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India's Green Revolution: Economic Gains and Political Costs

India's Green Revolution: Economic Gains and Political Costs

by Francine R. Frankel

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The success of the agricultural policy adopted in 1965 has given India the hope of escaping from its circle of poverty. At the same time the increased rate of economic development seems to have exacerbated social tensions and accentuated disparities that may eventually undermine the foundations of rural political stability.

Originally published in 1971.



The success of the agricultural policy adopted in 1965 has given India the hope of escaping from its circle of poverty. At the same time the increased rate of economic development seems to have exacerbated social tensions and accentuated disparities that may eventually undermine the foundations of rural political stability.

Originally published in 1971.

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Princeton University Press
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Center for International Studies, Princeton University Series

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India's Green Revolution

Economic Gains and Political Costs

By Francine R. Frankel


Copyright © 1971 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07536-5



During the first three five-year plans, India's approach to agricultural development was characterized by a commitment to two co-equal, yet often irreconcilable goals: the economic aim of chieving maximum increases in agricultural output to support rapid industrialization; and the social objective of reducing disparities in rural life.

One of the most difficult dilemmas arose from the obvious economic advantage of concentrating scarce inputs of improved seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and equipment in irrigated areas of the country where they could be expected to bring the greatest returns in output. Indeed, the selection of the first Community Projects in 1952 was guided by this consideration. They were allocated only to districts with assured water from rainfall or irrigation facilities. Almost immediately, however, serious social objection was raised to the practice of "pick[ing] out the best and most favorable spots" for intensive development while the largest part of the rural area was economically backward. Within a year, the principle of selective and intensive development was abandoned. The Planning Commission announced a program for rapid all-India coverage under the National Extension Service and Community Development Program with special attention to backward and less-favored regions.

The social goal of reducing disparities also influenced the selection of methods of agricultural development. The planners were inclined to give only secondary importance to the introduction of costly modem inputs as a means of increasing agricultural productivity. Instead, they devised agricultural development programs based on "intensive cultivation of land by hand — and improving conditions of living in rural areas through community projects, land reforms, consolidation of holdings, etc." Indeed, the planners' strategy for agricultural development rested on the capacity of the Community Development Program to mobilize more than 60 million peasant cultivators for participation in labor-intensive agricultural production programs and community works, including the construction of capital projects. The crux of the approach — the major inducement to greater effort on the part of the small farmers — was the promise of social reform held out by large-scale initiatives for institutional change. The highest priority was assigned to rapid implementation of land reforms, including security of tenure, lower rents, transfer of ownership rights to tenants, and redistribution of land. Meanwhile, state-partnered village cooperatives were created to fortify small farmers with cheap credit facilities and economies of bulk purchase and sale of agricultural commodities.

In retrospect, it was probably inevitable that a development strategy requiring extensive land reforms and institutional change as preconditions for success should meet with powerful opposition from landed groups; and that in a political democracy, where land-owning interests are heavily represented in the legislatures, this resistance should manifest itself in a go-slow approach toward agrarian reform. By the early 1960's, most legislation on tenancy reform and ceilings on land ownership had not been effectively implemented. Yet, in the absence of agrarian reform it proved impossible to provide attractive incentives to the majority of small farmers for participation in labor-intensive agricultural production programs.

Actually, as early as 1958, lagging growth rates in the agricultural sector became a serious limiting factor on the overall rate of economic advance. By the middle of the Third Plan, four years of relatively static production levels (1960-61 through 1963-64) convinced the Planning Commission that continuation of shortfalls in agriculture would jeopardize the entire program of industrial development. Of necessity, some retreat from the social goals of planning had to be contemplated. In 1964, therefore, the planners announced "a fresh consideration of the assumptions, methods, and techniques as well as the machinery of planning and plan implementation in the field of agriculture." Two major departures from previous policy were initiated as a result of this reappraisal: (1) development efforts would subsequently be concentrated in the 20 percent to 25 percent of the cultivated area where supplies of assured water created "fair prospects of achieving rapid increases in production"; and (2) within these areas, there would be a "systematic effort to extend the application of science and technology," including the "adoption of better implements and more scientific methods" to raise yields. In October 1965, the new policy was put into practice when 114 districts (out of 325) were selected for an Intensive Agricultural Areas Program (I.A.A.P.). A model for the new approach already existed in the 15 districts taken up under the pilot Intensive Agricultural Development Program (I.A.D.P.), beginning in 1961. Initially pioneered by the Ford Foundation, the I.A.D.P. emphasized the necessity of providing the cultivator with a complete "package of practices" in order to increase yields, including credit, modem inputs, price incentives, marketing facilities, and technical advice.

