page:
contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width
clip to blog
click to zoom in click to zoom in  
page:
contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width
clip to blog

egy — the "land transformation" programme — was put forward. The strategy recognized the need to plan from the bottom, to consider every individual village and sometimes every individual field. The programme achieved major successes. Indeed, the rate of growth of total crop production was higher during this period than in the years following the introduction of the Green Revolution.

However, while Indian scientists and policy makers were working out self-reliant and ecologically-sound alternatives for the regeneration of agriculture in India, another vision of agricultural development was taking shape within the international aid agencies and large US foundations. Alarmed by growing peasant unrest in the newly independent countries of Asia, agencies like the World Bank, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the US Agency for International Development and others looked towards the intensification of agriculture as a means of "stabilizing" the countryside — and in particular of defusing the call for a wider redistribution of land and other resources. Above all, the US wished to avoid other Asian countries' following in the revolutionary footsteps of China. In 1961, the Ford Foundation thus launched its Intensive Agricultural Development Programme in India, intended to "release" Indian agriculture from "the shackles of the past" through the introduction of modern, intensive chemical farming.

Adding to the perceived geopolitical need to intensify agriculture was pressure from western agrochemical companies anxious to ensure higher fertilizer consumption overseas. Since the early 1950s, the Ford Foundation had been pushing for increased fertilizer use by Indian farmers, as had the World Bank and USAID — with some success. Whilst the government's First Five Year Plan viewed artificial fertilizers as supplementary to organic manures, the second and subsequent plans gave a direct and crucial role to fertilizers. But native varieties of wheat tend to "lodge", or fall over, when subject to intensive fertilizer applications. The new "dwarf varieties developed by Borlaug, however, were specifically designed to overcome this problem: shorter and stifferstemmed, they could absorb chemical fertilizer, to which they were highly receptive, without lodging.

By the mid 1960s, India's agricultural policies were geared to pushing the introduction of the new "miracle" seeds developed by Borlaug. The programme came to

be known as the New Agricultural Strategy. It concentrated on one-tenth of the arable land, and initially on only one crop — wheat. By 1968, nearly half the wheat planted came from Borlaug's dwarf varieties.

A host of new institutions were established to provide the research required to develop further the Green Revolution, to disseminate the seeds, and to educate people in the appropriate agricultural techniques. By 1969, the Rockefeller Foundation, in co-operation with the Ford Foundation, had established the Centro International de Agriculture Tropical (CIAT) in Colombia and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria. In 1971, at the initiative of Robert McNamara, the President of the World Bank, the Consultative Group on Interna-

The "miracle " seeds of

the Green Revolution

have become mechanisms for breeding new pests and creating new diseases.

tional Agricultural Research (CGIAR) was formed to finance the growing network of international agricultural centres (IARCs). Since 1971, nine more IARCs have been added to the CGIAR system. Over the last two decades, FAO has played a key role in promoting the Green Revolution package of "improved" seeds, agrochemicals and irrigation schemes.

The Myth of High Yields The term "high-yielding varieties" is a misnomer, because it implies that the new seeds are high yielding of themselves. The distinguishing feature of the seeds, however, is that they are highly responsive to certain key inputs such as fertilizers and irrigation water. The term "high-responsive varieties" is thus more appropriate.

In the absence of additional inputs of fertilizers and water, the new seeds perform worse than indigenous varieties. The gain in output is insignificant compared to the increase in inputs. The measurement of output is also biased by restricting it to the marketable elements of crops. But, in a country like India, crops have traditionally been bred to produce not just food for

humans, but fodder for animals and organic fertilizer for soils. In the breeding strategy for the Green Revolution, multiple uses of plant biomass seem to have been consciously sacrificed for a single use. An increase in the marketable output of grain has been achieved at the cost of a decrease in the biomass available for animals and soils from, for example, stems and leaves, and a decrease in ecosystem productivity due to the over-use of resources.

Significantly, much of the increased yield obtained by planting the new HYV varieties consists of water. Increasing the nitrogen uptake of plants through using artificial fertilizers upsets their carbon/ nitrogen balance, causing metabolic problems to which the plant reacts primarily by taking up extra water.

India is a centre of genetic diversity of rice. Out of this diversity, Indian peasants and tribals have selected and improved many indigenous high yielding varieties (see Winin Pereira, this issue). Comparative studies of 22 rice growing systems have shown that indigenous systems are more efficient when inputs of labour and energy are taken into account.2

Loss of Diversity Diversity is a central principle of traditional agriculture in the Punjab, as in the rest of India. Such diversity contributed to ecological stability, and hence to ecosystem productivity. The lower the diversity in an ecosystem, the higher its vulnerability to pests and disease.

The Green Revolution package has reduced genetic diversity at two levels. First, it replaced mixtures and rotations of crops like wheat, maize, millets, pulses and oil seeds with monocultures of wheat and rice. Second, the introduced wheat and rice varieties came from a very narrow genetic base. Of the thousands of dwarf varieties bred by Borlaug, only three were eventually used in the Green Revolution. On this narrow and alien genetic base the food supplies of millions are precariously perched.

