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Green Revolution Vs Rain-fed Farming

OVERVIEW: Of late India’s fabled Green Revolution has come under severe attack. Many development thinkers believe that it has unfairly skewed India’s agriculture policy in favour of the farmers whose land is already or potentially covered under irrigation. The basic criticism is that the Green Revolution has been largely irrelevant for India’s 60 per cent cultivable land which is un-irrigated. These rain-fed areas lack policy support despite the fact that as high as 90 per cent of the country’s oilseed, 83 per cent sorghums, 81 per cent pulses and 42 per cent of its food grains are produced here.

The Green Revolution no doubt provided the country its self reliance in food grain production at a time when a newly independent India was struggling to raise its food production in the face of stagnant conventional agriculture and rapidly rising population. India’s bitter experience and humiliation while negotiating food aid from the United States under the Public Law 480 programme, which provided for the sale of surplus US food against local currencies, donation for famines and free grants (Dennis Kux 1993), coupled with rising frequencies of droughts, made the country rightly resolute for achieving self reliance. A food-reliant country and its grain buffers also laid the foundation of a vast Public Distribution System (PDS).

Thus the Green Revolution played a major role in meeting these challenges. However, the problem was that the country’s policy stayed fixed in a single paradigm of agricultural growth at the cost of its vast dry-land areas. In that sense the Green Revolution-oriented agricultural policies have worked against sustainable livelihoods in areas where about 80 per cent of the country’s poor live. In the hindsight, we can now say that for decades the Indian planners ignored the need for moving beyond the Green Revolution. For records, India has a vast pool of drought-hardy and high-protein millets and sorghums which are capable of providing rich harvests for very little water or other inputs. The need however is to mainstream these traditional practices and promote them through PDS, mid day meal scheme and the proposed right to food.

The success of the Green Revolution is based on adoption of crops that inherently demand more inputs starting from groundwater to chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides and promote monoculture. All this has resulted in widespread depletion of groundwater, rapidly growing soil degradation and an escalating fertilizer subsidy. According to a report of the proceedings of a national workshop on rain-fed farming (WASSAN, September 2007), per hectare cost of major irrigation is Rs 130,000. Add to this the subsidies given for fertilizers and sprinklers or drips plus the power subsidies given by the state governments, and you begin to get an idea of the country’s support to irrigated areas. Most of these schemes almost entirely help those farmers who have access to bore wells or irrigation. Compared to this, the support for rain-fed farmers in the dry-land regions is negligible.

In the face of all these realizations, India’s agricultural thinkers are beginning to root for a separate agricultural policy for rain-fed areas. The WASSAN workshop brainstormed about “a critical irrigation for rain-fed crops on a large scale, enhance productivity of rain-fed farms substantially and also provides security against droughts.” The following are the main points of that emerged out of the brainstorming workshop attended by the who’s who of India’s farm experts and agricultural scientists:

1. Need for a separate agriculture policy for rain-fed areas
2. Immediate need for building soil health,
3. Promoting decentralized food security through drought-hardy millets, sorghums,
4. Introducing millets in the mainstream PDS,
5. Crop production through organic approaches built around soil-health practices,
6. Concentrating on pest management through non-pesticidal methods,
7. Giving seeds in the hands of the community
8. Adopting special policies for water resources management in rainfed areas
9. Providing interest subsidies and crop insurance schemes
10. Providing for progressive livestock policy suitable for dry-lands
11. Promoting decentralized decision making.
At the bottom of this note are over a dozen links of articles, papers and expert opinions on the subject of Green Revolution and rain-fed farming. For convenience, main points from these studies have been culled out in the following section under different headings. The points have been taken directly from the links below and only put together by the im4change associates for the convenience of our users. Please refer to the studies for a more complete and comprehensive understanding. For more on the subject of agrarian crises and other rural issues please see the under six heads from Farm Crises to Law and Justice.

