Chapter 2: Before the Revolution
Prior to the Green Revolution in the 1960s, most farmers in the village of Sher Pur Kalan lived like the preacher. They practiced subsistence agriculture, growing every crop that their families required for sustenance. Since farmers did not rely on outside agribusiness corporations for the procurement of seeds, they would collect, dry, and store their own seeds. In this way, the farmers exercised a degree of liberty from the market.
In the 1950s, the fields of Punjab were painted by various shades of green. Farmers grew 37 different crops, most native to the Punjabi soil. Of these crops, food grains were the most dominant, covering 64.7% of the land, whereas pulses and cotton occupied 19.08% and 9.45% of the land respectively. Though certain crops, like wheat, were heavily represented in the pre-Green Revolution land plot, the farmers’ food baskets cradled an assortment of legumes, vegetables, and herbs. One farmer reported growing chickpeas and black gram, while another declared that his fields harbored groundnut, pearl millet, sugar cane, maize, and different herbs. As compared to the modern agricultural situation, there were far fewer non-native species of crops. Of the little rice grown prior to the Green Revolution, a substantial portion was basmati rice, a native species that requires less water than the new high-yielding variety. Even foreign crops, like carrots and potatoes, that perform well in the local climatic conditions were passed over in favor of traditional crops like tindah and bottle gourd. The fields were families, composed of crops that had shared the same rich, Punjabi soil for hundreds of thousands of years.
In 1962, the village of Sher Pur Kalan had only one tractor. To grow and harvest the gifts of their land, farmers used basic forms of technology. In preparation for sowing, the farmers hooked their wooden and iron plows to a set of burly oxen, whose contribution to the harvest rivaled the sun’s. Even with the two bullocks bearing the brunt of the burden, there were numerous tasks that remained manual. An 84-year-old farmer, whose sense of youth and vigor contradicted the bamboo cane that supported his weight, carried me into his past to shed light on this labor. In our interview, he described the hours that slowly rolled past as he lost his mind to the repetitive rhythm of hand-cutting fodder with a wooden sickle. In the Punjabi summer heat, this farmer spent long, arduous hours weeding fields of maize, taking very few breaks throughout the course of the day. He emphasized that the lack of technology translated into more work despite lower yields. Another respondent explained that it was a lack of knowledge, rather than a lack of machinery, that led to the misalignment between labor and yield. According to this respondent, the generation prior to the Green Revolution opted for techniques that increased their workload. For example, that generation sowed their seeds very close together. Since the plants were packed so close together, the farmers were unable to manipulate weed-extraction tools that save time and effort. Additionally, many were unaware of practices such as mulching that prevent moisture from escaping the soil.
Another factor that affected the pre-Green Revolution style of agriculture was the farmers’ avoidance of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Only a few people were using urea, a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, to promote fodder growth. Other farmers sprinkled a few meager handfuls of ammonium sulphate in their fields. One farmer vividly remembers when he first noticed the use of ammonium sulphate. This farmer recalled that the sulphate looked nearly identical to the sugar pellets that he had at home. Thus, in an attempt to sweeten his morning, the farmer swept a few of the pellets towards his mouth. Luckily, a bystander recognized the pellets and scolded the farmer for his insolence before he had ingested the toxic fertilizer. Despite the occasional use of urea and ammonium sulphate prior to the 1960s, the major trend amongst farmers was to avoid such fertility enhancers. Instead, to ensure the plants’ health, farmers would leave irrigated fields fallow and spread cow dung over their land (15). These natural fertilizing methods provided the soil’s microorganisms with plenty of organic matter to satisfy their appetites.
Mann, Satvinder K, Professor, Personal Interview, Ludhiana, Punjab, 23 April 2019.
Anonymous. Farmers. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 20 April 2019.
- Gill, Sucha. (2005). Economic Distress and Farmer Suicides in Rural Punjab.
Anonymous. Farmer and family. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 20 April 2019; Anonymous. Farmers. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 18 April 2019.
Anonymous. Retired farmer and activist. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 21 April 2019.
Anonymous. Land record manager. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 5 May 2019.
Anonymous. Retired farmers. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 27 April 2019.
Singh, Sunny. Organic farmer. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 7 May 2019.