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Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
The end of India's green revolution?
Farmer walks across parched land in northern India
Many farmers are seeing the available water diminish
India's "green revolution" allowed the country to produce enough food to feed its population - but 40 years on, is this revolution unravelling?

The Green Revolution was a deliberate, all-out attempt to become self-sufficient in basic food crops.

For 40 years, a country once notorious for its famines has been able to feed itself, despite the relentless growth in its population. But now, doubts are being raised as to how long this situation can continue.

As India seeks to modernise, wheat fields and rice paddies may be outdated.

"India today is in what I would call the greatest agrarian crisis since the eve of the Green Revolution," author Palagummi Sainath, one of India's leading authorities on rural affairs, told BBC World Service's One Planet programme.

"Its effect is manifest in many ways. You have the lowest levels of growth in agricultural production in decades - it is the first time that the population growth rate has outstripped the agricultural production growth rate.

"You also have the lowest levels of employment ever seen in rural India since we started keeping data on the subject.

"You have millions of people migrating to towns and cities in search of jobs that don't exist, because the mills are closed, the factories are shut, and hundreds of thousands of units have wound up.

"You have a tremendous recipe for chaos which is entirely driven by policy. It has very little to do with drought and natural calamity."

Turning point

The 1968 Green Revolution saw annual wheat production rise from 10 million tonnes to 17 million virtually overnight, and continue to increase to a point where it now stands at 73 million tonnes.

But the arrival of the boat, Furnace Australia, in the port of Chennai last month marked a turning point for India.

Indian farmer
We don't get anything out of wheat or rice
Anil, farmer in Haryana, India's "bread basket"
The vessel was carrying the first consignment of half a million tonnes of wheat from Australia. In all, the Indian government is seeking to import three and a half million tonnes of wheat this year, to boost dwindling reserves.

The government puts the need to import down to a poor harvest last year, caused by bad weather.

But critics believe the problems go deeper than that, and are rooted in India's farmers now using their land to grow "cash crops" - products such as coffee and cotton - rather than staple food crops.

In particular, it is becoming increasingly hard to make a living out of wheat, a problem particularly acute in Haryana and Punjab, two states which alone account for 60% of India's wheat output.

"We don't get anything out of wheat or rice, but we get good prices for mushroom," said Anil, one farmer who has switched from growing wheat.

"When we were growing wheat, the situation was really bad - we didn't get anything. But with the mushroom crop, we get some profit - one acre of mushroom gets the same money as ten acres of wheat."

'No crisis'

In Haryana, traditionally India's bread basket, another family of farmers has a similar story.

"The water level has gone down - we don't get enough water to irrigate the fields," said Tejpal Chohan, one of a family of farmers who have changed their crops recently.

Rice being harvested in paddy fields
Fewer farmers are now interested in rice and wheat
"It's becoming a desert here. The paddy crop is not good quality either."

"Now, farmers are opting for mushrooms and sweet corn - the new crops for this area. The situation is the same for every farmer."

He added that, while there has not yet been a major impact on food crops being grown in the state, it is only a matter of time.

"There is definitely a difference now," he said.

"In mushroom and baby corn, we get three or four crops a year - with wheat and rice, we only get one crop in a season."

But Palagummi Sainath warned that while this economic argument may seem compelling, it is potentially "disastrous."

"A lot of countries outside of India would like us to grow the kind of stuff they can't grow in their climates.

"They can't grow coffee and pepper in their climates. But India's food crop is declining, hunger is rising.

"The input costs of cash crops are much higher than a food crop. When the worst comes to the worst, you can eat your food crop. You can't eat your cotton."

However, Haryana's chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, stressed the government is still keen to see the state diversify.

"India is a vast and big country, and I don't think there will be any decline in wheat production," he said.

"We are going for a second revolution. Our farmers are very hard-working, and the policies of the government are very good.

"I don't see any crisis."


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