The main points of the debate taken from the studies mentioned below:

Green Revolution versus rain-fed farming

After Independence, the food grain production was increased by switching over from cash crops to food crops. Cropping intensity was increased. Fallow land was brought under cultivation. Intensive Agricultural District Programme (IADP) and Intensive Agricultural Area Programme (IAAP) were launched in 1950s. Introduction of package technology took place in the 1960s called ‘Green Revolution’, which increased foodgrain production many times. In rainfed areas agro-climatic planning was introduced in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the policy of liberalization and free market economy were pursued.

Features of green revolution technology

a. The package technology of Green Revolution was launched in 1960s.

b. This technology was introduced first in irrigated areas of Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, which later spread to the regions of Eastern India during the 1980s.

c. New high yielding seed varieties of wheat (from Mexico) and rice (from Philippines) were introduced.

d. Along with it chemical fertilizers were introduced.

e. Sources of irrigation were introduced for the success of this new agricultural technology.

f. This strategy increased the food grains production at very fast rate.

Benefits of green revolution technology

a. This strategy of agricultural development increased the food grains production at very fast rate.

b. This strategy also boosted the development of agro-inputs, agro-processing industries and small-scale industries.

c. This strategy of agricultural development made the country self-reliant in food grain production.

d. But green revolution was confined to selected areas, thus leading to regional disparities in agricultural development in the country.

Disadvantages and challenges associated with green revolution technology

a. The circle of Green Revolution seems to be complete. It is clear that the farming system could not sustain itself feeding on super-intensive inputs, organically as well as financially. Such farming technology has robbed off all things natural from agricultural nature. Water table in large parts of central Punjab today is below 10 metres.

b. In areas that witnessed the Green Revolution, the productivity levels are high vis-a-vis areas under rainfed irrigation. However, over the past decade yields have been stagnating and in some cases even declining. Past resources of growth productivity like expansion in irrigation, and increased use of fertilisers and chemicals for pest control are no longer relevant. Policy regimes, which helped achieve increased productivity, are now not only irrelevant but are also contributing negatively to resource quality.

c. With the introduction of green revolution technology in dry lands, the local knowledge systems and skills were badly affected. From the self sustaining systems, farmers started depending on external sources for their inputs like seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. The knowledge with respect to their local situation and locally available resources was gradually started eroding. Input costs increased alarmingly but returns did not increase correspondingly.

d. In 1961, the International Rice Research Institute began operations in the Philippines with assistance from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, developing high-yielding hybrid rice varieties. However, the origins of the Green Revolution lay in a particular combination of business interests (i.e. agro-chemical companies), philanthropy, scientists and politics that originated primarily in the United States.

e. Many government planners, who themselves often had political connections with large landholders, felt that the ‘Green Revolution’ should initially occur under ‘ideal’ conditions of large landholders, and the extension advice and credit opportunities were made more available to the more politically powerful groups.

Features of rainfed farming

a. Rainfed farming is also known as Protective farming.

b. The objective of protective irrigation is to protect the crops from adverse effects of lack of soil moisture. Irrigation acts as an additional source of water over and above the rainfall. The strategy of this kind of irrigation is to provide soil moisture to maximum possible area.

c. Rainfed farming is classified into dryland farming and wetland farming. The dryland farming is largely confined to the regions having annual rainfall less than 75 cm whereas in wetland farming the rainfall is in excess of soil moisture requirement of plants during rainy season.

d. In dryland farming regions hardy and drought resistant crops such as ragi, bajra, moong, gram and guar (fodder crops) are grown whereas in wetland farming regions various water intensive crops such as rice, jute and sugarcane are grown.

e. In dryland farming, farmers practise various measures of soil moisture conservation and rain water harvesting whereas in wetland farming practise aquaculture in the fresh water bodies.

f. Dryland farming regions face problems of deficient soil moisture whereas wetland farming regions may face flood and soil erosion hazards.

g. Intensive agriculture that uses high yielding varieties, high doses of fertilizers and pesticides is inappropriate for rainfed areas where production depends upon uncertain and erratic rainfall received only on a few rainy days interspersed with long dry spells. In this environment of uncertainty of water availability and vulnerability to droughts, the intensive agriculture has proved disastrous. Mixed farming or cropping is practiced for risk minimization and also to obtain the home needs and to seek synergy to sustain production.

