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The Green Revolution

The world's worst recorded food disaster occurred in 1943 in British-ruled India. Known as the Bengal Famine, an estimated 4 million people died of hunger that year in eastern India (which included today's Bangladesh). Initially, this catastrophe was attributed to 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.

Bengal famine

When the British left India in 1947, India continued to be haunted by memories of the Bengal Famine. It was therefore natural that food security was one of the main items 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.

The Green Revolution, spreading over the period from1967/68 to 1977/78, changed India’s status from a food-deficient country to one of the world's leading agricultural nations. Until 1967 the government largely concentrated on expanding the farming areas. But the population was growing at a much faster rate than food production. This called for an immediate and 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 developing countries. India is one of the countries where it was most successful.

Green revolution

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

bullet.gif (62 bytes) Continuing expansion of farming areas
bullet.gif (62 bytes) Double-cropping in the existing farmland
bullet.gif (62 bytes) Using seeds with improved genetics.

The area of land under cultivation was being increased from 1947 itself. But this was not enough to meet the rising demand. Though other methods were required, the expansion of cultivable land also had to continue. So, the Green Revolution continued with this quantitative expansion of farmlands.

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 one rainy season annually. Water for the second phase now came from huge irrigation projects. Dams were built and other simple irrigation techniques were also adopted.

Using seeds with superior genetics was the scientific aspect of the Green Revolution. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (which was established by the British in 1929) was reorganized in 1965 and then again in 1973. It developed new strains of high yield variety seeds, mainly wheat and rice and also millet and corn.

The Green Revolution was a technology package comprising material components of improved high yielding varieties of two staple cereals (rice and wheat), irrigation or controlled water supply and improved moisture utilization, fertilizers, and pesticides, and associated management skills.


Thanks to the new seeds, tens of millions of extra tonnes of grain a year are being harvested.


The Green Revolution resulted in a record grain output of 131 million tonnes in 1978/79. This established India as one of the world's biggest agricultural producers. Yield per unit of farmland improved by more than 30% between1947 (when India gained political independence) and 1979. The crop area under high yielding varieties of wheat and rice grew considerably during the Green Revolution.

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



In spite of this, India's agricultural output sometimes falls short of demand even today. India has failed to extend the concept of high yield value seeds to all crops or all regions. In terms of crops, it remains largely confined to foodgrains only, not to all kinds of agricultural produce.


In regional terms, only the states of Punjab and Haryana showed the best results of the Green Revolution. The eastern plains of the River Ganges in West Bengal also showed reasonably good results. But results were less impressive in other parts of India.

The Green Revolution has created some problems mainly to adverse impacts on the environment. The increasing use of agrochemical-based pest and weed control in some crops has affected the surrounding environment as well as human health. Increase in the area under irrigation has led to rise in the salinity of the land. Although high yielding varieties had their plus points, it has led to significant genetic erosion.

Since the beginning of agriculture, people have been working to improving seed quality and variety. But the term ‘Green Revolution’ was coined in the 1960s after improved varieties of wheat dramatically increased yields in test plots in northwest Mexico. The reason why these ‘modern varieties’ produced more than traditional varieties was that they were more responsive to controlled irrigation and to petrochemical fertilizers. With a big boost from the international agricultural research centres created by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the ‘miracle’ seeds quickly spread to Asia, and soon new strains of rice and corn were developed as well.

By the 1970s the new seeds, accompanied by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and, for the most part, irrigation, had replaced the traditional farming practices of millions of farmers in developing countries. By the 1990s, almost 75% of the area under rice cultivation in Aisa was growing these new varieties. The same was true for almost half of the wheat planted in Africa and more than half of that in Latin America and Asia, and more than 50% of the world's corn as well. Overall, a very large percentage of farmers in the developing world were using Green Revolution seeds, with the greatest use found in Asia, followed by Latin America.

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