The economic rationale of an intensive agricultural areas program was considerably strengthened by the technical breakthrough reported from Taiwan and Mexico in 1965 of the development of new varieties of paddy and wheat seeds, with yield capacities of 5,000 to 6,000 pounds per acre, almost double the maximum potential output of indigenous Indian varieties; and also by the development at Indian research stations in the late 1950's of higher yielding hybrid varieties of maize, bajra, and jowar. In all cases, the availability of controlled irrigation water and the application of the package of modern inputs, especially very high doses of chemical fertilizer and pesticides, were essential preconditions for realizing maximum yield potentials. By November 1965, the Food Ministry was ready with a full-blown version of the "New Strategy": in essence it called for the implementation of a High Yielding Varieties Program in districts that had already been selected for intensive development under the I.A.D.P. and I.A.A.P. schemes, following the same extension concepts embodied in the Package Program.

In the last few years, the High Yielding Varieties Program has assumed "crucial importance" in the Planning Commission's agricultural development strategy. During the period of the Fourth Plan, 1969-74, it is proposed to bring approximately 60,000,000 acres under high-yielding varieties of wheat, rice, maize, jowar, and bajra. Yet, while this area represents less than 30 percent of the total acreage under these crops, over two-thirds of the additional production of food grains targeted for the Fourth Plan is expected to come from it. The 1969 report of the Food Ministry's Expert Committee on Assessment and Evaluation of the Intensive Agricultural District Program enthusiastically endorsed this strategy and recommended "not merely the continued use of the I.A.D.P. approach, but its extension as a spearhead of the total agricultural modernization program for the country as a whole."

The New Strategy already has spectacular economic gains to its credit. For example, with the rapid introduction of high-yielding wheat varieties, production reached a record high of 16.6 million tons in 1967-68, one-third more than the previous peak output of 12.3 million tons achieved in the last good weather year of 1964-65. Moreover, despite a recurrence of drought and other unfavorable seasonal conditions, wheat production in 1968-69 exceeded this new level, giving substance to the slogan of a "green revolution" in the wheat areas. Indeed, in 1969-70, national wheat output rose to another record high of approximately 20 million tons.

The new paddy varieties have shown less striking results. Important technical problems remain to be fully solved. Imported varieties show higher vulnerability to plant diseases than do local strains; crop duration of the nonphotoperiod sensitive exotic varieties is commonly too long for the main kharif season in many parts of the rice growing south where the plants come to maturity with the onset of the northeast monsoon; and the coarse grain quality of the imported varieties compares unfavorably with the finer grained local plants. Nevertheless, with the All-India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project conducting large-scale experiments in hybridization — to evolve new shorter duration nonphoto-sensitive strains having the high yield potential of imported varieties and the disease resistance and finer grain quality of local plants — many or all of these problems may be solved. In fact, while the total rice output in 1967-68 remained disappointingly lower than the previous peak level of 1964-65 (37.9 million tons compared to 39 million tons) production recovered in 1968-69 to the previous record. Moreover, in 1969-70, rice output resumed its upward climb and reached an estimated total of 40.4 million tons. Most significant, despite the poor weather conditions of 1968-69, total food grains output of 94 million tons approached the record production of 95.6 million tons achieved in 1967-68 ( as against the previous peak of 89 million tons in 1964-65) suggesting the power of the new technology to liberate the fortunes of Indian agriculture from the vagaries of the monsoon. Prospects for such a breakthrough seemed even brighter in 1969-70, when estimates of total food grains output indicated a landmark achievement of nearly 100 million tons. On the strength of this stability in the improved performance of the agricultural economy, the Food Ministry has substantially reduced its annual imports of food grains and confidently predicts that India will be completely self-sufficient in 1972.

Ordinarily, the success of the New Strategy should elicit only expressions of deep satisfaction. Certainly, the potential economic benefits are great. The production gains of the last few years, while still modest, offer the most hopeful sign since the beginning of planning that modem science and technology can break through India's long closed circle of poverty to spearhead an agricultural "take-off" that will provide the missing momentum in rural resources and demand for rapid industrialization. Paradoxically, however, the improved prospect for higher rates of agricultural growth has created considerable uneasiness among policy-makers whose concerns also include orderly social and political development through a democratic framework of government. Over the last few years, long-standing assumptions about the positive relationship between more rapid economic growth and the promotion of democratic stability have been badly shaken by growing instances of rural violence. It now appears that in the agroeconomic environment of the Indian countryside, high rates of economic development may actually exacerbate social tensions, and ultimately undermine the foundations of rural political stability.

