How green was the Green Revolution?

Debunking the Indian Farmer Crisis.


Anna Abraham, Founding Editor

Illustration by Suryansh Deo Srivastava

Farmers in India, arguably, form one of the most oppressed sections of society. From their basic land rights being trivialised to being duped by middlemen, farmers face the brunt of all agricultural issues.

The Green Revolution in India is often hailed as the saviour of supposedly failing Indian agriculture. However, there is a discourse around the fact that there may have been absolutely nothing green about the Green Revolution at all. Dr Vandana Shiva, the founder of Navdanya, has gone on to speak of what she calls the violence of the Green Revolution.

India has been blessed with fertile soils, good climate and perhaps every needed resource to carry out sustainable, successful farming – with potentially four crops a year as opposed to the one-crop-a-year pattern observed by the industrialised West. Yet, we face an acute farmer crisis. Back in 1905, Sir Howard came to India and saw the sustainable farming practices here. Impressed with the organic non-pesticide manner of farming, he asked Indian farmers to help him propagate this message and practice of farming all over the world. However, this manner of farming did not continue for much longer and we are now faced with the seemingly endless farmer crisis.

The Indian agricultural crisis today is threefold, with the poor facing extreme hunger, the very producers of the food facing poverty, and the ones with access to the food are consuming low quality, almost contaminated specimens of it. These issues are undoubtedly interlinked and it can be traced back to the Green Revolution. The methods of industrial agriculture and chemical farming that the Green Revolution has promoted is the root cause of the current dilemma.

This intensive usage of chemical monocultures hurts the biodiversity of the soil and crop.

The ‘Green Revolution’ was founded by Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize Laureate and so-called ‘Father of the Green Revolution’, also credited with ‘saving millions from starvation’. His technique involved what is called the high-yielding variety of seeds (HYVs). These are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that supposedly give a higher yield to the farmer. However, farming with these seeds entails a high dosage of pesticides, herbicides, etc (chemical monocultures) that need to be meted out to the crops. This intensive usage of chemical monocultures hurts the biodiversity of the soil and crop. The green revolution of chemical monocultures also destroyed our soils rotational and strip farming practices. Where previously urad and moong, tur and chana, ghat and naurangi were grown, the Green Revolution forced imported ‘yellow pea dal’ to be produced and on the lands of til and mustard, alsi and coconut, GMO soya oil and palm oil are imposed. This move away from nutritious biodiverse crops is bound to cause malnourishment and an increase in diseases related to the chemical poisons in farming. One such epidemic disease is cancer in Punjab, especially amongst farmers practising this GMO farming. Of the fifteen pesticides used in farming, at least seven are found to be carcinogenic by the US Environment Protection Agency. They contaminate the soil and water and have caused umpteen farmers to face a cancerous plague of their own. Shockingly, there goes a train from Bhatinda to Bikaner, nicknamed the ‘Cancer Express’ that on an average carries about 100 patients suffering from cancer in addition to other passengers who travel to Bikaner for affordable cancer care. Accounts from the farmers show that the pesticides they use often burn their hands and the general sentiment around the chemicals used depicts its poisonous nature.

A study conducted by Dr Vandana Shiva and reinforced by Dr Jatindar Bajaj shows that the rate of growth of aggregate crop production was higher prior to the Green Revolution in India. The study suggests that if anything, the Green Revolution has only destroyed Indian soil and biodiversity. The faces of GMO technology and Industrial Agriculture would have the public believe that their method works to stay in business and keep pollutive industrial chemical producers running. The Indian famine is real and was intensified by the Green Revolution. As per the study, the Green Revolution reduced India’s production.

This GMO farming is undeniably nutritionally insufficient. The genetically engineered ‘golden rice’ is 350% less efficient in providing Vitamin as compared to biodiverse organic substitutes. The GMO ‘iron-rich’ banana has 3000% less iron than turmeric. Apart from this abhorrent nutritional value, GMOs are depleting our natural resources causing a massive increase in pollution and are a key factor in understanding farmer suicide in India – a number which even the government has shamefully not released.

It is pertinent that India takes on organic and biodiverse farming to revive our depleted soils and shift back to our traditional farming methods. A western outlook on eastern soil has almost never been helpful and it’s time we practice age-old Indian techniques to solve the crisis at hand and revive local economies.


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Anna studies journalism and mass communication at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. She is a public policy enthusiast and, tries to engage with activism and implement awareness through content creation. She is passionate about gender issues and climate activism. Her Instagram handle is @anna.abrhm.