Green revolution@50
The green revolution was a transformational event changing our agricultural destiny from one of ship to mouth to one of right to food with home grown food. This transformation came at the time when the world was full of doomsday predictions concerning the fate of Indian agriculture and food security. For example, the famous scientists, Paul and William Ehrlich made the following predictions: 1) Sometime between 1970 and 1985 the world will undergo vast famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death. That is, they will starve to death unless plague, thermo nuclear war, or some other agent kills them first. 2) The United States should announce that it will no longer ship food to countries such as India where dispassionate analysis indicates that the unbalance between food and population is hopeless.
In the early ’60s it was clear that in order to take advantage of fertiliser and water, we should bring about changes in the architecture of the rice and wheat plants. What we needed was a dwarf plant type which will not allow the plant to lodge even if the panicle is rich in grains. I had proposed at that time, an extensive programme of dwarf wheat breeding and popularisation. The initial material came from Mexico through the kindness of Dr Norman E Borlaug. Soon the agriculture scientists of IARI developed high yielding wheat varieties with amber grains like sonalika and kalyan sona. A Seed Village was organised at Jounti village in Delhi state in order to produce enough seed. Public policy support was extended through the high yielding varieties programme and through arrangements for pricing and procurement.
The National Seeds Corporation was established to produce enough seeds of the new varieties. An Agricultural Prices Commission was established to recommend procurement prices which are attractive to farmers and reasonable to the consumer. National demonstrations were organised in the fields of resource poor farmers in order to spread knowledge about the opportunities opened up by the new semi-dwarf wheat varieties. In all the areas involving public policy the country for fortunate to be lead by the late Bharat Ratna C Subramaniam, who was a source of immense encouragement to scientist and farmers.
In the case of rice also, semi-dwarf varieties became available from China and from the International Rice Research Institute. This new plant type again helped to transform the yield potential of rice. In three other crops viz., maize, jowar and bajra, the potential offered by hybrid vigour was capitalised. Thus in five major crops, a new page were opened in India’s agriculture history.

To summarise the green revolution was the product of synergy among scientific work, input-output pricing policies and above all, the enthusiasm and hard work of farmers. Whenever there is a fusion of scientific skill, political will and farmers toil, we see rapid progress. In 1964, I had organised a meeting titled falsifying the prophets of doom. At this meeting attended also by young students there was a unanimous decision that we must prove prophets of doom wrong and that we should not allow the Bengal Famine to be repeated. Also, we should not lead a ship to mouth existence.
While we can be proud of our past accomplishment, the future is one of many challenges. Arable land and irrigation water are shrinking resources for agriculture. There is also a need for giving an income orientation to farming. Government has already announced that they will help farmers to double their income in the next five years. There is also the need to conform to Goal 2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, namely, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. These are challenging tasks and the challenge lies in achieving them.
In the future design of our farming system, it would be useful to tailor our approach to the following five groups of agriculture zones. These are hill, coastal, arid, semi-arid and wet zones. Each of the five zones can further be split to numerous subzones. We need to take action on the following lines.
Coastal zone: here the aim has to be sea water farming and agriculture-aqua system. Coastal areas occupy a considerable portion of global surface and they also provide 97 per cent of the world’s water resource.
Hill zone: the emphasis is on horticultural and plantation crops. Land use in the hill zone should be such that there will be no soil erosion. The choice of plantation crops will be based upon our competitive ability to provide high quality and low cost products. Price instability is a major problem and will depend upon the supply-demand situation.
Arid zone: provides opportunities for animal husbandry, particularly the rearing of camels, goats, sheep and horses. The arid zone also can be used for raising crops which provide dry fruits, like almond, apricot, etc.
Semi-arid zone: climate smart nutri cereals ike jowar, bajra, ragi and whole set of minor millets can be grown. Fortunately the Food Security Act of 2012 provides an opportunity for enlarging the food basket by including millets in the public-procurement and distribution system.
The wet zone: is the main food producing zone and what is important is to ensure that there is no overexploitation of the soil or groundwater. Here the water table is going down in many parts of India. Deep tube wells are being installed. However, such over exploitation of groundwater will not be sustainable overtime.
The transition from the green to evergreen revolution requires emphasis on sustainability and economic and social viability. Based on the lessons of the green revolution, we can now proceed with shaping the new agriculture of the 21st century which alone can help us to realise goal 2 of the UN Sustainable Development decade.
M S Swaminathan