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A Retrospect and Prospect of Indian Green Revolution

The Advent of Indian Green Revolution

The entire episodes of transformations in the agriculture sector with the introduction of high-yielding varieties of seeds in India after 1965 and the increased use of fertilizers and irrigation are collectively known as the Indian Green Revolution. It Increased production needed to make India self-sufficient in food grains.

The program was started with the help of the United States-based Rockefeller Foundation and was based on high-yielding varieties of wheat, rice, and other grains that had been developed in Mexico and in the Philippines. Of the high-yielding seeds, wheat produced the best results. In India, it was started by M.S. Swaminathan and Norman Borlaug at the disposal of the then Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi. It was a mere experiment, done with the welfare intention which imprinted historical impact over the country’s social, economic, and political aspects for a very long time. The need or rather the urgency behind the reform in the agriculture sector was triggered by the world’s worst food crisis ever recorded, which happened in 1943 in British ruled India, the Bengal Famine. An estimated four million people died of hunger that year alone in Eastern India (that included today’s Bangladesh).

The initial theory put forward to explain that the catastrophe was due to an acute shortfall in food production in the area. However, Indian economist Amartya Sen (recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 1998) has established that while food shortage was a contributor to the problem, a more potent factor was the result of hysteria related to World War II which made food supply a low priority for the British rulers. The hysteria was further exploited by Indian traders who hoarded food in order to sell at higher prices. The historians have established the fact that Churchill’s deliberate orders kept the famine hit areas deprived of the food supply in order to build up Britain’s food reserves. This famine hit hard on Indians and India’s economy and demography. The Indigo plantation menace added to the burden on Indian food reserves as farmers were forced to grow cash crops in place of food crops.

When the British left India four years later in 1947, India continued to be haunted by memories of the Bengal Famine. It was therefore natural that food security was a paramount item on free India’s agenda. This awareness led, on one hand to the Green Revolution in India and on the other- legislative measures to ensure that businessmen would never again be able to hoard food for profit.

However, the term “Green Revolution” is applied to the period from 1967 to 1978. Between 1947 and 1967, efforts at achieving food self-sufficiency were not entirely successful. Efforts until 1967 largely concentrated on expanding the farming areas. But the deaths by starvation were still being reported in the newspapers. In a perfect case of Malthusian economics, the population was growing at a much faster rate than food production. This called for drastic action to increase yield. The action came in the form of the Green Revolution. The term “Green Revolution”, in general, is applied to successful agricultural experiments in many Third world countries. It is not specific to India. But it was thought to be most successful in India.

The Basic Strategy of the Green Revolution

The new policy towards agriculture which began in the mid-1960s was a departure from the earlier approach in a number of ways.

The government policy was now oriented towards changing the technical conditions of production in agriculture rather than introducing land reforms and other changes in the property relations in the countryside. So far institutional changes were a part of the policy, they were chiefly in the form of services of State agricultural extension in order to spread information and provide access to the new technology. Establishment of the Agricultural Price Commission (now known as Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (ACP) in 1965 and the establishment of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) took place in the same year and efforts towards ensuring the availability of credit from institutional sources.

The new technology consisted essentially of a package of inputs and practices in eluding seeds of high-yielding varieties, which responded very favorably to fertilizers, irrigation and pesticides. The emphasis was primarily on increasing the output of food grains (especially wheat and rice). Other crops such as sugarcane, oilseeds, pulses, coarse cereals, jute and cotton were not a part of this policy.

Given the required assured water supply, the new technology was Introduced and employed successfully in areas having irrigation facilities. The strategy was therefore selective in approach. The focus was on selected new areas with assured availability of water or rainfall for the effective application of this package. This combined with the higher yield of new wheat seeds in India, led to a regional concentration of the new HYV technology in the irrigated wheat-growing region of Northwest India. This region, comprising the states of Punjab, Haryana and West Uttar Pradesh became a major success story of the Green Revolution by the early 1970s.

