Chapter 4: The Revolution
In 1964 and 1965, the threat of famine echoed throughout India, casting fear into the minds of every politician. Though states like Punjab and Rajasthan were food secure, other states like Uttar Pradesh were on the verge of severe crisis. One interview respondent told me that his grandfather, who regularly traveled through Uttar Pradesh for work purposes, would notice men and women on the side of the rail tracks examining the paper debris for hints of leftover food. Thus, the situation was dire. In order to forestall the onset of the crisis, the Indian government relied on Punjab, a state endowed with fertile soil and a sophisticated network of irrigation canals, to adopt high-yielding crop varieties. With the introduction of Mexican wheat, and a resultant increase in yield from 7 kg per acre to 13 kg per acre, the Revolution was sparked. There are many papers that document the timeline of the Green Revolution and the introduction of high-yielding varieties. Since this literature already exists, I will give a brief summary of the current field’s findings rather than venturing into repetitive terrain.
The Green Revolution was marked by three main transitions. First, there was an increase in cultivated area. Second, there was a rise in productivity per acre. Third, there was a shift in the cropping pattern. The increase in cultivated area came with a significant decrease in the amount of fallow acreage. With the Green Revolution’s propagation of chemical fertilizers spread a myth. This myth told that land did not have to sit fallow because the new fertilizers assisted in the rejuvenation of soil fertility. Thus, land under cultivation increased from 88.6% in 1950 to 96% in 1966. The improved irrigation systems in combination with new seed varieties, fertilizers, and high functioning technology augmented the rate of productivity. Whereas only 40% of the land was irrigated in 1950, 65% was irrigated by 1966. This land was sowed with improved seed varieties of wheat, rice, sugar cane, and cotton. Fertilizers were adapted to the specific seed varieties, injecting them with calculated doses of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate. The fertilizer attracted more herbivorous insects, setting the table for a large serving of pesticides. In fact, pesticide usage has increased 44% in 30 years. As the use of pesticides and fertilizers increased, so did the appearance of agricultural implements and labor-saving devices. Prior to 1965, there were no electric wells in Sher Pur Kalan. This changed with the Green Revolution. Specifically, the use of tubewells in Punjab during the Green Revolution grew by 6.6% per year among farmers that abided by the wheat-rice cropping system. These new hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural implements brought Punjab’s wheat and rice productivity level to almost double the respective national averages. As I’ve already hinted, the Green Revolution sponsored a significant shift in cropping pattern. From 1980-81 to 2003-2004, the amount of land under rice increased from 1,118,000 ha to 2,614,000 ha. Consequently, rice production shot up from 200,000 tons to 9 million tons. In addition, a significant increase in the amount of land devoted to wheat raised wheat production from 1.7 million to 15 million tons in Punjab.
As mentioned above, the Indian government was one of a few puppet masters’ in the Green Revolution. To secure food sovereignty and obtain political impunity for India, the government first had to promote the acceptance of the Green Revolution among farmers. The Indian government followed both a systematic and a more insidious approach to accomplish their agenda. On the systematic side, the government increased spending on agriculture-related projects. For example, irrigation projects occupied a $310 million portion of the government budget in 1970. In addition to providing subsidies for the purchase of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the Indian government also distributed loans for high-yielding seeds and agricultural implements. One of the government’s most influential actions was supporting the establishment of cooperative societies. Cooperative Societies were created to connect farmers to desired resources. From 1951 to 1969, membership in Punjabi cooperative societies increased from 387,000 to 1.4 million. In that time, farmers secured a total of $150 million in loans through these collectives. In talking with Sher Pur Kalan’s branch of the Cooperative Society, I learned more about the society’s services. Whereas other vendors of fertilizers and pesticides increase the price of these inputs when there is a shortage, the Cooperative Society always maintains the wholesale price. Additionally, the Cooperative Society rents out implements at a much lower rate than other retailers. Perhaps the most appealing feature of the society is their interest rates on loans. The interest rate is only 7% as opposed to the usurious interest rate offered by moneylenders.
Though some of the government’s policies were successful in promoting modern agricultural techniques, they still faced resistance from the Punjabi farmers. Motivated by an urgent desire to achieve food sovereignty, the government was willing to play dirty. The government’s pawn in their guerilla warfare tactics was the Gram Savak. Literally translated to “village servant,” the role of the Gram Savak was to endorse modern practices within their respective villages. To ignite modernized farming on the village level, the Gram Savak combined forces with the numberada (tax collector) to determine how much land each farmer owned. Based off this information, the Savak would specifically target certain farmers, tinkering their marketing tactics based on the audience’s landholdings. One example of such tactics was the Savak’s invention of “special deals.” For every 3kg of super phosphate purchased by the farmers, the Savak would provide a 1kg bag free of charge. The Savak also distributed free bags of fertilizer to willing recipients. According to one respondent, only 1 in 100 farmers accepted these deals. Some of the farmers who didn’t comply with the government’s agenda were outspoken about their adherence to traditional practices, telling others that the government’s chemical handout would “spoil their land.” To push the fertilizers on this bunch of outspoken individuals, the government devised a new strategy. Government representatives would go around and secretly sprinkle fertilizers into fields. Once the farmers noticed the increase in yield, the Gram Savak would then reveal their devious deeds.
To energize the Savak’s grassroots campaign, the government manipulated marketing tactics. For example, the government promoted pesticides as a medicine rather than a poison, portraying the spray as an elixir for nutrient-deficient land. After witnessing the tremendous yield increases resulting from the employment of pesticides and fertilizers, the farmers took little convincing though. First slowly, then all at once, the farmers left behind the practices inherited from their forefathers and hopped onto the commercial bandwagon.
Anonymous. Land record manager. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 5 May 2019.
Mann, Satvinder K, Professor, Personal Interview, Ludhiana, Punjab, 23 April 2019.
Anonymous. Former farmer and activist. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 21 April 2019.
Sorkin, Alan. “The Green Revolution.” Growth and Change: A Journal of Urban and Regional Policy. Vol 2, Issue 3 (1971): Page 36. May 3, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2257.1971.tb00217.x
Singh, Sukhwinder, Julian Park, Jennie Litten-Brown. “The economic sustainability of cropping systems in Indian Punjab: A farmers’ perspective.” (2011): Page 3.
Singh, Sukhwinder, and Dinesh K. Benbi. 2016. “Punjab-Soil Health and Green Revolution: A Quantitative Analysis of Major Soil Parameters.” Journal of Crop Improvement 30 (3): 323–40. doi:10.1080/15427528.2016.1157540
Kaur Sangha, Kamaljit. 2014. “Modern Agricultural Practices and Analysis of Socioeconomic and Ecological Impacts of Development in Agriculture Sector, Punjab, India - a Review.” Indian Journal of Agricultural Research 48 (5): 331–41. doi:10.5958/0976-058X.2014.01312.2
Anonymous. Cooperative society employee. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 29 April 2019.
Anonymous. Farmer. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 20 April 2019.