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The Journal of Peasant Studies
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The Long Green Revolution
To cite this article: Raj Patel (2013) The Long Green Revolution, The Journal of Peasant Studies,
40:1, 1-63, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2012.719224
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2012.719224
Published online: 16 Nov 2012.
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The Long Green Revolution
To combat climate change and hunger, a number of governments, foundations
and aid agencies have called for a â€˜New Green Revolutionâ€™. Such calls obfuscate
the dynamics of the Green Revolution. Using Arrighiâ€™s analysis of capital
accumulation cycles, it is possible to trace a Long Green Revolution that spans
the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Such an analysis illuminates commonalities in past and present Green Revolutions, including their bases in class
struggles and crises of accumulation, modes of governance â€“ particularly in the
links between governments and philanthropic institutions â€“ and the institutions
through which truths about agricultural change were produced and became
known. Such an analysis also suggests processes of continuity between the
original Green Revolution and features of twenty-first-century agricultural
change, while providing a historical grounding in international financial capitalâ€™s
structural changes to help explain some of the novel features that accompany the
New Green Revolution, such as â€˜land grabsâ€™, patents on life, and nutritionism.
Keywords: Green Revolution; Cold War; financialization; biopolitics; land grabs;
Foucault; Arrighi; food regimes
During his state visit to the US in July 2005, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh thanked his hostsâ€™ historic generosity, and bravely pointed to the future. â€˜We
owe our green revolution to Americaâ€™, said Singh. â€˜Now we can herald a second
green revolution with American assistanceâ€™ (Mishra 2006). On a return visit a year
later, President George W. Bush sketched out the history, and the future, a little
The United States worked with India to help meet its food needs in the 1960s, when
pioneering American scientists like Norman Borlaug shared agriculture technology with
Indian farmers. Thanks to your hard work, you have nearly tripled your food
production over the past half-century. To build on this progress, Prime Minister Singh
and I are launching a new Agricultural Knowledge Initiative. This initiative will invest
US $100 million to encourage exchanges between American and Indian scientists and
The author is grateful for research assistance from Sylvia Kay, Musab Younis, Meredith
Palmer, and Patricia Hernandez, and for collegial support from Philip McMichael, Eric HoltGimenez, Jun Borras, Vishrut Arya, Dan Moshenberg, Jill Richardson â€“ whose book on this
subject will become required reading – Christine Dann, Mark Muller, Jim Harkness, Vishrut
Arya, Sophia Murphy, Martha Saavedra and Rachel Bezner Kerr. Three anonymous
reviewers were especially helpful in honing the argument. While not always mutually
reconcilable, my readersâ€™ criticisms have significantly improved this paper. I apologise for the
mistakes upon which I have insisted, despite my reviewersâ€™ better judgment.
The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2013
Vol. 40, No. 1, 1â€“63, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2012.719224
2013 Taylor & Francis
promote joint research to improve farming technology. By working together the United
States and India will develop better ways to grow crops and get them to market, and
lead a second Green Revolution. (applause). . . The great Indian poet Tagore once
wrote, â€˜Thereâ€™s only one history â€“ the history of manâ€™. The United States and India go
forward with faith in those words. Thereâ€™s only one history of man â€“ and it leads to
freedom. (Rao 2006)
Thereâ€™s something unsettling about one of Americaâ€™s most unlettered Presidents
quoting Tagore and waxing Hegelian. Scholars of agrarian change, however, are
likely to be galled by deeper issues within this exchange. Between them, Singh and
Bush raise questions about the history of the first Green Revolution, the role of the
state in international agricultural development, and the importance of knowledge for
capitalist transformation in ways that matter for the future of food not just in India,
but across the planet.
To both parse and address these issues, the world needs more histories of the
Green Revolution. This essay, unfortunately, is not such a history. Many analysts
have toiled in the Revolutionâ€™s archives, to great effect (Feder 1976, Perkins 1997,
Ross 1998b, Cullather 2010), and it would be unkind to suffer the reader to retell
other peoplesâ€™ arguments with less archival dust on my hands than my predecessors.
Rather than recycle previous work, this paper builds the case for more research on
the Green Revolution by setting the recent calls for a second or a â€˜New Green
Revolutionâ€™ in historical context. Using ideas from Braudel (1982a), Clark 1999),
Foucault and Senellart (2008), and Arrighi (2010), this paper attempts to trace a
trajectory of accumulation, legitimation and development from the first Green
Revolution to the present, and to outline a research agenda for further enquiry.
The scope of the research agenda is betrayed by this paperâ€™s title. Although the
Green Revolution is commonly understood to have run from the early 1940s to 1970,
the periodization is unsatisfactory. The processes of state reconfiguration, capitalist
accumulation, concentration of power, disenfranchisement, agricultural investment
and innovation â€“ which only came to be called â€˜the Green Revolutionâ€™ two years
before it is said to have ended â€“ both predate the standard history and continued
long after 1970. In finding a porousness in the standard periodization, I draw on
insights from British Marxist historians in the vein of Eric Hobsbawmâ€™s Long
Nineteenth (Hobsbawm 1996) and Short Twentieth centuries (Hobsbawm 1994)
whose work, in turn, draws on Fernand Braudelâ€™s Long Sixteenth Century and the
notion of cycles of capitalist accumulation (Braudel 1982a). A rigorous longue dureÂ´e
analysis of agricultural change under millennia of capitalism is outside the scope of
this paper, although Mooreâ€™s (2010) world historical project moves in some ways
toward this bigger goal. The aim in this paper is more modest: it is to examine the
origins and consequences of the idea of a â€˜Green Revolutionâ€™ in the twentieth and
twenty-first centuries. In this task, a longue dureÂ´e analysis helps in understanding the
transformations at hand as a decades-long complex of discourse, technology, state
power, class politics, national and international relations, private investment,
cultural intervention, education and ecological change.
As ever, class matters. The who, what, when, where, why questions offered by C.
Wright Mills (1959) as guides to the sociological imagination have recently been
updated for agrarian studies by Bernstein (2010a). In setting about answering these
questions, Araghiâ€™s (2003) examination of the creation of value within the global
food system is as sound a point of departure as any. He points to the structures
through which international value relations consolidated and reconsolidated first as
2 R. Patel
a condition and then as a consequence of the rise of industrial capitalism in Europe.
We might look further back and see Enclosure as the original depeasantization
(Araghi 1995), and the originary moment of the creation of capitalist value (Wood
2000, though see also Allen 1999).
Yet, while I find the arguments around the logic of value creation necessary, they
are not sufficient to explain the reason that the Green Revolution looks the way that it
does. Peasants, even the Iranians who become components â€˜of the global food regime
and of capital and the world historical value relations of the late nineteenth centuryâ€™
(Araghi 2003, 57), have resisted and continue to resist the great enclosure (Holt
GimeÂ´nez and Shattuck 2011). The possibility of resistance suggests that, at the very
least, an attempt to map the trajectory of global value chain analysis needs to look at
wider social context. The Green Revolution was itself a moment in struggles around
the creation of value, altering the balance of class forces, reconfiguring relations to the
means of production, and setting the processes of production and reproduction on a
new trajectory. The authors of the Green Revolution could not make history as they
pleased, but did so against the often collectively organized resistance of the poor,
using the tools of the state against a rural majority. Although this was sometimes
achieved through brute force, even state violence needs legitimation â€“ and the logic of
value creation is, by itself, insufficient to understand how the stateâ€™s actions are
explained, why they look the way they do, and what this enables and prevents.
For this task, McMichael and Friedmannâ€™s idea of â€˜food regimesâ€™ is useful. A
food regime itself is a â€˜rule-governed structure of production and consumption of
food on a world scaleâ€™ (Friedmann 1993, 30). The institutional arrangements of
power and property arenâ€™t, however,
. . .sufficient for a food regime analysis. Are tensions stabilized? What institutions
provide the pivot and give meaning to a stable constellation of relationships? For
instance, is there a counterpart in a financialized food regime to food aid as a pivot of
the 1947â€“73 food regime? Legitimacy of food aid depended on both of the following: (1)
convergent interests and expectations among diverse and highly unequal actors,
including US farm commodity groups and legislators, Third World governments, grain
trading corporations, consumers who benefited from falling grain and meat prices; and
(2) an ideological framework that defined these as humanitarian, developmental, or
anything but a trade relation, even though the scale of food aid shipments dominated
world price formation for three decades. By the 1980s subsidized exports are universally
seen as a bad trade practice (with regime crisis, aid came to be done differently), and
continuing to do it is not legitimate. (Friedmann 2009, 337)
Friedmannâ€™s questions are mine too. One neednâ€™t be a card-carrying
Althusserian â€“ and many are not (Goodman and Watts 1994) â€“ to find questions
of legitimacy, institutions and ideology important. It is certainly true that a thorough
Marxist analysis of value would necessarily examine these questions. Food regime
analysis urges that such questions be foregrounded. This is sensible in considering
the Green Revolution because it so clearly relied on institutions to corral and
maintain a cocktail of coercion and consent within the dominant hegemonic bloc
(Gramsci 1971). A Braudelian method urges a wider historical sweep, but Marxist
history also demands an understanding of contingent and temporary historical class
compromises. Food regimes offer a way of understanding the structure and internal
logic of those compromises in a way that a logic of value creation by itself might not.
Specifically, in legitimizing the Green Revolution, knowledge matters. It is
striking that the central plank in George Bushâ€™s speech is the transfer and exchange
The Journal of Peasant Studies 3
of knowledge. The importance of knowledge isnâ€™t simply restricted to ways of
cultivating and propagating, nor even to the genetic information within Indiaâ€™s
biodiversity, although it includes that too. The knowledge that matters here extends
to ways that the government knows how to support and invest in agriculture â€“ as
Friedmann suggests, one of the things that is now known among international
development policy elites is that subsidized exports are foolish. The domain of this
knowledge is a battlefield (Long and Long 1992), and the conflict extends not just to
economic policy, but to the history of the Green Revolution itself. In pushing for a
â€˜second Green Revolutionâ€™, the first Green Revolution needs to be sold as a success.