The new strategy also focused on increasing the marketed surplus of food grains through price support and procurement operations. It meant a focus on those groups of farmers who could produce a surplus for sale, over and above their own consumption. Essentially, these were the larger and richer farmers, who had both resources and access to the market which encouraged them to adopt the high yield variety (HYV) package.

Outcomes of the Green Revolution in India

Production Outcome of the Green Revolution

The Green Revolution established India as one of the world’s biggest agricultural producers. No other country in the world which attempted the Green Revolution recorded such a level of success. India also became an exporter around that time. Yield per unit of farmland improved between 1947 and 1979. The crop area under HYV varieties grew from the total cultivated area during the 10 years of the Green Revolution. More than 70 percent of the wheat crop area, the rice crop area, of the millet and corn crop area, used the HYV seeds.

Economic Outcome of the Green Revolution

Crop areas under high-yield varieties needed more water, more fertilizers, more pesticides and certain other chemicals. This spurred the growth of the local manufacturing sector. Such industrial growth created new jobs and contributed to the country’s GDP. The increase in irrigation created the need for new dams to harness monsoon water. The water stored was used to create hydroelectric power. This, in turn, boosted industrial growth, created jobs and improved the quality of life of the people in villages. India paid back all the loans it had taken from the World Bank and its affiliates for the purpose of the Green Revolution. This improved India’s international creditworthiness.

Political Results of the Green Revolution

India transformed itself from a starving nation to an exporter of food. This earned admiration for India in the group of nations, especially in the Third world. The Green Revolution was one factor that made Mrs. Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) and her party the Indian National Congress, a very powerful political force in India.

Green Revolution: An Assessment

Overall, the Green Revolution Is a major achievement for India, as it has provided an unprecedented level of food security. It represents the successful adaptation and transfer of the same scientific revolution in agriculture that the industrial countries had already appropriated for themselves. It has lifted a large number of poor people out of poverty and helped many non-poor people avoid poverty and hunger, which they would have experienced had it not taken place. The largest benefits to the poor are mostly indirect in the form of lower food prices, increased migration opportunities and greater employment in the rural non-farm economy.

Source: fao.org docrep/ ARTICLE/ AGRIPPA/ 658-en-02.htm

The direct benefits to the poor through their own on-farm adoption, greater agricultural employment and empowerment have been more mixed and depend heavily on local socio-economic conditions. In many cases inequalities between regions and classes that adopted Green Revolution technologies worsened, but in a number of other cases they did not. Also, it has given rise to many negative environmental issues that have yet to be addressed adequately. The figure above shows the increasing dependency of plants on chemical fertilizers. Degradation of soil quality led to the diversion of the population in Punjab from agriculture to business and other income sources.

Social Consequences of Green Revolution

The effect of the application of the new technology was that there was an increase in the production of food grains from 1965-66 to 1970-71. Of the food grains produced the greatest impact of the Green Revolution Is to be seen on the production of wheat. But the harmful social effect of the Green Revolution was also soon visible. It has been established that disparities in income have been widened by these innovations in agriculture. Agricultural input and improved chemical fertilizers were largely cornered by rich landlords. Besides, the poor farmers also found themselves handicapped by small farms of land and inadequate water supply. Given the need for complete agricultural techniques and inputs, the Green Revolution tended to have its most concentrated application only on large farms. As a concentration of the new technology to large farms, the inequalities have further increased. The small farmers have been adversely affected by a growing tendency among the large farmers to reclaim land previously leased out under the tenancy agreement, which has been made profitable by higher returns from new technology. The small farmer has been increasingly pushed into the rank of the landless laborer. There have been increased levels of rent with land value soaring. The conditions were worsened by the dependency of the farmers on the MNCs for the seed as the HYV seed became useless to be sown again in the F1 generation. Hence, gradually the indigenous culture of seed storage vanished.

