Chapter 5: The Consequences
The publicized outcome of the Green Revolution in Punjab was significant economic growth. Between 1950-51 and 1968-69, agricultural production in Punjab increased by 204% as compared to 66% in all of India. This increase in agricultural productivity led to a spike in the average income of Punjabi citizens. Specifically, per capita income in Punjab increased by 68% while the national per capita income only rose by 36%. With that increase in income, the percentage of the rural Punjabi population below the poverty line decreased from 28.2% in 1972 to 6.2% in 1999.
Prior to the Green Revolution, Punjabi farmers’ main concern was producing enough food for their family. The farmers’ secondary concern was having left-over yield to sell in the market. This system of subsistence agriculture was uprooted with the introduction of high-yielding varieties. After the Green Revolution, farmers transitioned to commercial agriculture. In this form of crop cultivation, farmers specialize in the production of one main crop each season, choosing that crop based on market prices. The objective of commercial agriculture is to maximize profit rather than maximize crop diversity and self-sufficiency. Since food grains proved to be more profitable than legumes, pulses, and other produce, the share of food grains increased from 45.7% to 78.4% from 1960 to 2000. Though many of the farmers that I interviewed have started growing their own household supplies of organic fruits and vegetables, the majority of the land is still dedicated to major cash crops such as wheat and rice. In fact, more than 90% of the farmers interviewed grew wheat and rice on the majority of their land. Even Sunny, a farmer who is in the process of transitioning to organic agriculture, still devotes 13 of his 17 acres to wheat production.
Since the wheat harvest occurred during my stay in Punjab, I had the privilege of seeing the final destination for this wheat. What I saw blew me away. The landscape resembled the Saharan desert, with waves of heat pulsing through the thick air and outlining dunes of golden grain. In this mecca of commercialized wheat, there were few distractions from the mechanic motion of day laborers scooping grain into burlap bags. This production machine halted only once or twice when a cow, lacking all sense of ownership, munched on an unsuspecting farmer’s merchandise. The laborers quickly noticed the thief’s heinous crime, chastising the cow for her bovinity.
With the Green Revolution came an increased reliance on technology. I had the unique pleasure of riding on the symbol of this transition: the combine wheat harvester. Straight out of my nightmares, this 12-foot monster was strapped with a cylinder of spinning prongs that allowed it to chew up the wheat with ease. Over the course of a few seconds, the combine harvester stripped the grass down to its cereal grain, leaving only straw behind. The efficiency of this tool was nothing short of astonishing. I compared this method to hand-cutting grain with a wooden sickle. It took several laborers (including myself) four days to harvest the same amount of wheat that a combine harvester devoured in thirty minutes. Not only was the machine quicker, but also it was less laborious. I didn’t fully grasp the implications of the technological upgrade until, after just one hour of wielding a sickle, I looked down to discover a bouquet of blisters blooming on my raw skin. Though the combine harvester is one of the most critical machines marking the dawn of an automated agricultural era, the list of time-saving agricultural implements utilized by Punjabi farmers is nearly endless. One of the brand names emblazoned on these implements is “Swaraj,” drawing on Gandhi’s vision of economic liberation. This is an ironic analogy for a company whose expensive products often motivate farmers to take out loans, ultimately trapping many in a cycle of debt.
I’ll give it to you straight: the number of chemical fertilizers increased following the Green Revolution. The most common chemical fertilizers today are DAP, urea, and superphosphate. Of the farmers interviewed for this study, all are using one or more of these fertilizers on some portion of their land. To understand how the Green Revolution accelerated farmers’ consumption of fertilizers, I visited the local Cooperative Society. The Cooperative Society deals with the distribution of fertilizers to the village’s farming community, granting me an inside peek at the recent trends in fertilizer usage for the crops of wheat and rice. Racking his memory with a nudge of my investigative probe, an employee at Sher Pur Kalan’s Cooperative Society declared that in the 1990s, urea usage was 50-70 kg per acre per crop and DAP usage was 25-35 kg per acre per crop. In 2000, urea usage rose to 150 kg per acre and DAP usage rose to 50-60 kg per acre per crop. In 2015, urea and DAP hit their peak usage with 300 kg per acre per crop and 80-90 kg per acre per crop respectively. In 2019, usage levels returned to 2000 levels when the farming community realized that wheat and rice could not properly absorb the quantities of fertilizer applied in 2015.
This excess fertilizer actually worked against the plants, attracting more pests and pathogens. To combat these new pests, the decrease in fertilizers was coupled with an increase in pesticides and herbicide. Though the pesticide trends for the Sher Pur Kalan village could not be located, the Government of Punjab’s estimates of increased pesticide usage serve as an honest predictor of the village’s propensities. The Government of Punjab reported that pesticide usage has increased from 3200 kg/ha of technical grade in 1980-81 to 5760 kg/ha of technical grade in 2008-9. Additionally, one farmer from a nearby village noted that in 1977 he was using 3x spray. By 1990, the pest populations had grown so large that he was using 25-30x spray.
Singh, Sukhwinder, Julian Park, Jennie Litten-Brown. “The economic sustainability of cropping systems in Indian Punjab: A farmers’ perspective.” (2011): 1-16
Sorkin, Alan. “The Green Revolution.” Growth and Change: A Journal of Urban and Regional Policy. Vol 2, Issue 3 (1971): Pages. May 3, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2257.1971.tb00217.x
Shergill, H. S. "Wheat and paddy cultivation and the question of optimal cropping pattern for Punjab." JPS 12, no. 2 (2005): 240.
All personal interviews. Conducted from 14 April to 10 May 2019.
Singh, Sunny. Organic farmer. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 7 May 2019.
Anonymous. Cooperative society employee. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 29 April 2019.
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): 335. doi:10.5958/0976-058X.2014.01312.2.
Anonymous. Farmer. Personal interview. Jaito, Punjab. 8 May 2019.