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September 28, 2007

Green Revolution Not So Green

The green revolution in India and other places is hailed as a success story. Vandana Shiva argues that the farmer suicides we are so alarmed by today are but a natural consequence of the green revolution. The green revolution focused on increasing the yield of rice and wheat and in the process created vast monocultures that are not sustainable. The seeds developed during this time and known as the HYVs (High Yielding Varieties) are in actuality, HRVs (High Response Varieties) that perform well when supplied chemicals and water. In the absence of these inputs, these seeds perform much worse than the indigenous ones. Farming was a mixed affair till the monoculture way of thinking gained prominence. This has led to loss of soil fertility, excessive use of water, high input costs and farmer suicides.

The varieties developed were such that most of the energy taken in by the plant was converted into grain. Subsequently the biomass (straw) that is used on the farm for fodder, fuel, compost goes down. Dwarf varieties of rice and wheat are characteristic of the green revolution. Nitrogen from compost and biomass that is used by plants is released slowly whereas when one uses urea, a lot of nitrogen is suddenly available. This leads to plants absorbing high quantities of nutrients. So what happened was plants grew very tall with heavy grain heads. They were unstable since they were tall and had a heavy top – this led to lodging, ie, falling over. To address this problem, dwarf varieties of rice and wheat were created.

With a decrease in the quantity of straw, feeding livestock becomes a challenge. Then land is dedicated to growing fodder. Since the HYV/HRVs were dependent on extensive irrigation, systems had to be put in place to ensure water supply. Today, in many places we find that groundwater has been exploited. Dinesh (from Timbaktu) pointed out how such water thirsty crops have played a big role in the construction of large dams - another externalized cost that we never talk about. Do we really want a second Green Revolution?

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