Four comments on India’s Green Revolution as the focus shifts to Africa


Anne sent a link to an angry article by Simone Adler bringing news that the Gates Foundation is funding green revolution initiatives in Africa together with governments linked to ‘the old hub of capitalism’, the US, the UK and the Netherlands. The Foundation is coordinating this in partnership with around 80 African seed companies. Anne’s comment: “When will people realise that making billions off sweatshops in the computer sector doesn’t mean one knows how to solving poverty…”. One extract:

In Uganda and other east African countries where the banana is a staple food, the Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars into a genetically engineered banana project. Their idea is to enable Ugandans and other east Africans to access vitamin A by commercially growing a banana genetically engineered to produce beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, as if a diverse diet won’t give Africans this vitamin. Ugandans grow around 27 varieties or more of bananas. So this super banana project is a Trojan horse; it’s very similar to the golden rice they’ve been trying to commercialize since the mid-80s, which has gone nowhere after a huge expenditure of money.

Winin Pereira3India’s Winin Pereira trained as a nuclear physicist, but after realising the industry’s damaging potential left to form an agricultural development organisation with four colleagues. He saw supplying hybrid seeds, and other agricultural inputs, as a strategy whereby TNCs gain control of agricultural production, adding “This happened in the case of the green revolution”.

He listed several undesirable practices including:

  • the use of good agricultural land for cash crops which are not required for basic necessities
  • the use of hybrid and high yielding varieties of vegetables and cereals which are bred solely for their appearance, or packaging qualities, rather than for their food value;
  • the promotion of exotic vegetables which are less nutritious that local ones;
  • the production of high-cost vegetables which only the rich can buy;
  • the destruction of common property resources from which many people obtained and still need to obtain, free, clean food.

He quoted G F Keating, Director of Agriculture, Bombay Presidency, who wrote in 1913:”The old self-sufficing agriculture by which each tract, each village and each holding supplied its own needs is now largely a thing of the past…. The French forced the African nations they controlled to replace the cultivation of traditional food crops by groundnut, which they required since they had no large local source of edible oil. This cultivation pattern persists today, requiring the continuous import of food, even in the absence of drought. Western agriculture is itself unsustainable”.

Pereira points out that the green revolution is dependent on the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides produced from mineral oil and natural gas, and of fossil fuels for powering tractors, irrigation pumps and transport. Moreover, it has recently been discovered that the HYVs have a much reduced ability to store micronutrients like Vitamin A, iron, zinc and others. The loss of these essential nutrients to populations subsisting mainly on HYV cereals not only causes direct ill health but also has a major damaging impact on the immune system. While food production grew, an increasingly large number of people have suffered from extensive malnutrition and its consequences.

Mark Tully wrote some time ago:

mark tully 2“There are dire warnings coming out of Punjab now because of the Green Revolution’s dependence on intensive use of chemicals and water . . .

“I have never been able to understand how a system designed for intensive mechanisation and vast farms can have any relevance to a peasant agricultural economy . . . it seems absurd to me to think of any global trading system which can bring these two together”.

Richard Douthwaite wrote: “Even the main achievement of the 1950-90 period, the 175% increase in agricultural production as a result of the Green Revolution, was hollow It was only the richer farmers who could afford the new types of seed and the fertilizer, pesticides and machinery to go with them, and many poorer farmers were displaced, exactly as happened in England during the Agricultural Revolution almost 200 years earlier. Moreover, the coarse grains consumed by the poorer people were less responsive to the new techniques, and their output fell. So did the production of pulses, on which most Indians rely for their protein intake: government figures show that the weight of pulses available per head almost halved between 1956 and 1987 dropping from 70.3 g per day to 36.2 g, a serious situation since dietitians recommend vegetarians (which most Indians are) to eat 80 g each day. And the surpluses of rice and wheat that seemed to appear after the record harvests in 1986 and 1989 were illusory, although the government had insufficient space in its famine-reserve warehouses to store all the grain the farmers wanted to sell. As Professor L. S. Venkataramanan of the Institute of Social and Economic Change in Bangalore commented to me, the excess only arose because the people who needed it could not afford to buy.

richard douthwaite2“On top of all this, the richer farmers who successfully adopted the new techniques are caught in a nasty pincer movement. One jaw is that they have to apply ever larger amounts of fertilizer to maintain yields, pump water from increasingly deep wells and spray more and more pesticide as insects’ resistance grows. The other jaw is that the prices of chemicals, tractors and of electricity for their irrigation pumps have risen remorselessly while the government has been trying to limit agricultural price rises, minimize wage pressures, moderate inflation and help the poor. As a result many farmers have fallen into debt . . .

“In an article in the Lokayan Bulletin in 1986, the environmentalist Vandana Shiva wrote ‘`Soil loss on fields without mulch [has been] found to be 232.6 tonnes per hectare per year while that on mulched fields was 8.2 tonnes’. The use of artificial fertilizers had meant that mulching had been largely abandoned, she claimed, while the use of heavy tractors in place of the plough oxen had caused soil compaction and further reduced the amount of rain the soil is able to absorb. As a result, the rate of soil erosion had greatly increased while less rain had been able to percolate through the soil and replenish the water table. Simultaneously, 10 million hectares of land had become waterlogged as a result of irrigation, and another 25 million hectares was affected by a growing salinity”.

devinder sharma 3Devinder Sharma summarises; “The 1st Green Revolution ushered in an industrial farming system which has led to the crisis that we are witnessing today. It destroyed soil fertility, added to malnutrition, mined groundwater, and played havoc with human health and environment . . . Farmers were misguided, and made to believe that putting more inputs would bring them more profits. They did it, and eventually have been pushed deeper and deeper into debt. . .

It doesn’t stop here. These economists, scientists and bureaucrats are now clamouring for free markets — commodity exchanges, future trading and food retail — as the way to turn farming economically viable.

It didn’t work in the US and the European Union. But look at the way it is being aggressively promoted in India. The beneficiaries of future trading and commodity exchange are not the farmers but speculators, the consultancy firms and rating agencies, and the business. And again, this is being done in the name of farmers.

Simone Adler ends: “I want you to reimagine Africa as a vibrant continent where farmers are in control of their seed systems, are proud of their knowledge systems, share seeds from generation to generation through the age-old practice of exchange where they are self-reliant on a huge diversity of seeds under their control, where women play an important role in production decisions, seed selection, and breeding — and where our local food economies find their roots”. 






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