To do that requires the first Green Revolution be considered completed, and that it
be considered unequivocally effective. But if the Green Revolution is still unfolding,
as I argue it is, and if its results have been ambiguous, as we shall see they have been,
then the foundational knowledge required to refashion the Green Revolution project
requires continuous and ongoing work to legitimize the actions carried out in its
Finally, to argue that the Green Revolution has been long is not to argue that it
has remained constant. On the contrary, one of the most striking features of the calls
for a â€˜New Green Revolutionâ€™ is the deployment of terms like â€˜nutritionâ€™ in novel
ways. To understand this transformation, Michel Foucaultâ€™s work on biopolitics is
helpful. In a series of lectures between 1978 and 1979, Foucault explored some of the
central concerns around the idea of â€˜biopoliticsâ€™, suggesting that
â€˜biopolitics,â€™ [means] the attempt, starting from the eighteenth century, to rationalize the
problems posed to governmental practice by phenomena characteristic of a set of living
beings forming a population: health, hygiene, birthrate, life expectancy, race . . . We
know the increasing importance of these problems since the nineteenth century, and the
political and economic issues they have raised up to the present. It seemed to me that
these problems were inseparable from the framework of political rationality within
which they appeared and took on their intensity. This means â€˜liberalismâ€™, since it was in
relation to liberalism that they assumed the form of a challenge. How can the
phenomena of â€˜populationâ€™, with its specific effects and problems, be taken into account
in a system concerned about respect for legal subjects and individual free enterprise? In
the name of what and according to what rules can it be managed? (Foucault and
Senellart 2008, 317)
The liberalism Foucault mentions is, to be clear, not the same as the part of the
political spectrum occupied by social democratic parties in Europe or even the
Democrats in the United States. Rather, it is the broader term for the kind of
political arrangements â€“ legal personhood, markets and private property foremost â€“
conducive to modern capitalism. These arrangements can be found in states across
the Global North and South, whether these states claim they are liberal or not. With
this in mind, it makes sense to understand the Green Revolution as a biopolitical as
well as a geopolitical (Perkins 1997) process. The original Green Revolution emerged
as a result of thinking about populations and the problem of hunger in very
particular ways. Capitalism and the liberal state meet these problems pre-constrained
by the sanctity of private property and the desirability of â€˜individual free enterpriseâ€™
(Scott 1998, Angus and Butler 2011). The Green Revolution was a solution to a
problem framed by the geopolitics and ideologies of the early part of the twentieth
century. The framing has changed in the twenty-first century, which is why the New
Green Revolution appears distinct from the first. But underlying concerns around
control, management and property remain the same and, crucially, the ambitions of
4 R. Patel
those pushing the New Green Revolution reveal a project that is more biopolitical â€“
more focused on the management of individual bodies â€“ than the original Green
Revolution. This happens precisely, I suggest, because of changes in cycles of
accumulation over the past century. To see this, we ought to begin with specifying
exactly what the Green Revolution was, is, and wants to be.
2. What was the Green Revolution?
It is possible to pull a dominant narrative of the Green Revolution from those who,
on balance, saw it as a good thing (Gaud 1968, Borlaug 1970, Alcantara 1973,
Glaeser 1987, Conway 1997, Borlaug 2000, Davies 2003, Evenson and Gollin 2003).
Their story runs like this: The seeds of revolution were planted in early 1941, when
the Rockefeller Foundation sent a team to survey Mexican agriculture. This resulted
in the development of the Mexican Agricultural Program (MAP), to which in 1944 a
young biologist named Norman Borlaug was hired. As a result of his dedication and
ingenuity, he developed â€˜miracle wheatâ€™ in 1954, which was spread by the Rockefeller
and Ford foundations through the world, in the 1950s and 1960s, with other crops â€“
notably rice â€“ added to the menu, with the help of the US government toward the
end of that period, and for which Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in
1970, soon after which the Green Revolution can be said to have come to an end
(Dowie 2001, 114).
The term â€˜Green Revolutionâ€™ was coined by William Gaud late in its unfolding,
at a meeting of the Society for International Development in DC in 1968, in which he
described what had happened as a result of US and philanthropic funding for
fertilizer, irrigation, improved hybrid seeds, state support and credit:
These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new
revolution. It is not a violet Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White
Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution. (Gaud 1968)1
Note that Dowie dates the genesis of the term fully a decade earlier, attributing it to W.H.
â€˜Pingâ€™ Ferry, a Vice President at the Ford Foundation, based on information found in the
Rockefeller archives (Dowie, personal communication, 2011). That may well be the case. The
media frenzy surrounding the adoption of this term isnâ€™t one, however, for which Iâ€™ve been
able to find evidence, and Gaud seems the most widely accepted minter of the term when it
comes to international agricultural development. In passing it is worth noting that, although
William Gaud may have coined the term â€˜Green Revolutionâ€™, he wasnâ€™t the first person to use
it. The idea of a â€˜Green Revolutionâ€™ in opposition to a communist one finds its origins in the
left-leaning Catholic Worker movement in the United States. Peter Maurin, who co-founded
Catholic Worker with Dorothy Day, suggested that:
The only way to prevent a Red Revolution is to promote a Green Revolution.
The only way to keep people from looking up to Red Russia of the twentieth
century is to make them look up to Green Ireland of the seventh century. (Maurin
An urban instruction in Catholic history, a return to the land, and public forums for
discussion would, Maurin argued in the 1920s and 1930s, provide â€˜the best antidote to Marxist
materialismâ€™ (Maurin 1949, 98, Novitsky 1975). This is consonant with, and predates, Gaudâ€™s
formulation of the Green Revolution. Although in this case the â€˜Greenâ€™ refers to Ireland rather
than plant leaves, both uses are animated by a desire to fend off communism, and both involve
the construction of a rural idyll of one kind or another, in order to achieve that.
The Journal of Peasant Studies 5
The figures that Gaud, and his intellectual descendants, gave to support the claim
are impressive. Record harvests were achieved in many countries that adopted the
new technology, with certain countries experiencing spectacular successes. Total
food production in the developing world more than doubled between 1960 and 1985
(Conway 1997). Rice production in Indonesia for instance increased by 275%
between 1966 and 2000 (Khush 2003). Increases in production were often the
outcome of higher yields. Chile, for instance, witnessed a 200 kg/ha per year growth
in its maize production after 1964 â€“ the highest sustained growth rate of any cereal so
far (Conway 1997). By the 1990s, close to 75% of Asiaâ€™s rice and half of the wheat in
Africa, Latin America and Asia were grown with the new varieties (Rosset 2000).
The Green Revolution, for instance, doubled food supply in Asia in 25 years with
only a 4% increase in net cropped area (Lipton 2007).
Meanwhile, food production successfully outstripped population growth. The
global population increased by 110% between 1950 and 1990 but global cereal
production increased by 174% over the same period (Otero and Pechlaner 2008). In
2000, world food supplies were 20% higher per capita than in 1961 while the number
of people going hungry decreased by 16% between 1970 and 1990, from 942 to 786
million (Borlaug and Dowswell 2003). Greg Page, the Chairman and CEO of the
food, agriculture and financial services giant Cargill, recently observed that â€˜we live
in a time where the world is the furthest it has ever been from caloric famine. . . the
number of calories that the worldâ€™s farmers are producing per inhabitant of the
world are at all time record levelsâ€™ (BBC 2011). Perhaps it is true, as Norman
Borlaug claimed in his Nobel Prize speech, that â€˜to millions of these unfortunates,
who have long lived in despair, the green revolution seems like a miracle that has
generated new hope for the futureâ€™ (Borlaug 1970).
Yet while true that hunger has decreased over the Green Revolution decades,
removing China from the equation â€“ where the Green Revolution was decidedly
Redder – the number of hungry people increased by more than 11% (Rosset 2000).
Despite the lofty rhetoric of feeding the world attending the Green Revolution then
and now, current data on hunger suggest a different story. Today, there are around
one billion undernourished (see FAO 2011b and subsequently Ivanic et al. 2011). In
spurring agricultural capitalism, the Green Revolution seems to have succeeded
amply in producing more food. Yet the vast availability of calories has not
represented an â€˜escape from hungerâ€™ (Vanhaute 2011).
In response to recent widespread malnutrition, higher food prices, the threat of
climate change and an increased global population, there have been calls for a new,
second Green Revolution. In Africa, Kofi Annan heads the Alliance for a Green
Revolution in Africa. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has reportedly spent
USD 2 billion from 2007 to 2012 to combat hunger (Blankinship 2012). At the
World Food Prize Ceremony in 2010, in a symposium called â€“ without irony â€“
â€˜Taking It To the Farmerâ€™, Jeff Raikes, the CEO of the Gates Foundation, offered
Whatâ€™s required of us is our unfailing commitment to the cause of agricultural
development. Itâ€™s the same commitment that drives . . . farmers in the developing world
to wake up each morning and do their part to feed the world. (Raikes 2010)
The World Bank has called for investment to support smallholder agriculture both
to alleviate poverty and increase food production (World Bank 2007a).
6 R. Patel
It is only possible for the Bank, assorted development agencies and
philanthropists to push for this conclusion if the Green Revolution is represented
in a particular way, with certain features occluded or ignored, and others distorted
(Amanor 2009, McMichael 2009a, Oya 2009a, 2009b, Woodhouse 2009). A central
argument in this paper is that the historical reconstruction of the original Green
Revolution in contemporary debates over agriculture in the Global South is far from
innocent. In order to marshal the consent required for new dreams to â€˜feed the
worldâ€™ to proceed, history has been revised. Which is why it is worth returning to
Mexico to ask Bernsteinâ€™s distributional questions, and deepen his analysis of the
Green Revolution (Bernstein 2010a). This is not to indict the good intentions of
those who, throughout its progress, saw the Green Revolution as a potent weapon in
combatting the social ills of its time. But to wonder why Mexico was chosen for the
Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s generosity is to begin to unravel the standard narrative a
little, and to peel back the social construction of the ills that the Green Revolution
was intended to remedy.
Many of the features that would come to characterise the Green Revolution were in
place by the 1920s. International grain markets were concentrated in the hands of a
few corporations (Murphy 2006). Fertilizers produced through the Haber-Bosch
process had been manufactured in the US since the end of the First World War
(Brand 1945).2 National governmental systems for agricultural research and
innovation had existed for decades (Macconnell 1953), as had the technologies of
plant breeding. Through Andrew Carnegieâ€™s endeavors, the apparatus of large-scale
philanthropy had been established (Carnegie 1901). Foremost among US
philanthropic enterprises was the Rockefeller Foundation, which had been interested
in agricultural technology since 1906 when it funded a science-driven â€˜crusade
against the boll weevil in the southern USAâ€™ (Fitzgerald 1986, 460). The Foundation
had a modest agricultural program in China, which in 1933 gave USD 1 million to
the Kuomintang for rural reconstruction in their ongoing battles against the
Communists (Perkins 1997, Ross 1998a). But the place that was to launch the Green
Revolution was closer to the Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s home, because it was also
closer to the United States.
The US government had long been involved in the affairs of its southern
neighbor, from the Mexican-American war of 1846â€“8 to, more recently, the ongoing
US involvement in the 1910 Mexican revolution and subsequent responses to
peasant insurgency (Wolf 1999). Discussions for an agricultural research program in
Mexico began at the Rockefeller Foundation in 1933 too, but were put on hold by
the election of a new Mexican president, LaÂ´zaro CaÂ´rdenas. CaÂ´rdenas instituted wideranging land reform in the country â€“ redistributing 47% of all cultivatable land
(Alcantara 1973, 25) â€“ and began to nationalize the assets of the oil industry,
including the refineries of the Standard Oil company, the gushers of Rockefeller
Foundation money (Perkins 1990).
