Why the Green Revolution did not bring food security
By Randeep Wadehra
WHEN THE Borlaug seed fertiliser technology was introduced during the mid-1960s, the growth in India’s agricultural output began to gradually catch up with its population growth rate, and eventually outpaced it. Not surprisingly, the technology became our main strategy for increasing food and agricultural output. From 1962-65 to the beginning of 1990s, before the initiation of economic reforms in 1991, the agricultural policy operated within a planned economic framework. The strategy of agricultural development constituted a part and parcel of the overall planning of the Indian economy. The Plan outlays accorded priority to public investment in rural infrastructure in general, and in irrigation in particular. Substantial resources were invested in large, medium and minor irrigation projects in both the central and state plans.
However, the gains of new technology were not spread evenly throughout various states and regions of the country. Moreover, several experts — including environmentalists like Vandana Shiva — have pointed out that the Green Revolution may have significantly increased the outputs of wheat and rice, but at the cost of domestic output of pulses and oilseeds, among other crops. This study, too, admits that the introduction of Borlaug technology increased the yield levels of mainly wheat, and later, rice. Policymakers laid great stress upon agricultural R&D and extension services. A number of agricultural universities were established under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research for combining the functions of education, research and extension. Policies were formulated to provide cheap institutional credit and subsidies to encourage farmers to invest in irrigation, including tanks, pump-sets and irrigation structures. Both irrigation and power tariffs were hugely subsidised. However, if you look at the overall rate of agricultural growth — 3 percent — it is really not impressive by any standards, and lends credence to the arguments presented by Vandana Shiva and other like-minded experts that one set of crops prospered at the cost of another set of crops, which were equally vital to the Indian economy’s health.
The authors point out that the agricultural price policy aims at keeping food prices low in the interest of food security, which is sought to be ensured by augmenting domestic production although imports of such items as sugar, edible oils and even food grain have become quite frequent over a period of time.
BUT, WE have seen how the pricing policy has manifestly failed to ensure even a modicum of food security. In fact, it has neither benefited the majority of farmers — who have small to marginal land holdings — nor has managed to keep the food prices down. Our present high inflation rates are largely, if not primarily, due to the rising food prices.
Actually, the current regime of agriculture pricing and subsidies has helped only rich farmers, while the majority of the rest don’t even get the benefits of such pricing policies. There is a need to revisit the entire structure of agricultural pricing and overall management of its growth.
Our policymakers and researchers would find this volume quite useful.