade because the water table is also dropping – by a metre a year. Debt and farmer suicides are both rising. "[2]

I know that this year the drought in India has caused enormous distress. “A late monsoon and the driest June for 83 years in Northern India is exacerbating the effects of widespread drought.” [3]

India now has a water shortage problem and the Green Revolution was always premised on the ready availability of water. Where to now for agriculture in general in a dryer world allover and where energy scarcity also casts a long shadow?

In April last year the 'International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development' (IAASTD) bureau[4] issued a report entitled 'Agriculture at the Crossroads'.[5]

The IAASTD noted that the mounting crisis in food security around the world is “of a different complexity and potentially different magnitude than the one of the 1960s.” Their report called for a paradigm shift in the way agriculture was carried out as well as in the types of technology used. Hundreds of scientists from around the world that contributed to the IAASTD report and recognized that “Knowledge systems and human ingenuity in science, technology, practice and policy is needed to meet the challenges, opportunities and uncertainties ahead.” Their reports concluded: This recognition will require a shift to nonhierarchical development models” in agriculture.

More on this report later. It can be downloaded here.

[1] Macro-economic overview of India: Agriculture

[2] The Future of Food - episode 1


[4] The IAASTD was initiated in 2002 by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a global consultative process to determine whether an international assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) was needed.



Daro said...

I've been having an on-again, off-again debate with an Indian friend about the (to him) sensitive issue India's overpopulation for a couple of years now. While he's a clever man able to design the very chipsets we see on the mother boards of computers and doesn't require a calculator to perform any maths trick, he will not countenance any notion that India must reduce its birthrate. More! More people is greater! he remonstrates. There are more white people in the world than Indians so why are you complaining? he also asks. I fear I'm not getting through and my analogy about the ultimate tragedy of not tackling the number of multiplying cats in one's neighbourhood out of a sense of misplaced kindness left him slightly, if not grossly, insulted. I'm worried that if his "logic" is the prevailing view in India then the harsh realities of exponential numbers growth in a limited resource environment are going to play mathematical hell with the millions that shoot over carrying capacity. There doesn't even seem to be the first inkling of discussion in India about the possibility of a mass die-off if the issue goes unaddressed. It's taboo and that's that. A check on Google sees the debate is stuck at the idea of possibly distributing more TV's to limit birth growth: sad. All they need is for the monsoon to fail 2x in a row while the population jumps another 200 million and we'll see death rates defying imagination.

Anonymous said...

Peak population can be compared to the situation with peak oil. When does the peak arrive? It depends on how wasteful lifestyles are, what technology is employed in agriculture and in other areas, how the institutions function. At present there is a very large area of agricultural land being covered by biocrops for fuel production because many of those in power want to maintain the existing status quo.

Anonymous said...

I'm worried that if his "logic" is the prevailing view in India then the harsh realities of exponential numbers growth in a limited resource environment are going to play mathematical hell with the millions that shoot over carrying capacity.

it is hard to have one 'prevailing' view in a land of a billion people, and while there are a few ppl who do hold on to this hardline view, there are others who take the opposite stand.
the problem is that people in india who advocate population reduction do it for reducing the number of their rival social groups be they regional, religious, political and other reasons.

and quite honestly, there is going to be hell to pay. deficient monsoons have already shot things to hell this year - production of food grains and pulses have been stagnant to receding, and it remains to be seen what happens after this season. another failure and we are well and truly screwed.

Jimbo said...

Climate change to which India is a major contributor (with USA, China and EU) will be the demise of Indian agricultural gains or at least shift the GR areas like Punjab to other regions and this will happen very soon. Adaptation time.

Azygos said...

Speaking of population growth in India is taboo because Muslims are offended. They have increased their population from 8 to 15. Unofficial estimates are even higher. Very little of it is explained by poverty. The majoritarian complex of Islam is responsible for its high fertility, security is only perceived with strength in numbers