It is often noted that fertilizers were produced by repurposed munitions factories after WWII
(Pollan 2008). Less widely known is that this transformation, from military to civilian
agricultural production, had happened first in the late 1910s and 1920s. See (Brand 1945,
Russell 2001) for more.
The Journal of Peasant Studies 7
At the end of the 1930s, Mexican agriculture was pinched with under-supply.
CaÂ´rdenasâ€™ conservative political opposition called for the military to be deployed to
the fields. Although CaÂ´rdenasâ€™ critics blamed his land reform policies for the turmoil,
1938 saw pest outbreaks, unfavourable weather and poor distribution networks that
played havoc with Mexican agricultural production and consumption. It was this
complex political ecology that set the stage for the Green Revolution to follow (Cotter
2003). In 1940, amid internecine fights within his party (the PRM â€“ the Party of the
Mexican Revolution) CaÂ´rdenas endorsed the conservative presidential candidate
AÂ´ vila Camacho. While consolidating some of CaÂ´rdenasâ€™ changes, Camacho signaled
his class allegiances soon after assuming power, instituting electoral reform to prevent
communists from running for elected office (Jennings 1988, 45â€“61). It was a position
that pleased Mexicoâ€™s northern neighbor. The US vice-president and founder of the
Hi-Bred (now Pioneer Hi-Bred) seed company, Henry Wallace, took a road trip in
November 1940 to attend Camachoâ€™s inauguration. On his return, he discussed the
possibilities of agricultural research and intervention in Mexico with Raymond
Fosdick, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation. It was in this context that the
Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s interest unfolded.
Although history suggests that the Green Revolution began as a joint venture
between Rockefeller and the Mexican government, the Foundation was in the
driving seat from the outset. As Jennings observes by citing Warren Weaver, director
of the Division of Natural Sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation, the Mexican
government was largely ignorant of the Foundationâ€™s goals in its creation of the
Mexican Agricultural Program:
We customarily refer to this program as a collaboration between the Mexican
Government and the Rockefeller Foundation, this collaboration having been undertaken at the request of the Mexican Government. Although formally accurate, this
statement is actually very misleading. . . it must be realistically admitted that they had
little or no idea as to what we were talking about, or what we intended to do. . . The
Rockefeller Foundation wanted to try an experiment. Mexico offered a favorable
location. In the first instance this project is going to produce more and better corn and
beans for Mexicans but from a much larger and important point of view, it is a basic
experiment in international technical cooperation. (Weaver cited in Jennings 1988, 58â€“9)
Mexicans would be beneficiaries of this experiment, even if it were never
imagined that their government would meaningfully set its direction. Instead, the
program was intended to be one â€˜consistent with U.S. government policy yet
independent of Washingtonâ€™s controlâ€™ (Perkins 1990, 9). The â€˜cooperationâ€™ envisaged
by the Foundation, in which local and international resources would be used to
transform local production techniques, faced resistance even with the community of
agricultural development experts. Carl Sauer, a geographer at the University of
California at Berkeley, made repeated calls to the Rockefeller Foundation to desist,
arguing that the approach of US agronomists (while matched to their technocratic
Mexican counterparts (Cotter 2003)) was ill suited to the ecological and social
systems well established in Mexico:
A good aggressive bunch of American agronomists and plant breeders could ruin the
native resources for good and all by pushing their American commercial stocks. . . And
Mexican agriculture cannot be pointed toward standardization on a few commercial
types without upsetting native economy and culture hopelessly. The example of Iowa is
8 R. Patel
about the most dangers [sic] of all for Mexico. Unless the Americans understand that,
theyâ€™d better keep out of this country entirely. That must be approached from an
appreciation of native economies as being basically sound. (Sauer cited in Jennings
Indeed, Sauer went further, pointing to the instrumentalization of the countryside as an unstated assumption of the Foundationâ€™s approach:
The agricultural situation in Mexico is an exaggeration of that which we have in our
experimental work in California; the interest is directed away from subsistence or village
agriculture to the needs of city and factory with the attendant emphasis on
standardization and on yield. . .and on the commodities which the privileged fraction
of the population can absorb. (Sauer cited in Jennings 1988, 52â€“53)
Despite the fact that Mexican government policy had clearly swung toward an
urban-centric development model under Camacho and his successor Miguel Aleman
(Alcantara 1973, 29), Sauer and others were rebuffed. A 1949 letter from Paul
Mangelsdorf, a Harvard professor of Plant Genetics and Breeding, and one of the
original Rockefeller survey team, to Weaver captures the spirit with which Sauerâ€™s
concerns were treated:
If the program . . .does â€˜succeedâ€™, it will mean the disappearance of many ancient
Mexican varieties of corn and other crops and perhaps the destruction of picturesque
folk ways, which are of great interest to the anthropologist. In other words, to . . ..Sauer,
Mexico is a kind of glorified ant hill which they are in the process of studying. They
resent any effort to â€˜improveâ€™ the ants. They much prefer to study them as they now are.
(Mangelsdorf cited in Jennings 1988, 55)
At the outset, then, there were debates within the Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s
walled garden. Sauer perceived correctly that the Rockefeller Foundation wanted to
bring knowledge accumulated in large-scale US agriculture, and apply it where such
experience was relevant only to a minority of producers. The terms in which he was
rebuffed speak both of the contempt with which Sauerâ€™s deep respect for peasant
knowledge was viewed, and also of the transcendent power to improve this
knowledge that industrial agriculture, and US philanthropy, might bring (Li 2007).
The facts vindicate Sauer. Recall that Mexicoâ€™s Green Revolution program is
famed for its production of wheat. The conventional narrative suggests that Norman
Borlaug â€˜realized that Mexicoâ€™s traditional wheat-growing highland areas could not
produce enough wheat to make the country self-sufficient in wheat productionâ€™.
(Dubin and Brennan 2009, 21). For the majority of Mexicans, however, corn was a
far more important crop. Nearly ten times more land was planted with corn in 1950
(4,781,759 hectares) than wheat (555,756 hectares) (DireccioÂ´n General de EstadÄ±Â´stica
1955). But wheat tended to be grown by commercial farmers with models and
resources more comparable to their US counterparts than corn production.3
Ironically, there were actual foreign revolutionaries engaged in plant breeding in Mexico
before the arrival of the Rockefeller Foundation, and they were keen on corn. Indian
revolutionary Pandurang Khankhoje was one of many breeders involved in corn research in
Mexicoâ€™s Instituto BioteÂ´cnico, a research institute founded in 1934 by the CaÂ´rdenas
government as part of a strategy to improve peasant maize cultivation through improved
knowledge (Matchett 2006, Ramnath 2011). The Instituto BioteÂ´cnico was closed after
Camacho took office.
The Journal of Peasant Studies 9
It is because of the poor match between the kinds of farming the Rockefeller
Foundation was ready to support and the kind most relevant to Mexican peasants
that the corn program foundered. Even as late as 1963, 12% of corn acreage in
Mexico was planted with hybrid seed (Fitzgerald 1986, 467). By contrast, in 1957,
90% of Mexican wheat acreage was planted with hybrid and improved seed, and
while â€˜fertilizer use increased over twenty five times from 1949 to 1966 overall in
Mexico, only 15% of the area harvested received treatmentâ€™ (Fitzgerald 1986, 469â€“
70). Hicks notes that â€˜wheat yields in 1960 were 50 percent higher on private
properties (larger than five hectares) than on ejidos and small private properties while
in 1940 this margin was only ten per centâ€™ (Hicks 1967, 397). It was on these terms
that the MAP succeeded; it matched the needs of a particular group of farmers,
whose resources were greater and who tended to be located in Northern Mexico.
Between 1941 and 1952, for example, 90% of the entire agricultural budget (18% of
the federal budget) was spent on large irrigation projects in the northwest (Alcantara
1973). Concerns within the Foundation for perhaps a more equitable distribution of
resources were rebuffed by Borlaug himself, who felt that the technology would be
better received by wealthy commercial farmers. There was, of course, resistance.
Some peasant communities consciously rejected the Green Revolution (Clawson and
Don 1979). These were the Green Counter-Revolutionaries who swiftly earned
themselves the label â€˜peasant conservativeâ€™ by way of explanation for their lack of
enthusiasm for the agricultural program (Ross 2005).
Here, then, are a few themes that recur in the long history of the Green
Revolution. First, the occasion for the intervention was a moment in struggles
over productive resources within Mexico. The Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s decision
to initiate a program in Mexico happened after a revolution, peasant uprising,
and nationalization of resource wealth, and during a period of elite consolidation
(Gilly 2005). Second, there were debates about the kind of knowledge necessary
for agriculture to â€˜succeedâ€™. Those debates were hushed by the program
administratorsâ€™ scorn for what they perceived to be backward farming methods,
and their contempt for academic colleaguesâ€™ romantic attachments to peasant
agriculture. Technocratic concerns trumped considerations of power and knowledge. The apparatus of the Green Revolution was an anti-politics machine
(Ferguson 1990). Third, the intervention involved the blessing and, to some
extent, the resources of the Mexican state, but was also removed from
mechanisms of democratic oversight: the Foundation was essentially a law unto
itself. Fourth, the model used by the Foundation was that of US agriculture,
intensive in capital and expert training. Finally, the Foundation consciously
aligned its interests with those of the US government. Yet these are not the only,
nor even the most important, trends to recognize in todayâ€™s iteration of the Long
John Harris notes that the term Green Revolution
was deliberately coined to contrast with the phrase â€˜red revolutionâ€™, and the notion that
â€˜developingâ€™ countries were to undergo far-reaching changes as a result of an
agricultural revolution, rather than because of radical political transformation, gives
a clue to the political interests involved in the generation of the new agricultural
technology. (Harris 1988, 229)
The scale of this transformation can be glimpsed in the Mexican context, but more
clearly seen in subsequent Green Revolution projects elsewhere. After the MAP,
10 R. Patel
Rockefeller initiated a smaller program in Colombia, but soon moved to create
perhaps its most enduring success stories â€“ its programs in Asia.
Before examining the Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s programs in India and the
Philippines, itâ€™s worth noting two factors that pushed the Rockefeller Foundation
in different directions from its Mexican program, both of which stemmed from
concerns within the United States that had their origins earlier in the century
(Cullather 2010). First, the Foundation had through the late 1940s come under
media scrutiny for its public health improvements. Critics suggested that such
improvements as the Foundation had achieved would likely be undone by increased
population growth. Second, the Foundation was sensitized to the concern â€“ voiced
most often, though not exclusively, by John D Rockefeller III during his tenure on
the Foundationâ€™s board from 1946 to 1956 â€“ that impoverished and hungry people
might be more amenable to communism.