Increasing Pesticide Use Because of their narrow genetic base, HYVs are inherently vulnerable to major pests and diseases. As the Central Rice Research Institute, in Cuttack, India, notes of rice: "The introduction of high yielding varie-

58

The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991 The Colonization of the Seed The technological transformation of seeds is justified by scientists and industrialists in the language of "improvement" and increase of "economic value". However, "improvement" and "value" are not neutral terms. What is improvement in one context is often regression in another. What is value added from one perspective is value lost from another. The "improvement" of seeds is essentially a political process, shifting control over biological diversity from peasants to transnational corporations and changing a self-reproducing resource into a mere "input".

The ability of the seed to reproduce itself is an important barrier to the penetration of agriculture by the corporate sector. In planting each year's crop farmers also reproduce a necessary part of their means of production. Modern plant breeding is primarily an attempt to remove this biological obstacle to corporate control of the market in seeds. Self-reproducing seed is free, a common resource under the farmer's control. Corporate seed, however, has a cost and is under the control of the corporate sector or the agricultural research institutes. The cycle of regeneration of biodiversity is thus replaced by a linear flow of free germplasm from farms and forests into labs and research stations, and the flow of modified uniform products as priced commodities from corporations to farmers.

Winnowing wheat, Uttar Pradesh, India. Traditionally, farmers keep part of their grain harvest to plant the following year. "Improved" seeds, however, have to be bought for each harvest as their productivity decreases with succesive generations, increasing dependency and debt in farming communities. (Photo: Mark Edwards/Still Pictures)

The new biotechnologies, and especially the development of crops resistant to brand-name herbicides, will increase farmers' reliance on technology. Whether a chemical is added externally or internally, it remains an external input in the ecological cycle of the reproduction of seed.

ties has brought about a marked change in the status of insect pests like gall midge, brown planthopper, leaf-folder, whore maggot, etc. Most of the high-yielding varieties released so far are susceptible to major pests with a crop loss of 30-100 per cent."3 Even where new varieties are specially bred for resistance to disease, "breakdown in resistance can occur rapidly and in some instances replacement varieties may be required every three years or so."4 In the Punjab, the rice variety PR 106, which currently accounts for 80 per cent of the area under rice cultivation, was considered resistant to whitebacked planthopper and stem rot when it was introduced in 1976. It has since become susceptible to both diseases, in addition to succumbing to rice leaf-f older, hispa, stemborer and several other insect pests.

The natural vulnerability of HYVs to pests has been exacerbated by other aspects of the Green Revolution package. Large-scale monoculture provides a large and often permanent niche for pests, turning minor diseases into epidemics; in addition, fertilizers have been found to lower plants' resistance to pests. The result has been a massive increase in the use of pesticides, in itself creating still further pest problems due to the emergence of pesticide-resistant

pests and a reduction in the natural checks on pest populations.

The "miracle" seeds of the Green Revolution have thus become mechanisms for breeding new pests and creating new diseases. Yet the costs of pesticides or of breeding new "resistant" varieties was never counted as part of the "miracle" of the new seeds.

Soil Erosion

Over the centuries, the fertility of the IndoGangetic plains was preserved through treating the soil as a living system, with soil-depleting crops being rotated with soilbuilding legumes. Twenty years of "Farmers' Training and Education Schemes", however, have transformed the Punjab farmer into an efficient, i f unwilling, "soil bandit".

Marginal land or forests have been cleared to make way for the expansion of agriculture; rotations have been abandoned; and cropland is now used to grow soildepleting crops year-in, year-out. Since the start of the Green Revolution, the area under wheat, for example, has nearly doubled and the area under rice has increased five-fold. During the same period,

the area under legumes has been reduced by half. Today, 84 per cent of the Punjab is under cultivation, as against 42 per cent for India as a whole. Only four per cent of the Punjab is now "forest", most of this being plantations of Eucalyptus.5

The result of such agricultural intensification has been "a downward spiralling of agricultural land use — from legume to wheat to wasteland."6 The removal of legumes from cropping patterns, for example, has removed a major source of free nitrogen from the soil. In addition, the new HYVs reduce the supply of fodder and organic fertilizer available to farmers. Traditional varieties of sorghum yield six pounds of straw per acre for every pound of grain. By contrast modern rice varieties produce equivalent amounts of grain and straw. This has contributed to the thirtyfold rise in fertilizer consumption in the state since the inception of the Green Revolution.

Increased fertilizer use, however, has not compensated for the over-use of the soil. High-yielding varieties rapidly deplete micronutrients from soils and chemical fertilizers (unlike organic manures which contain a wide range of trace elements) cannot compensate for the loss. Micronutrient deficiencies of zinc, iron, copper,

The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991

59