h. Many farmers’ crops grown with high external inputs failed owing to droughts. Reports of farmers committing suicide in different parts of the country due to indebtedness can be linked to situations where high-cost external chemical inputs failed to yield the expected results.

i. Mixed cropping-based Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA), characterized by diversified agriculture combined with animal husbandry, agro forestry & agro-horticulture, has been found more appropriate for tropical and sub tropical climates.

j. Farmers in the dry tracts look for higher yields, but as one among many other traits like grain to fodder ratio, crop duration, seed quality, drought tolerance and pest resistance. The rainfed rural economy has adapted to the inherent instability in crop yields by cultivating diverse crops, engaging in several livestock based and other non-farm options. Often fodder yield is considered more crucial than grain yield – especially in the dry villages subject to severe seasonal stress.

k. Dryland agriculture is marked by risk and coping strategies to avoid risk. These strategies include diverse crops and cropping systems, dependence on livestock and other non-farm rural income, limited cash crop production (where assured markets exist), common property based livelihoods or access to livelihoods, low input use and technology adoption. Household income in a typical arid/semi-arid village is subject to a high degree of seasonal variation.

Importance of rainfed farming
a. The traditional rainfed agriculture is endowed with much wider genetic base and biodiversity. The onslaught of intensive agriculture for yield maximization may endanger the indigenous germ plasm (land races and varieties). Modern trend and approaches of high yielding varieties in commercial agriculture in Western countries and Green Revolution Agriculture of irrigated areas depend on a few ‘ideo-types’ and tend to move towards monoculture. The best suited few varieties are exploited under modern agriculture. Monoculture plantations also erode natural bio-diversity in forest areas.

b. Rainfed crops account for 48 per cent of the total area under food crops and 68 per cent of the area under non-food crops in the country. Nearly 50 per cent of the total rural workforce and 60 per cent of the livestock in the country are concentrated in the dry districts. In India rainfed areas cover 177 districts and exist in all agro-climatic regions but are mostly concentrated in the arid and semi-arid areas. Most of these districts are the country's poorest.

c. Crop-wise analysis shows that major coarse cereals are grown in rainfed areas. Coarse cereals are still the main source of food for India’s poor. For instance, 92 per cent, 94 per cent and 80 per cent of the total area under jowar, bajra, and maize respectively is rainfed. Similarly, 86 per cent of the area under pulses is rainfed. Eighty three per cent groundnut and 99 per cent soybean are grown under rainfed conditions. About 73 per cent area under cotton is rainfed.

d. Though rainfed areas contribute in a major way to India’s agriculture, the difference between the output of rainfed and irrigated areas is remarkable. This is cited as a major reason for increasing regional disparity in India.

Disadvantages and challenges associated with rainfed farming:

a. Support in terms of fertiliser subsidies, price support and procurement does not reach in the same way for rainfed farmers, resulting in skewed national investments across irrigated and rainfed areas, says the Parthasarathy Committee report.

b. The historical neglect and absence of appropriate support systems have created a high degree of indifference on part of farmers towards rainfed agriculture. Private investment and care for natural resources have suffered. Natural resources degradation cannot be arrested if farmers are apathetic towards land resources.

c. Most of the rainfed lands have undulating topography which generates huge proportion of rainfall into run-off (surface flows). This happens even in low rainfall areas (Northern Karnataka and adjoining areas of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra with annual rainfall in the range of 300-600mm). Even in lower rainfall areas of Western Rajasthan (50-425 mm) there is run-off due to high intensity storms as in river Loni. In areas with high run-off, even if the rainfall is very high there is acute water shortage even after rainy seasons, and particularly so in summary months. The drinking water problem has persisted largely due to adoption of cropping pattern with high water demanding crops in some parts of the rainfed areas.

d. Rainwater conservation and harvesting hold the key for sustainable development of rainfed areas. The present system of construction of check dams in the lower reaches of watersheds helps only a few farmers, generally the rich ones. It is recommended that a series of small sunken water harvesting devices all over the landscape and all along drainage lines should be installed for equitable distribution of water. It has been suggested that low-cost small earthen ponding dams should be dug out on the upper reaches of the watershed so as to augment, activise the watercourse (drainage lines) and also provide adequate soil moisture below such devices for the benefit of the poorer sections of society who make a living from that part of the watershed. Vegetating the upper reaches to provide the usufruct rights with pro-poor bias and also to enhance the stream-flow, besides increased groundwater recharge are the other possibilities. Cost-sharing in such community works requires special attention.