In a strategic document issued by the Foundation entitled The World Food
Problem, Agriculture, and the Rockefeller Foundation, produced by Warren Weaver,
Elvin C. Stakman, Richard Bradfield, Paul Mangelsdorf and George Harrar, the
themes of insurgency, population and food were crystalized:
whether additional millions . . . will become Communists will depend partly on whether
the Communist world or the free world fulfils its promises. Hungry people are lured by
promises, but they may be won by deeds. Communism makes attractive promises to
underfed peoples. Democracy must not only promise as much, but must deliver more.
(Advisory Committee for Agricultural Activities 1951, 4, cited in Brinkman 2009)
This was a view that resonated with US foreign policy. Rieff notes the emergence
of a new post-war development catchphrase: â€˜Where hunger goes, Communism
followsâ€™ (Rieff 2011). That there should be an alignment between US foreign policy
and the Foundationâ€™s world is unsurprising. A shared ideological distaste for
communism and an abiding faith in US capitalism â€“ petrochemical, agricultural,
military-industrial and otherwise â€“ flourished through the personal elite networks
that spanned the philanthropic and governmental worlds. There were ample
connections between the Foundation and the government, through the Council on
Foreign Relations, and directly through the US government itself. As Oasa notes,
Nelson Rockefeller became Assistant Secretary of State at the end of the war. In 1946,
David was secretary of the Council of Foreign Relationâ€™s study group on post-war
recovery in Western Europe. Out of this group emerged the Marshall Plan study group,
to which the Rockefeller Foundation granted $50,000 in 1948. Finally, John Rockefeller
became a special consultant to John Foster Dulles in 1951. (Oasa 1981, 108)
The priorities of the US government itself were bent toward managing domestic
as well as international crises. The crisis of agricultural overproduction within the
US was, for example, fixed in part through the US Agricultural Trade and
Development Assistance Act (PL 480) in 1954, which allowed the US to export
surplus production as aid on US carriers to the Global South. Japan emerged as a
primary recipient of US surplus wheat, but India was soon to become a major
recipient, concerned as India was by its loss of large areas of the Punjabi grain basket
to Pakistan, and with Nehru also worried about the destabilizing effect of high food
The Journal of Peasant Studies 11
prices (Perkins 1990, Friedmann 1993). This occurred just over a year after the
Rockefeller Foundation sent a team to investigate its potential role in replicating its
Mexican model in India, and a year before the Foundation endowed USD 1.38
million to begin a joint agricultural program there (Lele and Goldsmith 1989, 309).
India offered an environment in which the Foundation might address its new
concerns. As one Rockefeller Foundation trustee â€“ Karl T. Compton, the President
of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology â€“ pointed out to the Foundation in
1951, â€˜I suspect that India may be fertile ground for activity in this field. The
overpopulation, the low living standards and the threat of communism are of course
well knownâ€™ (Perkins 1990, 11).
The imagery of overpopulation (Angus and Butler 2011) found its way into the
Foundationâ€™s â€˜Notes on Indian Agricultureâ€™ (in language strikingly similar to that
used to describe Mexican villages in previous Rockefeller documents, and in teeming
piles of development literature since) thus:
The villages. . . within a region. . . are as uniform as so many ant hills. Indeed, from the
air, where a number of villages may be seen simultaneously, they have the appearance of
structures built by creatures motivated largely by inherited animal instincts, and devoid
of any inclination to depart from a fixed hereditary pattern. The inheritance in this
instance, of course, is social. (Perkins 1990, 10â€“1)
Although the â€˜anthillâ€™ description of villagers is similar to Mexican experiences,
the Foundation had learned a great deal from its Mexican forays. The Foundation
had honed its mission and also the techniques it was to bring to bear on the problems
of Indian agriculture. The Foundation saw its role not just in developing the
knowledge necessary to improve agriculture, but in the architecture necessary to
embed, transmit and propagate this knowledge in government policy-making. The
plant breeding pioneered by the Foundation in the 1940s was being supported both
by other foundations and by the US Department of Agriculture a decade later. It
was not in the generation of knowledge that the Foundation saw its niche, but in the
planting of its priorities and knowledge in the sometimes infertile ground of public
policy (Perkins 1990). Because the kinds of agricultural knowledge brought by the
Foundation required an institutional home within the Indian government, because it
was the kind of knowledge that benefitted commercial rather than subsistence
farmers, and because the Foundation had been informed by both the experience and
â€˜successâ€™ of its US-land-grant-inspired techniques in Mexico, the Foundation
undertook a longer campaign of training directed not at improving the lot of â€˜the
antsâ€™, but of university-trained agronomists. The Foundation oversaw the
development of a strong cadre of Indian agronomists and agricultural experts,
who had been flown to see at first hand the benefits and abundance of US industrial
agriculture, and who would be cost-effective â€˜force multipliersâ€™ within Indian
agriculture for the Foundationâ€™s approach.
It is for this suite of reasons that in 1956, the plant selected for the Rockefeller
Foundationâ€™s research was the commodity crop least relevant to most Indians:
maize. Accounting for only 3% of Indian crops, it had the merit of being an
agricultural â€˜sandboxâ€™ in which the Foundation could experiment in ways similar to
its forays in Mexico, whilst building institutional support for its approach. It was a
full eight years later, in 1964, that wheat was funded by the Foundation, and only in
1965, during Indiaâ€™s food crisis, did rice join the program (Lele and Goldsmith 1989,
318). Recall that the Green Revolution is remembered largely as an intervention in
12 R. Patel
rice and wheat production (Pinstrup-Andersen and Hazell 1985). Yet in Mexico its
greatest success was with wheat. In India, the Revolution began with corn. So why is
the received narrative so wildly at odds with the actual unfolding of the Green
Revolution as an extra-governmental process of public policy transformation?
That India has been remembered as a place in which the Green Revolution was
successful is worth examining, especially given the fairly modest overall funding for
the project. Over the period of Rockefellerâ€™s engagement in India, expenditure ran to
USD 7.9 million â€“ around USD 56.6 million in 2012 dollars, using Leleâ€™s data from
1951â€“1975 (Lele and Goldsmith 1989, 309). It is hard to square such limited funding
with the claims made for the Green Revolution, such as this 1970 press release from
the US Agency for International Development:
What has happened in less than three years is revealed in a few statistics. . . overall food
production has risen 14 percent in the period 1967â€“69. And, in South Asia alone â€“ the
crucial countries of India and Pakistan â€“ the increase has been 27 percent. AID worked
with foundations, universities and others in developing new farming methods, including
the most efficient use of â€˜â€™miracleâ€™ wheat and rice seeds that have brought about the
Green Revolution. (Paddock 1970, 897)
Certainly, the funding of the initiatives by state and donor organizations can
account for some of the return, but the success of the wheat program had less to do
with the virtues of the crop itself, and much more to do with ecology and politics.
The Indian climate was variable in 1965â€“6, with drought and unseasonable rain. This
was supplemented by downward pressures on commodity prices occasioned by US
food aid and then, in response to the Indian governmentâ€™s political wavering around
US foreign policy in South East Asia, US President Lyndon Johnson announced a
â€˜short-tetherâ€™ policy around food aid, making its monthly renewal contingent on
recipient support for broader US policy goals (Cleaver 1972). Hunger in India, poor
weather, the economically depressive effects of food aid, and the bouncing recovery
after the poor weather made it possible to tell a story of US success in feeding the
world. Yet, as Paddock notes of the period 1967â€“70, Indian production of barley,
tobacco, jute, chickpeas, tea and cotton all increased by 20â€“30% without the benefit
of Green Revolution investment, and without similar self-congratulatory narratives
of surplus and bounty (Paddock 1970).
Jervenâ€™s (2012) research complicates this observation yet further. Not only are
the data about other crop yield increases ignored, the data themselves are part of a
broader political economy of data. Jervens, citing Chambers (1984), notes that
Green Revolution data were themselves the subject of manipulation, with â€˜the official
statistics for some areas with high-yielding varieties. . . overstated by 3 to 5 timesâ€™
(Jervens 2012, 11). These trends continue today, leading Jervens to conclude that
â€˜The catchphrase â€˜â€˜evidence based policyâ€™â€™ assumes that evidence and policy are
somehow independent. . . .[but] The â€˜â€˜dataâ€™â€™ are themselves a product of agricultural
policiesâ€™ (2012, 17).
This representation of success abetted both a quieting of land reform debates in
India (Patel 2007b), and the entry into its market of US agricultural multinationals
(Cleaver 1972, Kloppenburg 1988). In India, the new agricultural strategy was â€˜an
attempt by the government to solve the food problem of the country without
upsetting existing land relations. It relied heavily on those who had to lose most from
a policy of radical land reformâ€™ (Dasgupta 1977, 373). This state of affairs matched a
shift within India away from Nehruvian socialist economics to an importThe Journal of Peasant Studies 13
substitution-industrialization strategy, one whose domestic critics were overcome in
part by the momentum of external forces pushing Indiaâ€™s elites to adopt policies
more consonant with free market capitalism (Varshney 1998). The combination of
weather-induced poor harvests, empty granaries, month-to-month food aid
shipments, and local political jockeying was that, in 1966, the Indian government,
with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, purchased 18,000 tons of Mexican
high-yielding wheat seeds under its High-Yielding Varieties Programme. It was the
largest single seed transaction in history (Lele and Goldsmith 1989, Djurfeldt et al.
2005). Indiaâ€™s Green Revolution was officially underway. Think of it as a politicalecological â€˜shock doctrineâ€™ (Klein 2007).
The power of the Green Revolution to take an anti-communist position on local
politics, particularly in the politics of land, was certainly at work in India but is more
easily seen in the Philippines. The Foundation had entertained the possibility of a
rice research institute in 1950 when Placido Mapa, the Philippine Secretary of
Agriculture and Natural Resources, invited John D. Rockefeller III to begin a
project similar to the Mexican one (Oasa 1981, 124â€“5). By the end of the 1950s, with
the Ford Foundation joining forces with the Rockefeller Foundation, and with some
urging by the State Department and CIA to take action to head off famine in Asia,
the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was on the drawing board
(Cullather 2004). The reasons to place it in the Philippines, according to Oasaâ€™s
report of J. George Harrarâ€™s thinking, were:
Production figures were low and cultural practices â€˜primitiveâ€™. Furthermore, the
American contacts were substantial at the College of Agriculture at Los Banos;
many agricultural scientists from Cornell were teaching there under a grant between
the U.S. International Cooperation Agency and Cornell University. Lastly, the
Philippines had a healthy attitude toward â€˜the principle of international cooperationâ€™.