Challenges Today

The potential of the Green Revolution varieties appears to have been exhausted. The yield barriers have to be broken through research and development. A large number of farmers have yet to adopt the existing yield-increasing technologies. Extension access to such farmers should be ensured for wider acceptance of the existing technologies. The indirect benefits to the poor due to another technological breakthrough in agriculture are likely to be weaker in the future as globalization and trade in agricultural commodities make food prices less responsive to local production. Diversification in crop production, value addition, and agri-business development in the rural sector holds the key to livelihood security in such areas. By building on the strengths of the Green Revolution, while seeking to avoid its weaknesses, scientists and policymakers can take significant steps towards achieving sustainable food security in the country. The Green Revolution has been an important contributor to the growth of food grain output in the last forty years. Current strategies of agricultural development must take into account the need for sustainability-enhancing technologies and the changes in the international trade scenarios. Issues such as suitable technologies for rainfed areas, resource management, better livelihood strategies and trade should be Incorporated In the policy and its implementation assured at all costs.


Drifting back, history shows the conditions of India were darkly depressed in the hands of its colonizers. A recently independent, famine-hit country with a GDP growth of merely 3% and treasury running in deficits, burdened with international monetary debts and never-ending internal socio-communal conflicts, would do anything in hand to make even a little good possible. Even if it takes to compromise all foresight of losses which may or may not happen. India’s response to welcome agricultural reform that gradually resulted in the Green Revolution was a practical response to then-existing situations. Also, the speculations say that the Green Revolution delivered all that it promised. However, it was with time that the harmful effects of the chemicals and social disparity caused came into notice. Had there been no such revolution, what would be India’s situation today? The economic stability that India gained after becoming a food surplus country that helped India earned its GDP back would be out of the equation.

During the ’70s, Russia was too under unrest due to the failure of its socialism model and loss in its petroleum market, hence no backup could be expected as help from the Russians. India’s relationships with America were cold during the times of Indira Gandhi, and America was already making things difficult for India by its interference in International policies of WTO (then IMF and GATT) by not considering agricultural produce in the international trading market. Due to this all the countries having agricultural economies found it difficult to find a market for their agricultural produce. However, India managed to balance its economy by initiating industrialization on the benefits of the Green Revolution i.e. irrigation facilities, dams, institutionalized banking system, transports, exports and labor force. The events that occurred, were unavoidable on Indian ground.

The reality or the aftermath, however, cannot be ignored as well. The heavy usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the soil degraded it to an extent of non-restoration. Water resources became polluted and depleted. The need of the hour is to adopt, practice and promote eco-friendly agricultural practices. Organic farming is being praised for its non-exploitatory nature but the government compliances are stringent to let farmers sell the product labeling them as organic. In order to switch to organic, the land has to be kept free from any form of chemicals, be it fertilizers or pesticides for at least 4 to 5 years. Not only this, there must not be any leaching of the chemical effluent release in the local radius of farmland, only then the product can be considered organic. Apart from this, any organic produce, in order to be sold as organic food, has to gain certain certifications; one is the Third-Party Certification - to sell the organic produce outside India - certified under the Ministry of Commerce while another certification called Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) in which small farmers in a group vet each other’s land; means they keep check on each other’s land against the use of any chemicals for a certain period of time. PGS certification is affordable to them. But the dilemma is, although the Food Safety and Standard Association of India (FSSAI) recognizes these certifications, it is often unlikely that the international market accepts them, making it really hard for India to create its market for organic produce. Hence India needs to work hard on the policy front as well to ensure food security in India. The equations are clear. The path towards Modern Green Revolution will lead to organic farming. As the menace of chemical farming is widely being criticized and farmers associations like Navdanya and State Government of Sikkim, the only organic state in Asia, are setting up benchmarks and foundations for the new revolution.



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Kushal Kumar Maurya (

Development Professional

Founder & Editor of Think it Again

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