The Scourge of the “Green Revolution”

Came across this shocking article (which appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India in 1986) today.

Many people realize today that the so called “Green Revolution” was a short sighted strategy(though perhaps deemed necessary at that time) as three decades later, it has left our soils depleted, yields decreasing and our farmers ever more dependent on fertilizers and pesticides. This recently formed dependence on high-input agriculture is one of the main reasons behind the mass farmer suicides today. Perhaps it helped overcome some misery back then, but it’s only helped to set us up for a much bigger disaster.

But what is shocking about the article is the little known(at least among the people of my generation) scandals over the varieties of rice, how our incredible wealth of diversity in rice was depleted and robbed by vested political and commercial interests from abroad and within. How M.S.Swaminathan, whom we revere as the Father of Green Revolution, actually might be just another of those “scientists” who overlook and bend facts in return for the promise of money. How there was one scientist Dr.Richcharia (former director of Central Rice Research Institute), whom very few of us would have even heard of, who sacrificed a lot to fight this robbery and preserve our indigenous varieties of rice.

In hindsight, this article doesn’t really shock me that much. It’s just so identical in pattern to the innumerable scandals which have orchestrated by the developed world, in the name of globalization and progress.

Disclaimer: I know this is just one article by just one person, with some allegations against something which has been widely accepted by our society as a boon. As my friends warned me when I showed them the article, you should never form an opinion based on just one side of the argument. But for me, this single article is enough, of course assuming that the facts it mentions are true- not least because the author is a person with reasonable credentials- but mainly because the “other side of the argument” is something (which usually consist of loose ends tied together, hardly more credible, even less) which I’m seeing and hearing all the time through the mainstream media, and such counterpoints usually cut through a lot of crap and make perfect sense.(eg: Stiglitz on Globalization)

P.S. This post was written in a flurry of emotion after reading the article. M.S. Swaminathan may or may not be a great scientist. I was just overcome by a feeling of anger and injustice that M.S.Swaminathan has become a household name as a saviour, while Richharia, who fought for our indigenous varieties of rice at such personal cost, has almost been forgotten forever. Regarding our situation today, we need to move beyond the mindless petroleum-driven farming of the past few decades if we are to have a future.

Us vs Them

The last couple of years has witnessed an alarming increase in the amount of violence rising from the take over of rural land and resources for industry. From Singur and Nandigram, to the proposed POSCO iron ore mine and steel plant in Orissa and a dozen hydroelectric power projects… the list is long. Have we made an effort to understand the root of the conflicts? As Sunita Narain writes in her editorial in the current issue of Down to Earth, it’s not about “poltically motivated people stirred up by outsiders and competitors to obstruct development.”

“These were poor villagers who knew they did not have the skills to survive in the modern world. They had seen their neighbours displaced, promised jobs and money that never came. They knew they were poor. But they also knew that modern development would make them poorer… They did not want to drive the trucks of the miners. They wanted to till their lands… This is the environment movement of the very poor. Here, there are no quick-fix techno solutions in which the real problems can be fobbed off for later… there is only one answer: changing the way we do business, with them and with their environment…”

Do we, city dwellers who have grown up “seeing how man has conquered and reshaped nature to fit his petty needs”, understand the real needs of the villagers who live in close association with Nature?