(Oasa 1981, 147)
But geopolitical concerns, expressed directly to Oasa, also played a role:
A former Ford Foundation official said that the Philippines was away from the main
continent where instability was brewing due to the â€˜communist threatâ€™. He also said, â€˜If
we gave up on Asia, Japan and the Philippines would be the last place weâ€™d leaveâ€™. The
Philippine elite also viewed the selection of its country in openly political terms.
President Macapagal was quoted as saying that IRRI would â€˜saveâ€™ the Philippines and
other rice-producing countries the â€˜time, expense, and effortsâ€™ in solving technical
problems of rice production. He also wrote President Kennedy and said, â€˜We consider
this Institute as a potent weapon in the struggle against poverty and communism in
Asiaâ€™. (Oasa 1981, 147â€“8)
IRRI opened its doors in Los Banos in the Philippines in 1961. The severe
modernist buildings in which IRRI were housed, as Cullather observes, were
intended to be â€˜miracles of modernityâ€™ no less than the IR-8 rice that would soon
emanate from the facility. Modern plumbing, air-conditioning and upholstery
projected â€˜the power and richness of American lifeâ€™ (Cullather 2004, 233). An
introductory film announced the intentions of the new building: â€˜Can modern science
help these people grow more rice? Two American foundations think that it canâ€™
(Cullather 2004, 237).
For the ambitions of modernity to be realized, however, there needed to be order.
Again, the unstated goals of the Foundations, and the interventions in agriculture
14 R. Patel
from the US, were to bring that order, especially to questions around the distribution
of land. The egalitarian principles of land reform offered by Nehru â€“ and prompted
by domestic insurgency â€“ had been suspended by the Indian government after
Nehruâ€™s death in 1964. Yet throughout Asia, demands continued to be articulated by
peasants for more substantive agrarian reform and redistribution than the state was
prepared to entertain. In the Philippines, the Communist Party of the Philippines
attempted to emulate the Chinese experience in the formulation of its own
â€˜Revolutionary Guide to Land Reformâ€™ (Putzel 1992). The Philippine governments
of both Macapagal in the early 1960s, and Marcos from 1965 onwards, were vexed
by questions of land reform, and the revolutionary politics that made such demands
thinkable. The US, meanwhile, deeply concerned about the regional implications of
any perceived slide towards Communism, was opposed to any kind of redistributive
land reform â€“ undoubtedly also since it would threaten US agri-business interests if
larger land owners, with their ties to global chains of agricultural inputs and primary
commodity exports, were to be expropriated (Feder 1983).
Despite the stateâ€™s wishes, it proved impossible to ignore the issue of land reform.
This was an issue that, at the very least, needed to be deflected. As Putzel notes, this
happened through the land reform programs of both the Macapagal and Marcos
administrations. By offering a conservative interpretation of land reform, and by
obfuscating any aspirations to change the existing rural power relations, both
governments aimed to maintain rural order through an appropriation of the rhetoric
of revolution, but without its trappings of substantive redistribution on terms set by
the disempowered. Putzel argues that
the rapid adoption of [high-yielding varieties] HYVs throughout the country, and the
accompanying increase in rice production, would provide ammunition over the next two
decades to those who argued that the agrarian problem in the Philippines and Asia
could be solved by technology without a direct challenge to existing landownership
patterns. (Putzel 1992, 118)
In cementing rather than dismantling the status quo, some critics have termed
what actually happened in the Philippines a â€˜land reform in reverseâ€™ (Feder 1983).4
The Philippinesâ€™ elites had a different revolution in mind â€“ one that looked decidedly
neoliberal. Putzel describes the conservative approach towards land reform:
The conservative perspective is based on the proposition that a healthy economy
requires the operation of land, labour and capital markets free from state intervention,
including state initiated land redistribution. From the conservative perspective, the
problem of poverty is not founded in unequal distribution of assets, but rather in low
productivity. It is traceable to population growth which has also made redistributive
reform all but irrelevant. (Putzel 1992, 10)
If the conservative prescription for a healthy economy means that markets donâ€™t
require state intervention, what do markets require? To answer this, Polanyi offers
the best guide to the myths of self-regulating markets, and the transformations of
market society required so that these myths might be told (Polanyi 1944). Central to
the idea of a Great Transformation is the work done by the state to create and
The Philippine land reforms between 1992 and 2000 are an aberration to the much longer
historical concentration of land, and government reluctance to engage in anything other than
â€˜land reform in reverseâ€™.
The Journal of Peasant Studies 15
manage markets at the same time as the myths of market independence propagate.
In the Philippines as elsewhere, policies that favoured market-led approaches to food
production required state support. In order to fight communist uprising and peasant
insurgency through a healthy economy, the state need to be intimately involved to
administer two of the Green Revolutionâ€™s most potent tools: subsidies and violence.
2.3 Authoritarian states, the development establishment and AID
Although it is the technological triumphs that are declaimed the loudest in received
accounts of the Green Revolution, the Green Revolutionaries were as explicitly
concerned about the circulation of capital as they were about seeds. To put it plainly,
the Green Revolution would not have succeeded without subsidies. Within a year of
a food self-sufficiency program beginning in the Philippines in 1966, price supports
for rice increased by 50%. In Mexico, the government purchased domestically grown
wheat at 33% above world market prices. India and Pakistan paid 100% more for
their wheat (Paddock 1970, 898).
In order for the Green Revolution to succeed, funds were required not only to
invest in the development of agricultural technology and the further inculcation of
this technology within the habits of government and farmers, but also to sustain the
large and ongoing subsidies required by the programme in order to create and
generate surpluses. Resources of this magnitude were beyond the reach of
Foundations â€“ this was the domain of larger and more powerful organizations.
The US government increasingly supplanted philanthropic foundations in assuming
the Green Revolutionâ€™s fiscal commitments over through the 1960s â€“ amounting to
USD 3 billion a year in the mid-1960s (Dowie 2001, 113). The importance of these
fiscal commitments was broadly understood. Paddock, quoting a 1963 speech by the
US Department of Agricultureâ€™s Director of Economics Don Paarlberg,5 points to a
sentiment widely acknowledged:
This is the inescapable fact that a price artificially held above the competitive level will
stimulate production, retard consumption and create a surplus. . . . It is the product of
human institutions, not simply a consequence of rapid, technological advance. It may or
may not be accompanied by a scientific revolution. We could create a surplus of
diamonds or uranium or of avocadoes or rutabagas simply by setting the price above
where the market would have it and foregoing [sic] cost production control. A surplus is
not so much a result of technology as it is a result of intervention in the market.
(Paddock 1970, 898)
Testimony in the US Senate in February 1968 on the US AID program
demonstrated a widely shared understanding that more fertilizer and â€˜sounder
government policiesâ€™ were needed because:
new seeds, more fertilizer, better water management, improved pesticides and
insecticides â€“ these are important weapons in the fight to achieve self-sufficiency in
food production. But they will not do the job alone. Not only must these be available to
the farmer, but he must have credit to buy them, he must know how to use them
properly, he must be able to get a decent price for his crop and he must be able to get it
to market. (United States of America 1968, 51)
A little trivia: Don is father of Robert Paarlberg, author of the misleadingly entitled Food
politics: What everyone needs to know (Paarlberg 2010).
16 R. Patel
In the 1968 hearings on USAID, Thomas Morgan, Chair of the Committee,
chided Gaud, reminding him that
in the past, members of this committee have found that there were cases where
assistance was applied to agriculture. . . but the operation was frustrated because the
farmers. . . had no inducement to adopt improved methods because they derived very
little from their increased production. (United States of America 1968, 57).
Gaud responded by citing the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Chile and Brazil as
examples where higher prices given to farmers gets â€˜primary credit for providing the
incentiveâ€™ to grow more.
The states Gaud held up as success stories had built a social market
infrastructure to match the Green Revolutionâ€™s technology (Winner 1986), and
subsequently used local and international resources to telegraph through its new
marketing boards and national markets prices that would induce high levels of
production from farmers. It is not accidental that these states shared a second
common feature: they were all, at some point during the Green Revolution within
their borders, dictatorships.
The Philippines was a hotbed of agrarian rebellion even before Marcos,
Pakistanâ€™s military complex was well established by the time Gaud announced the
Green Revolutionâ€™s success there (Jalal 1995), the curtains on Chileâ€™s democracy
were drawn by Pinochetâ€™s 1973 coup and Brazilâ€™s military ran the country from 1964
to 1985. It is often forgotten that India under Indira Gandhi experienced an
â€˜Emergency Periodâ€™, which ran from June 1975 to March 1977. Ironically, rural land
reform and the liquidation of indentured labour were specifically announced as
government objectives during the suspension of normal democracy and imposition
of police rule, though â€˜[n]one of these reforms was undertaken in more than a
rhetorical way, except in the governmental propaganda officesâ€™ (Blair 1980, 256).
Instead, unions were attacked, strikes were banned and labour leaders incarcerated.
Indira Gandhiâ€™s son, Sanjay, took it upon himself to address concerns about
insurgent urban populations and population growth directly, by managing a
program of slum clearance and forced sterilization, the latter justified in the name of
the national interest (Blair 1980, 259, Henry 1976).6
The argument here is not that the Green Revolution itself caused authoritarianism. The ideas of agricultural transformation that were part of international and
domestic struggles around communism and, ultimately, property featured in a larger
set of political processes. Nonetheless, the extension of the state and its forces into
rural affairs in the particular way that it did is hard to imagine absent the technics of
the Green Revolution. By technics, here, I draw on Lewis Mumfordâ€™s work, in which
he contrasts ideal-types of democratic and authoritarian social systems, and the
technologies affine with them (Mumford 1964). Tracing the origins of centralized
technologies that necessitated the use of force in their promulgation and
maintenance to Roman history, he suggest that
. . .totalitarian technics was tolerated, perhaps even welcomed, in home territory, for
it created the first economy of controlled abundance: notably, immense food crops
In the continuum of concerns over security, population and agriculture, and the necessity for
a strong state to implement policy, readers will note much that connects past and present
developmentalist states (Duffield 2010).
The Journal of Peasant Studies 17
that not merely supported a big urban population but released a large trained
minority for purely religious, scientific, bureaucratic, or military activity. (Mumford
In other words, Mumford urges us to think about the ancestry of the technics of the
Green Revolution even before Enclosure, as Braudel enourages us to do, to see the
origins of surplus as intimately bound to forms of production that encourage and
demand authoritarian social systems. Although it is beyond the scope of this essay to
investigate it further, this is an area that warrants further study. Nonetheless, the
suggestion here is that the state made the Green Revolution, and that the Green
Revolution remade the state and society in particular ways. In India, the Emergency
period was a moment in which rich peasantsâ€™ power was rearticulated as a result of
the Green Revolution (Kaviraj 1986). Absent the stateâ€™s underwriting and enforcing
a particular formation of surplus agricultural production, the seeds that became the
Green Revolutionâ€™s emblem often rotted for want of farmersâ€™ interest. This narrative
sits poorly with one powered by the miracles engineered into the seeds themselves,
but is consonant with the geopolitical and Malthusian tale of the Green Revolution
(Perkins 1997, Ross 1998b, Cullather 2010).
