Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
incomes, and of keeping down food prices for the poor—who are generally dependent
upon purchased food, and whose expenditure on staples usually accounts for two-thirds
or more of their incomes (Lipton with Longhurst 1989; Lipton 2007). Africa, however, was
left out, at least until the 1980s. The varieties that were successful elsewhere in the world
proved generally to be unsuited to African conditions, and the major food crops over most
of Africa remained outside the GR until “improved varieties of sorghum, millet and cas-
sava . . . started to emerge around the middle to late 1980s” (Pingali 2012, 12305).
Given the evidence of success, how can the GR be described—as in our second epi-
graph—as a “tragedy?” Remarkably, perhaps, it began to be described as such almost
from the outset. The leading critics mostly identified themselves as being on the Left (for
example, Frankel 1971; Cleaver 1972; Griffin 1972, 1979). They saw the new agricultural
technology as supplying a technical “fix” for the social and political problems of poor
countries, which have to do especially with inequalities in access to land and water, and
which remained unaddressed, especially because of the failures of redistributive land
reform (outside China, Taiwan, and South Korea). It was believed, with reason, that “the
establishment of IRRI in 1962 was designed to prove that hunger could be solved by tech-
nology rather than by revolution” (Orr 2012); and the new technology was expected, by its
advocates, to create a “Green Revolution” that would supplant the threat of “red revolu-
tion.” The term “Green Revolution” seems to have been used for the first time by the chief
administrator of USAID in 1968 with exactly this idea in mind. Rather than fixing these
social problems, however, it was thought by critics that the introduction of the new tech-
nology would exacerbate them (as the letter addressed to M. Diouf argued). This, it was
thought, was because although the new technology might be technically “scale neutral”
(the necessary inputs being divisible into smaller packages for smaller farms), it was not
“resource neutral.” In other words, those farmers with more land, better access to water,
and greater financial resources would be able to make more effective use of the technology.
Smaller cultivators would make themselves dependent on purchased inputs and be driven
into debt. The land holdings of some of them would be bought up by richer farmers. Not
only would inequality be increased because of these changes, but poverty would increase
as well. Environmental damage would be caused because of the excessive use of agro-
chemicals, both fertilizers and plant-protection chemicals, and by excessive use of water.
All of these things did happen, in some places at least, and in some periods—though
whether they can be held to have been brought about by the new technology in itself
remains a matter for debate. In India, for example, excessive use of inputs was encour-
aged by government subsidies (Harriss-White and Janakarajan 2004). Still, case studies
with negative evidence lent credence to the way in which critics of the GR generalized an
understanding of processes of agrarian social and economic change informed by a Marxist
model which holds that there is a structurally determined process of polarization of rural
classes in commercializing rural economies. It is pretty much inevitable, according to this
model, that inequality will increase and that very many rural people will be pauperized.
The influence of the model was reflected in the ways in which scholars viewed the facts
(Harriss 1989; Orr 2012); while “the facts” themselves were derived initially especially from
studies of particular villages. This was the method used, notably, in an influential research
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