The Not-So “Green” Revolution

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While Green Revolution has often been touted as one of the biggest revolutions in India’s farming history, hard hitting evidences proving otherwise, continue to pour in from several parts of the country. Excessive application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weedicides under Green Revolution have done much harm to human health as well as the environment, apart from negating sustainable and low- cost development of agriculture in India. But, despite several damaging effects, the advocates of GreenRevolution with certain vested interests have managed to sell the idea of it being the best way of increasing farm productivity.

The Green Revolution lobbyists had been successful in propagating the notion of a hugely successful farming revolution because of the huge profits associated with the programme. The implementation of Green Revolution entailedhigh-cost and high input technology which fetched huge profits and subsidies to certain industries and fertilizer importers dealing with such products. The High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds introduced under the Green Revolution weresuch that they demanded exorbitant amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Fuelled by the strong push by various governments, the agriculture model practiced by and large in the whole country, is inspired by this highly contentious revolution, till today.

Considering the huge implications associated with it, there is an urgent need to bust the myth of Green Revolution being responsible for revolutionizing agriculture in India. It is imperative to reach out to the farmers and spread the word about eco-friendly, low-cost, self-reliant, and affordable technologies available to increase productivity and protect the environment.The introduction of Green Revolution in the country has adversely affected people’s health, sustainability of small and marginal farmers, apart fromsoil erosion and earth degradation, among other things.

Green Revolution: Myth busted

The Green Revolution started spreading significantly in India around 1967, and was initially credited with increasing the food grain production, especially in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. But, an analysis of the data available in the 12thFive Year Plan document brings forth a rather contradictory picture, it shows that farm productivity was much higher than what it was after Green Revolution.

Average Annual Growth Rates in Yields per Hectare


Pre-Green Revolution
1951-52 to 1967-68

Post- Green Revolution
1968-69 to 1980-81
















Coarse Cereals















Source : 12th Five Year Plan Document

Growth of Value of Output (2004-05 Prices)
(Period averages of annual growth rates)


Pre-Green Revolution
1951-52 to 1967-68

Post-Green Revolution
1968-69 to 1980-81
















Non-Horticulture crops






Source : 12th Five Year Plan Document

In fact, it was very evident at the early stage of the implementation of the Green Revolution itself that it might end updoing more harm than good to India’s agricultural scenario, but the policy makers chose to ignore the indications.

Photo : India Today

Green Revolution lobby

By the mid-sixties the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) had clearly emerged as one of the most important center’s of rice research in India and across the world. It was during this period that research related to a very important technology – clonal propagation of rice, was reaching a very crucial stage under the able guidance of the then CRRI Director, Dr. R. H. Richharia. The under trial technology held the exciting potential of significantly increasing rice yield, based on rich diversity of indigenous rice varieties, eco-friendly and low-cost methods of cultivation over a very wide area. But, the innovation met a roadblock.

Recollecting the rather unfortunate memories of what transpired during the final stage of his research at a seminar on the ‘The Crisis in Modern Science’ held in Malaysia in November 1986, Dr. Richharia said:

“The possibility of exploitation of hybrid vigor by the application of clonal propagation in rice in later generations was demonstrated at CRRI and the results were published in a British Journal ‘Nature’ in 1962 entitled ‘Clonal propagation as a practical means of exploiting hybrid vigor in rice’. The technique was also explained by me at a seminar held at IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) in 1963. We were systematically proceeding with the work at eleven different centers’ in India with success. We had just reached the stage to revolutionise rice production, but all the centers were closed down and instead HYV programme of IRRI with dwarfing genes was launched suppressing the CRRI work.”