At this point, rather than trace the Long Green Revolution further, itâ€™s important to
ask a question of assessment. Part of this paperâ€™s argument is that contemporary
knowledge that â€˜a New Green Revolution is necessaryâ€™ rests on the foundation that
â€˜the original Green Revolution was successfulâ€™. The Green Revolutionâ€™s basic
technologies and philosophy were well articulated by the end of the 1960s and it is to
the period between WWII and 1970 that advocates of a New Green Revolution
point, as a history of success to be emulated. To suggest that the Green Revolution
â€˜succeededâ€™ is to broach the question â€˜Successful for whom?â€™ Perkinsâ€™ summary is a
useful one here:
If success means an increase in the aggregate physical supply of grain, the green
revolution was a success. If success means an end to hunger, then the green revolution
was a failure. People without access to adequate land or income, regardless of their
country of residence, remain ill fed. (Perkins 1997, 258)
The concerns with overpopulation and Communism were certainly met in the minds
of policy makers, but the mechanisms by which Communism was prevented, and in
which predominantly urban populations were pacified by access to food, had less to
do with plant genetics than with a strong state.
The terrain of the debate is, however, wider than simply the question of whether
hunger has been banished, or whether yields have increased. A central contention
has been that the Green Revolution at best overlooked the rural poor, and at worst
exacerbated their plight. This is of keen relevance today, because, as we shall see, it is
in the name of fighting rural poverty (a concern that was secondary to the need to
increase food production and yield in the original motivations for the Green
Revolution) that the Green Revolution has been lauded.
Among the claims made for the Green Revolution (Hazell et al. 2010, Griffin and
Boyce 2011), three are central in the argument that the intervention supported
smallholders. These are:
18 R. Patel
. Scale neutrality: Green Revolution technology is scale-neutral and was widely
adopted by smallholders as well as by large farmers.
. Scientific improvement: Plant science has improved enormously since the early
days of the Green Revolution to become more suited to the needs of poorer
farmers living in marginal areas. (Borlaug 2000)
. Smallholder self-interest: Green Revolution technology was adopted by small-scale
farmers because they saw the benefits in terms of higher yields which reduced their
risk and raised their material and physical wellbeing, demonstrating how
smallholder agriculture can drive economic growth.
In this section Iâ€™ll deal with each of these in turn, before analyzing other
consequences of the Green Revolution, and comparing the legacy to contemporary
debates over a New Green Revolution. Itâ€™s worth adopting this approach, and
sacrificing a little analytical parsimony, both because the spread of the three
arguments above obfuscates contemporary debates around the Green Revolution,
but also because the appearance of these arguments in historical and contemporary
literature is itself a sign, and a battlefront, in todayâ€™s hegemonic reconstruction of the
original Green Revolution.
First, then, is the claim, found in Mosley (2002), Birner and Resnick (2010) and
Hazell et al. (2010) that the Green Revolution technology was scale neutral, with
divisible inputs, and therefore of benefit to both smallholders and larger farm
owners. It is true that a seed cares not whether the ground on which it is planted
belongs to a commercial farmer or a subsistence one. Other things being equal, given
appropriate support, its yield will be the same in both contexts. As Harris (1988) and
Bernstein (2010a) argue, however, scale neutral doesnâ€™t mean â€˜resource neutralâ€™:
Indiaâ€™s Green Revolution provides a clue to this aspect of differentiation. The promise
was that its biochemical package of improve inputs was â€˜scale neutralâ€™, meaning that it
could be adopted, with benefit, on any size of farm â€“ unlike mechanization, for instance,
which requires minimum economies of scale. However, â€˜scale neutralâ€™ â€“ an attribute of a
given technology â€“ is not the same as â€˜resource neutralâ€™, a social attribute connected
with the question â€˜who owns what?â€™ and that requires asking about differentiation and
its effects. (Bernstein 2010a, 105)
Wealthier farmers risked less in adopting the seeds, because they had better
access to controlled irrigation, a higher ability to obtain cheap credit and fertilizer,
easier access to the kinds of extension services that the Green Revolution had
invested in with them in mind, and easier access to labour when required. Beyond the
observation that wealthier farmers were better able to adopt the technology, Palmer
(1972) argues that the technology was, in fact, not divisible â€“ in some cases, it was
packaged by corporate agri-business into bundles of fertilizer-and-seed that were
beyond the means of smallholder farmers.
A more generalized observation returns to the history of the Green Revolution
itself: the scientific breeding strategy was not geared towards the requirements of
poorer peasants, but instead produced seeds requiring irrigation and an intensive use
of material inputs. Indeed, the Green Revolution varieties were trialed in far better
conditions than experienced by the majority of smallholder farmers, leading to a
persistent â€˜yield gapâ€™, a gulf between conditions that might be achieved with access to
capital and high quality land, and that observed in the real world of poorer farmers
(Licker et al. 2010). In practice, the best agricultural land was most likely to be
The Journal of Peasant Studies 19
controlled by richer peasants, entrenching unequal land ownership and increasing
social differentiation. Griffin concludes that â€˜the new technology is discriminatory. . .
it is neutral neither as regards geographical area nor as regards social classâ€™ (Griffin
Particularly among more recent proponents of the Green Revolution, these
criticisms have been heard, and the role of the state acknowledged. The scale
neutrality of the technology can only be assured if there are accompanying
interventions in government policy: â€˜The rationale for public policies that support
small farmers is based on the insight that they are affected by a variety of market
failuresâ€™ (Birner and Resnick 2010, 1442). Note here the characterization of preexisting inequality and entrenched class structure, particularly in the holding of land,
as that of â€˜market failureâ€™. We shall have cause to return to this later. Yet the public
institutions that are intended to redress the balance inherent in the technology are
not themselves neutral. Griffin captures this well:
Extension agents concentrate on the large farmers; credit agencies concentrate on
low risk borrowers; those who sell fertilizers, pesticides and other chemical inputs
concentrate on cultivators who are likely to buy the largest quantities. State
organizations tend to provide services to those from whom the government seeks
approval, and in most instances these are the large landowners. Unless there is
â€˜scale-neutralityâ€™ in the institutions which support the â€˜green revolutionâ€™. . .unless
small peasants have equal access to knowledge, finance and material inputs,
innovation will inevitably favour the prosperous and the secure at the expense of the
poor and the insecure. (Griffin 1979, 236)
In response to this comes a second claim about the Green Revolution. It deflects
concerns about a stateâ€™s class bias by suggesting that even if the structures around
the Green Revolution tended to favour the minority of commercial farmers, the
scientists involved in plant breeding research, while initially constrained by the
parameters of the Green Revolution project, soon found themselves attending to the
needs of smallholder farmers.
In the shift from philanthropic research funding to public sector institutions came
the possibility of public input and accountability. This meant that plant breeding was
steered toward greater pest resistance and adaptability to more marginal areas. Both
of these developments are seen as positive for smallholder farmers. For example, in
Sri Lanka the rice breedersâ€™ emphasis switched from the Dry Zone to the neglected
Wet Zone around 1975. Lipton argues that â€˜research policy response is keyâ€™ in helping
poor farmers outside initial target areas to benefit from the Green Revolution (Lipton
2007). In later years plant science has been geared towards the development of more
â€˜defensiveâ€™, i.e. more pest-resistant, varieties as the emphasis was placed on reducing
farm-level risk, especially for poorer peasants. For example, IRRI shifted from an
initial focus on the high-yielding but more vulnerable IR-8 variety, to the more robust
IR-20 variety (Lipton 2007). Genes for resistance to stem, leaf, and stripe rush
meanwhile have been bred into wheat, while new varieties of rice are claimed to be
resistant to â€˜as many as four diseases and three insectsâ€™ (Khush 2003). New varieties
are also said to be less sensitive to moisture stress and adverse temperature and soil
In this, there is merit. Even Griffin, a harsh critic of the Green Revolution,
acknowledges that over time, the needs of poorer peasants featured more
prominently on the research agendas of crop scientists, despite the exclusively
20 R. Patel
commercial launch path of the Green Revolution: â€˜The scientists have responded to
their critics. . .there has been a change in the research strategy of plant breeding:
more emphasis is now placed on the search for â€˜â€˜peasant-biasedâ€™â€™ technical changeâ€™
(Griffin and Boyce 2011, 10). This is important, though it is worth remembering the
point of departure â€“ the ministrations of plant breeding scientists could hardly have
become less focused on the needs of smallholders than the original Green Revolution
There is a third argument in favour of the Green Revolutionâ€™s beneficial impacts
on smallholders: that it was adopted by poorer peasants as both a rational
calculation and a sound one, which lifted them out of poverty. Thus, William Gaud
was able to announce:
. . .[i]n Pakistan where they have never before paid a premium for seeds, they are now
doing so. They want the high-yield varieties. There have been reports of seed riots in
India. At times the demand for fertilizer in India has been strong enough to create a
black market. (Gaud 1968)
Evenson and Gollin use more contemporary economic language to cast farmers
as rational actors (2003): â€˜When a farmer chooses to adopt a new variety to replace
an older variety, it reflects the farmerâ€™s judgment that the new variety offers some net
benefit or advantageâ€™ (Evenson and Gollin 2003, 758). Recall that farmers who did
not adopt these innovations were, by contrast, deemed peasant conservatives, or
possessed of a â€˜peasant psychologyâ€™ (Yapa and Mayfield 1978). Yet a range of
different studies of adoption in India, for instance, corroborate studies elsewhere
(Clawson and Don 1979) that political economic considerations also influenced the
choice of whether to adopt. Access to factors of production, particularly water, as
well as the cost of seed and a lack of education, also constrained the adoption of
these varieties. Insofar as adoption occurred, Palmer (1972) suggests that this was a
rational response to the availability of cheap credit, and the result of deliberate
discriminatory intervention by governments in factor markets. It was rational to
adopt the Green Revolution in the way that it is rational to take an envelope of cash
sitting on a table with your name on it.
As the adoption data in Section 2 suggest, the technology did indeed spread in
Asia (Birner and Resnick 2010). It has come to represent â€˜how agricultural growth
that reached large numbers of small units could transform rural economies and raise
enormous numbers of people out of povertyâ€™ (Wegner and Zwart 2011). Similarly,
Djurfeldt and Jirstrom state that â€˜The Green Revolutions were small-farmer based,
i.e. they were not based on the large-scale mechanized farmingâ€™ (2005, 3). With the
winds of revised history at their backs, the question asked by proponents has become
â€˜is it still possible to drive agricultural growth through small farms as happened in
the green revolution?â€™ (Wiggens et al. 2010).