It was always clear, of course, that the intensive areas approach would accentuate regional disparities in development. Specifically, the dry areas of the country, the one-third of the sown area receiving less than 30 inches of rainfall annually, will inevitably fall farther behind. But more recently, it has been recognized that despite efforts at prevention, a capital intensive agricultural strategy tends to increase disparities within selected districts also, with tenants and small farmers "shar[ing] less than larger farmers in the gains from the application of the new technology," largely for lack of capital to invest in costly land improvement schemes. Moreover, in the rice growing districts, where there is a relatively high ratio of agricultural labor to the number of farms, the introduction of modern methods may add to employment opportunities from intensive cropping, but still "increases problems of income inequality." The destabilizing impact of rapid modernization within an agroeconomic context that favors the large farmers was highlighted by the Home Ministry's 1969 report on "The Causes and Nature of the Current Agrarian Tension." Citing an increase from 19 to 43 reported cases of agrarian conflict in one year (from 1967 to 1968), the Home Ministry found that over 80 percent of the agitations were led by the landless against landowners, and concerned demands for increased agricultural wages, security of tenure, larger crop shares, and most important, redistribution of land. Indeed, the report found that it is "agitations for distribution of land to the landless which have elicited the maximum response and have also had a wide geographical spread." The causes of agrarian tension are complex. "Predisposing" factors were identified as the failure of land reforms to provide tenants with security of tenure or fair rents, or to correct inequalities in landownership through redistribution of surplus land (i.e., land held by individual cultivators in excess of legally established ceilings). However, the "proximate" causes which actually converted latent discontent into open conflict were located in the new agricultural strategy and green revolution. Poor peasants who had appeared resigned to their handicaps under the existing agrarian structure as long as the prospect for material improvement was relatively limited, had become increasingly resentful of institutional arrangements which deprived them of "their legitimate share" in the greatly increased production now possible with modern technology. "One bad agricultural season," the report warned "could lead to an explosive situation in the rural areas."

In a sense, the problem of Indian agricultural planning has come full circle. Once more there is increasing concern about ensuring all classes of agriculturists — landlords and tenants, landowners and laborers, large and small farmers — an equal share in the benefits of the new technology. Certainly, part of this renewed interest springs from growing evidence that as economic disparities increase so does the likelihood that social discontent will be transformed into political violence by radical parties interested in launching a class struggle movement in the countryside.

This study is an enquiry into the socioeconomic and political aspects of the new strategy of agricultural development. It represents a preliminary assessment of the impact of modern technology, including the High Yielding Varieties Program, on patterns of income distribution among various classes of agriculturists; the stability of traditional patron-client relationships between landowners and the landless; and types of political participation among the peasantry. Inasmuch as broad social changes associated with agricultural modernization should be more highly advanced in districts experiencing the longest period of intensive development, five of the original I.A.D.P. districts were chosen for study: Ludhiana, Punjab; West Godavary, Andhra Pradesh; Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, Palghat, Kerala; and Burdwan, West Bengal.

Most of the data presented in this study was collected in India between February and August in 1969. At the State level, interviews were conducted with officials having responsibility for the subjects of agriculture, rural development, irrigation, cooperation, and land reforms. In the districts, interviews were held with the Project Officer and the I.A.D.P. staff, the Chairmen and officers of the Central Cooperative Bank and the Land Mortgage Bank, and, in Ludhiana, with economists at the Punjab Agricultural University. Written materials have been utilized when available. In the main, however, the study relies on information collected during interviews with agriculturists. In each district, in order to assure as broad-based a sample as possible, two or three Blocks representing the major natural or agroclimatic divisions were selected. Within each Block, three villages rated as good, average, and below average with respect to the adoption of modern techniques of agriculture were chosen. One officer of the I.A.D.P. staff, as well as the Block Development Officer accompanied me on field trips to the selected villages. The regional officer of the Planning Commission's Program Evaluation Organization also travelled with me and acted as interpreter in interviews with informants from the major agricultural classes: small, medium, and large farmers; tenants; and agricultural laborers.


Ludhiana, Punjab

No State is more closely identified with the gains of the green revolution than Punjab, and within Punjab, no district is more enthusiastically advanced as a model for emulation — by other parts of the region and the country — than Ludhiana. There are a number of sound achievements behind this enthusiasm. On virtually all indices of agricultural modernization Ludhiana has scored spectacular progress. Even to cite the statistical record, a dull but obligatory exercise in empirical studies, is, in the case of Ludhiana to make an eloquent statement of the agricultural transformation occurring in the district. Among the most striking changes are the following. Between the pre-package year of 1960-61 and 1968-69, the area under irrigation increased from 45 percent to 70 percent, mainly as the result of the rapid installation of tubewells. Again, between 1960-61 and 1967-68, consumption of fertilizer increased more than 13 times, from 17.6 pounds to 242 pounds per cultivated acre. More dramatic still, in the short period between 1965-66 and 1968-69, the acreage under the new Mexican dwarf varieties expanded from a minuscule 170 acres to an overwhelming 420,000 acres, or an area accounting for 90 percent of the total acreage under wheat. Finally, and the surest measure of success, yields per acre in Ludhiana increased from an average of 1,385 pounds in 1960-61 to over 3,280 pounds in 1968-69 (i.e., by over 120 percent). Moreover, during the last few years, Ludhiana has seen a trend toward mechanization which promises even greater efficiency in the exploitation of the new technology for intensive cropping. Exact estimates of the number of tractors now in use in the district are difficult to come by, but in April 1969 they were not less than 2,500 and possibly as many as 5,000, most representing purchases over the past two years. The major suppliers of tractors in Ludhiana, Massey-Ferguson and International Tractor, estimated that orders currently on file with all dealers totaled at least another 2,500. Even larger increases in the demand for smaller machines, especially seed and fertilizer drills and threshers are reported.


Excerpted from India's Green Revolution by Francine R. Frankel. Copyright © 1971 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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