He further narrated the details of the unfair means with which all the hard work put in by him and his team was deliberately overlooked:

“At the later part (of my stay, in CRRI) I passed my time in great distress, because I opposed the interference imposed by IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) authorities … IRRI were to impose on CRRI their programme and take away its initiative and supremacy which I resisted to protect our interest. The IRRI programme dealt exclusively with the rice culture with dwarfing genes and replacing the indigenous rice varieties by IRRI bred IR HYV series. And, under the pretext of exchange programme to collect the entire rice germ plasm directly and indirectly through trainees, visitors, some with our knowledge and some without our knowledge, sometimes even bringing their rice cultures personally to India without quarantine certificates. My devoted band of young scientists soon alerted me and I realized that our programme and findings on rice production technology which had reached a stage to introduce revolution in upgrading India’s rice productivity were being suppressed, useful projects being withdrawn and being superseded in preference to IRRI’s programme. I, as head of CRRI had no other option but to oppose this interference openly in the interest of my country on the food front.”

The determined Dr. Richharia

Baffled by the developments, on March 15, 1966, Dr. Richharia, wrote a confidential letter to the Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Delhi. And, to quote an excerpt from the letter:

“The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Manila, has been sending a lot of rice experimental material from time to time into this country, and these are grown in several states. It has come to my notice that most of this material are susceptible to a very peculiar disease, not known to this country so far; it is suspected to be a virus”.

Having sounded this warning to one of the highest authorities in the field of agriculture research, Dr.Richharia further went on to state:

“I may point out that in the last Rice Research Workers’ Conference during November 1965, I.R. 9-60 has been recommended as one of the donor parents for hybridization programme in the various rice-growing states. But this material, as has already been reported earlier, has been observed by me at CRRI and two other centres to be infected with the yellowing disease at an early vegetative phase. I may also inform that from some source of information I have learnt that I.R. 9-60 is not only susceptible to Tungru virus, but, also to bacterial blight. As such it is not a desirable material for being used as a donor parent; if used, it may spread diseases wherever the material is grown. Under these circumstances it would soon be beyond our control.”

In the strongly-worded letter, he also underlined:

“That some sort of inoculum of this dreadful disease is getting built up in the country is evident from the fact that Taichung Native I which was not showing the yellowing of leaves in the early vegetative phase of the summer crop of last year, has now exhibited it. Since the Ministry of Food and Agriculture has a huge programme of speedily spreading this variety in the near future, timely action has to be taken against any future catastrophe of the kind being observed now.”

After having highlighted all the important issues related to rice experimental material recommended by IRRI and its ill effects on agriculture, Dr. Richharia made certain suggestions in the letter:

• Strict monitoring of IRRI rice cultures being grown in India, and issuance of instructions for the same.
• Steps to be taken to withdraw the hybridization programme recommended under item A(2) of the   Rice Research Workers Conference involving I.R. 9-60 as the donor parent.
• Restrictions to be imposed against the free import of IRRI rice material by any source other than   CRRI.

Unfortunately, these warnings and recommendations had fallen on deaf ears, as no action was taken to undo the damage that was to be followed, and the pest as well as disease susceptible varieties were allowed to spread. Interestingly, the only action taken was a pre-mature retirement imposed on Dr. Richharia to dethrone him from the post of Director, CRRI.

As pointed out earlier by Dr. Richharia, use of IRRI approved rice experimental material proved destructive for India’s agriculture, and the results became evident all too soon. Following the high degree of damage and to prevent any further devastation, a special task force on rice breeding was constituted in 1979, consisting of eminent experts to examine the phenomenon. And, Dr. Richharia was called back from his retirement to head the task force considering his vast experience. This task force report stated clearly and firmly:

“Most of the HYVs are derivatives of T(N) 1 or I.R. 8 and, therefore, have the dwarfing gene of dee-geo-woo-gen. This narrow genetic base has created alarming uniformity, causing vulnerability to diseases and pests. Most of the released varieties are not suitable for typical uplands and low lands which together constitute about 75 per cent of the total rice area of the country. To meet these situations, we need to reorient our research programmes and strategies.”

But, to the dismay of India’s farming history, the warnings put forward by the task force were ignored and the official rice policy of the government continued being centered around exotic dwarf HYVs with a narrow genetic base. In fact the history of Green Revolution is marred by many such instances where the interest of big industries and corporates have been given preference over that of the nation as a whole. And, it is high time now to expose all false notions about the supposedly great contributions made by the Green Revolution and make way for “green” agriculture using indigenous crop varieties.


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