With a platform for future agriculture based on such assessments of the past, itâ€™s
worth taking the time to ask whether the foundations are solid. Evidence from
Punjab suggests that the Green Revolution increased the concentration of land
ownership, with the smallest-scale farmers displaced from their land (Griffin 1979,
Evenson and Gollin 2003). The logic here is that as capitalist expansion in the
countryside made land more profitable, wealthier peasants had a greater economic
incentive to adopt the technology (â€˜differential adoptionâ€™) and acquire more land
(resulting in â€˜land alienationâ€™), at the expense of poorer smallholders. In India this
led to a process of â€˜partial proletarianizationâ€™ (Byres 1981).
The Journal of Peasant Studies 21
Osmani responds with evidence that leads him to â€˜conclude, contrary to
conventional wisdom, that the growth process engendered by the green revolution
has enhanced rather than eroded the entitlements of the small peasantry, despite the
constraints imposed by existing socioeconomic structuresâ€™ (Osmani 1998, 198). He
suggests that the Green Revolution has not increased land alienation of small-scale
farmers, because the adoption of Green Revolution technology by small-scale
farmers has reduced the incidence of distress sales and that â€˜[t]he case for smallholder
development as one of the main ways to reduce poverty in low-income countries
remains compellingâ€™ (Hazell et al. 2010, 1358). Of course, the case for smallholder
development is not the same thing as the Green Revolution â€“ one can accept, as the
World Bank has reluctantly and recently done (World Bank 2007a), that support for
poor rural communities is an important part of efforts to eradicate poverty, without
accepting that the Green Revolution is a poverty-reducing strategy.
So where does the evidence lie? That the Green Revolution spread is not in
doubt. But we need to know who benefited. Osmani relies on Shergillâ€™s analysis of
land prices in the Sangrur district in Punjab (Shergill 1986). Bhalla et al. argue that
benefits were spread throughout Punjab, with â€˜the most crucial element in making
this possible [being] large public investment in irrigation and power, scientific
research, extension services, roads, markets, and other rural infrastructureâ€™ (Bhalla
et al. 1990, 9). As a result, â€˜the new technology was first adopted by large landholders
who had the initial wherewithal and capacity to take risks, but was soon extended to
peasants with smaller holdingsâ€™ (Bhalla et al. 1990, 22). It appears that in the case of
the Punjab, the Green Revolution was an unqualified success, and that after a period
of uneven adoption, everyone benefitted. As regards the claim of land alienation,
Shergill shows that land prices were low and the volume of land sales was high until
1965â€“66, after which prices tripled between 1966â€“67 and 1978â€“79 and volume of
sales fell. This is consistent with the idea that the Green Revolution started with large
farmers and moved over time to smaller ones, and that poor smallholders soon
found themselves sitting on goldmines after the Green Revolution took off in India,
which meant that they had to sell less of their land in the event of a distress sale.
It is unsurprising that Punjab is chosen as a key site of rhetorical contention:
76% of the increase in wheat production was located in just two states, Punjab and
Uttar Pradesh. A study of the output of 19 major crops during 1962â€“65 and 1970â€“73
showed that rapid agricultural growth was restricted to just 17% of the districts in
India (Prahladachar 1983). To allow the Sangrur district to represent Punjab, and
Punjab to stand as a metonymic case study of the Green Revolution in Asia, is
problematic, and not merely because the idea of the case study is flawed (McMichael
1990). Sangrur may not have been representative of Punjab, and Punjab certainly
wasnâ€™t representative of India. We can put Shergillâ€™s data in context by looking at
more inclusive national survey data, as Sharma (1994) does, to find out a little bit
more about who did the adopting of the Green Revolution, and who didnâ€™t.
Note that Sharmaâ€™s are national survey data which do not reflect local
arrangements for land tenure other than ownership, and changes in survey
methodology between the 1953â€“54 survey and its subsequent round (1961â€“62)
reduced the number of landless households by allowing in later surveys for
â€˜ownership-likeâ€™ arrangements to put those households in other categories of land
ownership. With these provisos in mind, Sharma covers a period from 1953â€“5 to
1982, and shows that in Punjab and Haryana â€“ the epicenters of the Green
Revolution â€“ from 1953â€“54, when the bottom 50% of the smallholders owned 0.47%
22 R. Patel
of the land, the figure increased to 0.52% in 1961â€“62 and then fell to 0.28% by 1971â€“
72 before increasing over the next decade to end at 0.32% by 1982 (Sharma 1994,
A15). The number of households in Punjab without land or on sub-marginal land
holdings (50.99 acres) maintained a continuous upward trajectory.
In other words, landlessness increased in Punjab and poorer farmers saw their
share of the land fall. But so did the very top landholders see their share of the land
ownership fall. In Punjab and Haryana, the top 1% of landholders owned 16.86% of
the land in 1953â€“4, which fell to 13.95% by 1982. This is still, of course,
disproportionate, but it points to a bloc of winners from Green Revolution policies
that is often ignored â€“ those â€˜middle peasantsâ€™ in the 40% to 80% range who saw
their share of land holdings rise from 22.69% to 34.19% of total land held over the
same period. So, the poorest residents of rural areas â€“ landless and extremely landpoor â€“ might have been ignored by the Green Revolution, but a tranche of other
smallholders did well. As Byres notes, â€˜The adoption rate evidence is by no means
inconsistent with increasing economic and social differentiation among the
peasantryâ€™ (Byres 1981, 427).
There is, beyond adoption, the question of growth coming from that adoption.
Again, the rise in land prices was beneficial to those who were able to command it.
But having assets isnâ€™t the same thing as escaping poverty. The evidence on this score
is ambiguous, even from agencies predisposed to a more favourable review. A survey
of the â€˜East Asian Miracleâ€™ by the Asian Development Bank, for instance, argues
that â€˜While agricultural growth [based on Green Revolution policies] was a palliative
for pervasive poverty in pre-miracle days, its role in initiating and sustaining rapid
economic growth has been limitedâ€™ (Quibria 2002, 54).
So, of the three arguments in the Green Revolutionâ€™s favour â€“ that the
technology was neutral and available to all, that the technology became more
amenable to the needs of smallholder cultivators, and that the adoption of the
technology by such cultivators led to growth â€“ perhaps the strongest claim is that
plant breeders came to align their efforts more with needs of smallholder farmers
than purely those of commercial farmers. The seeds themselves were, however, only
part of a broader political economy, of public and private finance and support, with
concomitant winners and losers â€“ the latter particularly among the poorest rural
There is a great deal of sensitivity today around the issue of justice hidden in
these debates. Centrally there is a question of minimal Pareto optimality, the weakest
of all criteria of fairness which demands that, at the very least, no one be made worse
off by a change, and that at least one person be better off. That some were better off
Table 1. Percentage of households landless and very land-poor in Punjab and Haryana.
land (percent of
all Indian households)
of all Indian households) Total
1953â€“54 28.97 16.24 45.21
1961â€“62 39.55 7.99 47.54
1971â€“72 54.24 1.96 56.20
1982 33.50 28.02 61.52
Source: Sharma (1994, A19).
The Journal of Peasant Studies 23
as a result of the Green Revolution is clear. The sore point is clearly whether anyone
was harmed by it. The evidence seems to suggest, as least insofar as landlessness
increased, that at least one person was. Which perhaps explains why PinstrupAnderson and Hazell, in a rebuttal to critics of the distributive effects of the Green
Revolution, offer this assurance:
A number of early studies . . . concluded that the rural poor did not receive their fair
share of the generated benefits . . . recent studies have produced a sizable body of
evidence which proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they are wrong. Recent evidence
clearly shows that, although exceptions exist, as a general rule the Green Revolution has
resulted in a very significant improvement in the material well-being of the poor. Where
did early studies go wrong? First, the studies failed to distinguish between early and
subsequent adoption of new technology. . . second, the benefits to the poor as consumers
of rice and wheat through lower prices was largely overlooked. Third, little or no
attention was given the multiplier effects of the Green Revolution. . . Fourth, the impact
of the Green Revolution was frequently confused with the impact of institutional
arrangements, agricultural policies and labour-saving mechanization. (PinstrupAndersen and Hazell 1985, 8)
Recent models suggest prices would indeed have been 35â€“55% higher than
they were in 2000 without the Green Revolution (Evenson and Gollin 2003),
though the extent of the consumer impact isnâ€™t clear from the sources they cite
(see e.g. Pinstrup-Andersen 1979). Yet even acknowledging the Green Revolutionâ€™s effect on prices (particularly important in the urban population centers
intended to be quelled by the Revolution), the question over inequality and
fairness persists. The availability of 60% cheaper rice would be little consolation
to someone who had lost 100% of their income as a result of the Green
Revolution. And while Pinstrup-Anderson and Hazell have been widely cited, in a
review of 307 articles, Freebairn finds that
Over 80% of the sample of published studies . . . concluded that greater inequality
resulted. Notwithstanding this preponderance of evidence, the overwhelming conviction
of operating agencies, from local to international, has been that the improved
technologies offer the best solution to the problems of agricultural and rural
development and growth. Indeed, a significant number of scholars join in this very
positive view of the impact the new technology has on agricultural and rural regions.
(Freebairn 1995, 277)
In other words, findings at the time of the Green Revolution suggested that
inequality increased, as did findings after the diffusion and adoption of the Green
Revolution, yet there is a persistent belief that inequality did not, in fact, result.
Perhaps Pinstrup-Anderson and Hazell mean that the poor received a share, rather
than a fair one. They might be on slightly firmer footing, if by â€˜poorâ€™ they donâ€™t mean
the very poorest landless and semi-landless, but instead refer to the stratum of
middle peasants who benefitted. The use of the word â€˜fairâ€™ does, however, suggests
some notion of equality unsupported by data.
This raises a question about the role of social science in the manufacture of the
Green Revolution. Recall that the Green Revolution, as a story about technological
triumph over hunger, is already mythic â€“ it has largely written out the supporting
role of the state, ignores the creation of new landless and therefore hungrier poor
people, and ignores the question of whether increased yields led to reduced hunger.
Yet the Green Revolution is, among a certain development establishment, still known
24 R. Patel
to have succeeded. Foucaultâ€™s work on knowledge is informative here. He argues
Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of
constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth,
its â€˜general politicsâ€™ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes
function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and
false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures
accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with
saying what counts as true. . .[T]he â€˜political economyâ€™ of truth is . . .produced and
transmitted under the control, dominant if not exclusive, of a few great political and
economic apparatuses (University, army, writing, media); lastly, it is the issue of a whole
political debate and social confrontation (â€˜ideologicalâ€™ struggles). (Foucault 1980, 31)
The making of truth around the Green Revolution implicates a range of
institutions, including universities, foundations, governments, and NGOs. The
Green Revolution has its own â€˜regime of truthâ€™. It is in this sense that it can be said
that there is a â€˜battlefield of knowledgeâ€™ around the Green Revolution (Long and
Long 1992), a political economy of knowledge (Jessop 2005) that stretches beyond
the foundations that originally sponsored the plant-breeding research, and involves
governmental aid agencies, seed companies, NGOs and departments of agriculture
within recipient host countries (Kloppenburg 2004; see also Glenna et al. 2011).
