Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Green Revolution

            In the early 1960s developments in agricultural production, sponsored by international funding agencies, led to what came to be called the Green Revolution. These developments emphasized hybrid seeds, mechanization, and pest control as answers to the agricultural backwardness of the Third World. High-yielding varieties were promoted, as was the use of pesticides, and economies of scale of production, which could be successful only through mechanization of agriculture. This initiative did result in much better production figures across a range of countries. However, the Green Revolution has been criticized by environmentalists and others for resulting in environmental disasters in the countries where it was most effective. Mechanization of agriculture, where successful, led to changing work and social patterns, an exacerbation of class divisions in society, and the displacement of minority groups like tribal peoples and politically marginalized groups such as women from agricultural production. Further, new types of crops were not resistant to local diseases and required high levels of pesticides which polluted the local waterways, impoverished the land, and also increased the dependency of many Third World countries on the West with import of pesticides. Moreover, the commercialization of agriculture led to the exporting of food out of the local areas, increasing the dependence of producers on market forces that did not always benefit the majority of producers.

            The development and use of high-yielding crops (HYVs) in conjunction with improved agricultural technology. New breeds of crops have been developed to increase yields two to four times, to shorten the time required for growth such that more than one crop a year can be produced, and to produce a plant which can withstand extremes of climate or disease. The use of Mexican wheat has doubled yields in the Punjab, and HYV rice has been used to such effect in the Philippines that imports are no longer necessary. The green revolution has had most impact in South and East Asia, and in South America, but has not been taken up to the same extent in sub-Saharan Africa.
There have been drawbacks, however. The grain may not be as palatable or as attractive in appearance as the grain it replaces, and it may use up more energy to process. Seeds have to be bought, as the hybrids are not self-fertile, and some varieties are less resistant to drought and disease. Heavy applications of expensive fertilizers and insecticides are required and these are often made from non-renewable resources.
Herbicides are required because the fertilizer stimulates weed growth as well as crop growth. The high yields and reliance on artificial fertilizers can lead to impoverished soils. Traditional rice exporters, like Burma, have seen the collapse of their markets. Increased yields mean that landowners can use their holdings more profitably and this often means that tenants are dispossessed. Copious, but strictly regulated, irrigation is required.
The green revolution has benefited the most prosperous farmers in the most prosperous areas but its price is too high for many of the peasants who need its help. To that extent, it has only been a partial success.

Before the green revolution the canal system laid by the British was the principle means of irrigation.  Table 4 and Figure 3 below show that in 1950 canals provided 81 percent of all irrigation.  At the time tubewells were insignificant.  The green revolution introduced tubewells on a mass level into the landscape of the countryside.  By 1992-93 one quarter of all irrigated land was irrigated with tubewells.  The number of tubewells simply mushroomed from a few hundred in 1960, to 76,000 in 1968, and 156,00 in 1975. 

Circumstantial evidence suggests that this deterioration is at least partly due to some chemical mechanism, probably affecting the formation/gravel filter interface. Systematic studies and rehabilitation trials are urgently required to establish effective remedial measures for existing wells and modifications of design for future wells.






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