Rucha Deshmukh and Dhaval Joshi share reflections on the POLLEN (Political Ecology Network) 2020 conference, which took place virtually earlier this year.
India is poised for a second green revolution. In this context, it is important to revisit and reflect on India’s first Green Revolution, which began in the early 1970s. The popular narrative of ‘green revolution’ typically suggests that food security was enhanced, and that it led to improved incomes and better livelihoods for millions of farming households, at the same time as ushering in an era of ‘scientific’ agriculture in the country. With this backdrop, it was interesting to attend a session on Green Revolution Epic Narratives at the POLLEN Conference. The session explored how these narratives have been shaped and re-shaped, disseminated and constructed by various actors, but most importantly by the state across three countries — Brazil, China and India.
The Green Revolution changed the agricultural scene in India. The transition from traditional agriculture and irrigation systems to high-yielding seed varieties, use of fertilizers and pesticides, and increased water input led a shift towards ‘modern’ agriculture. But how was this transformation narrated? During the POLLEN conference we heard how this story was told through a series of stamps, which were presented by Dr. Poonam Pandey, a researcher at the Indian Institute of Science. We learnt how the nation perceived the idea of food security and what measures were taken to fulfil the notion of a food-secure country in their imaginations.
What does the science of modern agriculture as imbued in the Green Revolution entail, and how is it communicated? There are various avenues for the state to further its agenda. Out of the many spaces, Dr. Pandey has documented how the Indian state used stamps to construct this narrative. We often miss out on the state machinery and its use of visual symbols to depict a story – in this case, through stamps. Stamps were commonly used by people from all regions and groups, providing a good opportunity for the state to disseminate the narrative. During the Green Revolution this was done through stamps depicting a fertilizer plant, tractor, irrigation mode (bullock-based groundwater irrigation) and the inauguration of the Damodar Dam, when the then Prime Minister Nehru proclaimed ‘dams as temples of modern India’. Collectively these stamps constructed the narrative that highlighted the shifts and priorities of Indian agricultural policy at the time.
The concept of Green Revolution is powerful and it remains strong in people’s memories. It is mainly remembered for the mixed impact it had on the people: on one hand it elevated the socio-economic condition of the farmers by exposing them to the opportunities to increase their production, and on the other hand, the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers and increased groundwater abstraction degraded the condition of soil and water. This environmental degradation was exacerbated by fertilizer, pesticide and energy subsidies, and a limited focus on water management, which has since led to problems of groundwater depletion and degradation of soil quality. It should not come as a surprise that not a single stamp depicts any of the groundwater sources that are today recognized as important factor that heralded the revolution. This shows the contested nature of Green Revolution: it promised food security at the same time as putting at risk the sustainability of the resources that formed its basis. Alternative farming and agricultural production methods such as organic farming and chemical-free natural farming, also known as Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), have emerged in response to these problems. They are demonstrating alternatives to the long-term problems associated with the approach of the Green Revolution.
Today a second green revolution is being promoted, based around the narrative that the first Green Revolution was aimed at production on mass scale, while the second green revolution is about production by the masses. However, the question of managing a common pool resource like groundwater, and the need to focus on soil health, are not considered in their totality in the discussions of a second green revolution. Epic narratives may not necessarily help us build epic solutions. Understanding who is constructing, dictating and furthering a narrative is critical if sustainable transformations are sought for the future.
This blogpost documents the thoughts and opinions of Rucha Deshmukh and Dhaval Joshi, who work as researchers with Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), India. Presently, Rucha Deshmukh is pursuing her Masters in Water Science and Policy from Shiv Nadar University and Dhaval Joshi is pursuing his PhD in Human Geography at School of Geosciences from University of Edinburgh.