e. Pests and pesticides contribute to the major economic and ecological problems affecting the farmers, crops and their living environment. Rainfed agriculture now demands a paradigm shift towards integrated natural resource management (INRM) – using conservation agriculture practices (ex: Brazil, USA, Canada), productivity increases through hybrid technology (most rainfed crops such as maize, sorghum, pearl millet, sunflower, castor, cotton etc), in which India is the world leader, have gained significantly in the past.

f. Much of the rainfall is lost on farm in the states of Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal for want of field bunds - as practiced in Rajasthan and Gujrat. Most of good quality water is often lost. A simple practice of having just one foot high bund along the fields would ensure almost 80% of on-farm water harvesting in the eastern States – thus avoiding the problems of soil and water erosion, flooding etc also.

g. Research institutions in India have developed umpteen numbers of dry land technologies, which mostly need initial capital investment. Further because of the top to bottom research approach majority of the developed technology found unsuitable to the dry land farmers and seldom being used.

h. Villages, where dryland farming takes place, are also marked by relatively high proportion of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe households (traditionally disadvantaged to access modern input intensive agricultural technology), low or negligible rural infrastructure investments and services, high incidence of  morbidity and malnutrition, illiteracy and limited access to education, all revealing multiple dimensions of poverty.

i. The recent spate of farmer’s suicides in these areas proves how the green revolution package dependent on high levels of water use, purchased inputs, and reliable markets does not even comprehend the limited resource availability and high inter and intra-seasonal variability that characterize dryland agriculture.


Managing water in rainfed agriculture, Johan Rockstrom, Nuhu Hatibu Theib Y Oweis and Suhas Wani,

Rainfed Areas of India, Centre for Science and Environment,

A watershed approach to upgrade rainfed agriculture in water scarce regions through Water System Innovations: an integrated research initiative on water for food and rural livelihoods in balance with ecosystem functions by J. Rockstro¨m, C. Folke, L. Gordon, N. Hatibu, G. Jewitt, F. Penning de Vries, F. Rwehumbiza, H. Sally, H. Savenije and R. Schulze, Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 29 (2004) 1109–1118,

Report of the Working Group on Watershed Development, Rainfed Farming and Natural Resource Management for the Tenth Five Year Plan, Planning Commission, September 2001,

Strategic Assessments and Development Pathways for Agriculture in the Semi-Arid Tropics: How can rainfall insurance help dryland farmers? by KPC Rao, Xavier Gine, Donald Larson, MCS Bantilan and D Kumara Charyulu, Policy Brief No. 7, July, 2006,

Rainfed farming and successful alternatives: A case study of NPM in Andhra Pradesh – by G. Chandra Sekhar, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture,

Strategy for Increasing Productivity Growth in Agriculture by Dr. RS Paroda,

Report of Sub-Committee on More crop and income per drop of water, Ministry of Water Resources, October 2006,

Integrating Four Capitals and Four Waters to Secure the livelihood of Dry land Farmers by T.N. Balasubramanian and A. Nambi, SDC Project on Vulnerability assessment and enhancing adaptive capacity to climate change, 3rd Cross street, Taramani Institutional area, Chennai – 113,
Chapter 5: Land Resources and Agriculture by Suryaveer Singh (2008),

The Role of Rainfed Agriculture in the Future of Global Food Production by Mark W. Rosegrant, Ximing Cai, Sarah Cline and Naoko Nakagawa, German Development Institute (GDI) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Bonn, October 2001,

Researching the drylands by Rajeswari S. Raina,

Sustainable Development of Indian Agriculture: Green Revolution Revisited by Anil K Gupta, W.P. No. 896, September 1990, Indian Institute Of Management, Ahmedabad,

Lessons from the Green Revolution: Effects on Human Nutrition by Rachel Bezner Kerr, IDRC,

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