The motivation behind adopting a â€˜myth-bustingâ€™ approach in the discussion so
far has been, first, to show that even on their own terms, the arguments clustering
around the Green Revolution are porous and, on key points, baseless. Second, the
disjunction between the data and the weight of academic citation and historical
memory around the Green Revolution points to institutions that make truth about
it. Third, to accommodate a discussion of the Green Revolution on the terms set by
its defenders is to disavow historical, ecological or political economic analysis into
the conditions in which the intervention took place. Recall that the term used to
describe capitalismâ€™s inability to provide agricultural services for the poor is â€˜market
failureâ€™. Yet when markets fail to provide goods below cost, this is, of course, market
success. Markets would be theoretically inconceivable were they to ration scarce
goods at any other than the market-clearing price. The euphemizing of rural poverty,
class and relations to the means of production are, however, central to the advance
of the Green Revolutionâ€™s language, and the parameters of that language are in turn
part of the structures of legitimation that constitute the Long Green Revolution.
The political economy of truth becomes easier to see when one is able to discuss
the Green Revolution in ways that deviate from the terms set by its proponents.
Consider how Green Revolution policies raised the value of land more than wages,
as the gains of technical change accrued in the largest proportion to the factor of
production with the most inelastic supply. In a comparison between agricultural
wages and land values in the Punjab region of India between 1960 and 1978, Kerr
and Kolavalli track almost constant wage rates against more than fourfold increases
in land prices (Kerr and Kolavalli 1999). This conforms to a pattern across Green
Revolution regions in which â€˜employment of labour goes up somewhat, the real wage
does not go up a lot, and the rewards (price, rent) of land go up a good deal,
probably reducing labourâ€™s share in incomeâ€™ (Lipton and Longhurst 1989, 110).
Labourâ€™s share of farm income has declined in most Green Revolution regions
(United Nations Research Institute for Social Development 1974, Conway 1997,
Kerr and Kolavalli 1999).
The Journal of Peasant Studies 25
Yet we ought to be cautious in assuming we understand why labour and land
markets behave the way they do. Markets are not natural (Polanyi 1944). In the case
of labour, an abundant pool of landless people does not necessarily lead to lower
wages. Contrasting agricultural wages in 1956â€“7 and 1964â€“5 in Punjab and Kerala,
Bardhan (1970) found increases of 17% and 92%, respectively. These wage increases
happened despite the fact that â€˜30.90 per cent of Keralaâ€™s rural households were
landless, whereas for Punjab and Haryana together it was only 12.33 per centâ€™.
(Bardhan 1970, 1242). In other words, despite having more landless labourers than
Punjab, wages for farm labourers increased in Kerala far more than in Punjab.
Bardhan attributes this to the power of peasant movements in Kerala compared to
Punjab, and a similar responsiveness of the government in supporting these
movements. In other words, the important variables arenâ€™t supply or demand, but
the extent to which movements were able to prevent the enforcement of capitalist
free markets in labour by the state. Which is to say that the markets in which
labourers sell their labour power are fought over, not naturally given. And in the
epicenters of the Green Revolution, those markets were systematically tilted in
favour of the buyers of labour power â€“ the owners of land. The state made these
markets as part of its making the Green Revolution.
A similar logic applies to the political economy of land. Land prices do not
â€˜naturallyâ€™ increase. They were driven higher both by government subsidies for their
owners, political assurances, and capital within land markets to acquire land, and by
mechanisms â€“ ranging from the courts to police â€“ to enforce property laws. In
fostering an environment in which money might be turned into commodities and
back again, and increasing surplus value by quelling labour protests and
constraining wage rates (Araghi 2003), the Green Revolution presented a framework
not only for the rebuffing of Communism, but staunchly for the advance of
capitalism. Part of that advance is the naturalization of markets and commodification. Explaining land price rises compared to labour prices on the grounds of
comparative factor scarcity is to beg a question that requires deep historical and
political economic decomposition. Yet it is precisely this analytical rigour that
cannot be thought when running a critique of the Green Revolution within the terms
set by present-day celebrants of the Green Revolution.
If the Green Revolution succeeds, through analytical obfuscation in naturalizing
terms like â€˜small farmerâ€™, perhaps its most potent naturalization lies in the unit of
analysis used in its discourse: the household. In ceding analytical ground to the terms
presented by those supportive of the Green Revolution, one of the most fundamental
losses is the ability to analyse relations of social reproduction.
Bakker (2007) reworks Braudel to help understand how this naturalization is
possible, and also points toward the kinds of thinking that help us understand how
the Green Revolution might be considered â€˜longâ€™. While Marx sees the origins of
capitalism at the moment of workersâ€™ alienation from their own labour power at the
time of Enclosure, Braudel sees capitalism as a force â€˜potentially visible since the
dawn of history . . . that . . . has developed and perpetuated itself down the agesâ€™
(Braudel 1982a, 620). It inserts itself at the top of a hierarchy of production and
reproduction, parasitic on it.
26 R. Patel
What one loses in Marxâ€™s specific historical formulation, one gains both in an
understanding of the historical relations of exploitation, and in the persistence of
structures of production and reproduction over lifetimes. Braudel suggests that
relations of exploitation are far more persistent, because normalized, than we
I think mankind is more than waist-deep in daily routine. Countless inherited acts,
accumulated pell-mell and repeated time after time to this very day, become habits that
help us to live, imprison us, and make decisions for us throughout our lives. (Braudel
Normalized exploitation lets capitalism draw its lifeblood through the everyday
workings of society. This is not, however, to suggest that change never happens.
Indeed, Marxâ€™s understanding of the commodification of labour points to the
mechanisms of parasitism that contemporary capitalism has used to draw value from
the bases of the economy, particularly â€“ suggests Bakker â€“ through the restructuring
of social relations within the household (Bakker and Gill 2003, Bakker 2007,
This matters to an analysis of the Green Revolution in a range of ways. The
changes wrought by the Green Revolution were ones that â€˜financializedâ€™ everyday
life. Cullather notes the arrival of â€˜brazenly acquisitive values to rural life and work,
demanding tractors and tubewells as marriage dowries and enforcing strictly
contractual relations with tenantsâ€™ (Cullather 2010, 241). Just as there are everyday
forms of resistance, the Green Revolution takes its quotidian form (Scott 1985).
But even as these transformations were happening, as Hart argues powerfully,
the locus of resistance was invisibilized in the Green Revolutionâ€™s literature.
Analyses of change in rural areas naturalize the household as a unit, yet:
. . .the household is more usefully seen as a political arena constituted by particularly
dense bundles or rules, rights, and obligations governing relations between men and
women, and elders and juniors. The rules defining property rights, labor obligations,
resource distribution, and so forth are potentially subject to contestation, and must be
constantly reinforced and reiterated. (Hart 1992, 811)
The analytical merits of teasing apart household relations can be seen in Hartâ€™s
work on the Muda Agricultural Development Authority. She studies the application
of mechanization to harvesting and transplanting tasks traditionally been carried out
by women. In the context of escalating labour conflicts in the 1970s, these womenâ€™s
work groups collectively mobilised to resist efforts by large landowners to break up
these groups in order to pay wages on an individual daily basis. Perceiving the
increased insecurity and diminution in their wages that this would entail, womenâ€™s
groups organised against these plans with the slogan that they would not â€˜eat
shillingsâ€™. Hart argues that this explains the rise in the price of labour rather than any
inelastic supply in labour or a preference for leisure time. Men did not organise in
this capacity because they enjoyed a more favourable position in various forms of
political, social and religious patronage relations. Faced with such resistance from
womenâ€™s groups, one can interpret the shift to labour displacing mechanization in
The Journal of Peasant Studies 27
the later phase of the Green Revolution as one way of reducing the effectiveness of
this mobilisation. Again, a naturalized approach to markets, in which supply and
demand are assumed magically to equilibrate, will mask these ongoing relationships.
Hart concludes that â€˜From this perspective, mechanization was not simply a priceinduced response to relative factor scarcities; it was also part of an effort by large
landowners and the irrigation authorities to bring recalcitrant women under controlâ€™
(Hart 1992, 810).
Yet the epistemic closure of the household allows â€˜much that passes for objective
socio-economic research and technology development . . . to be based on a priori
assumptions: what is measured is determined by researchersâ€™ fields of observation
and perception of what is important to recordâ€™ (Jiggins 1986, 7â€“8). By systematically
occluding gender from discussions of the Green Revolution, women were rendered
â€˜invisible farmersâ€™ (Satyavathi et al. 2010, 442). In India, 74% of the female
workforce is involved in agriculture. Sobha (2007) details the extent to which, as a
result of Green Revolution activities, women have borne a disproportionate physical
burden of the consequences and, as Agarwal has argued, been involved in genderspecific attempts to resuscitate the environment (Agarwal 1992). Deforestation
means longer trips to gather firewood, or using fuels that burn less cleanly, resulting
in higher rates of respiratory disease. Agricultural runoff matters to women, who are
often responsible for fetching water and cooking, both activities that lead to
chemical exposure. Women who are exposed to pesticides such as DDT suffer from
hypothyrodism while leukaemia in children and Parkinsonâ€™s disease have also been
linked to high pesticide exposure. Furthermore, there is evidence that pregnant
women can pass on the toxins in the womb to their children, resulting in lower birth
weight and smaller head size (Sobha 2007, see also Behrman et al. 2012).
Womenâ€™s agricultural knowledge has also been discounted and devalued
(Feldman and Welsh 1995). The International Assessment on Knowledge, Science
and Technology for Development points to the importance of such knowledge in the
creation of sustainable food systems (IAASTD 2008). A purely instrumental
evaluation of the loss suggests that, without any appeal to ecofeminism (Shiva 1989),
it is likely to be harder to nurture a sustainable food system without this knowledge.
Braudelâ€™s logic also points us to think about the ways that the exploitation of the
natural world has been seized by capital. Questions about sustainability and the
environment do in fact feature in the original rhetoric of the Green Revolution. One
of Norman Borlaugâ€™s strongest claims, the so-called Borlaug hypothesis (Angelsen
and Kaimowitz 2001), is that the Green Revolution prevented land from falling
under the chainsaw and the plough. As a result of improved production technology
between 1950 and 1998, Borlaug argued, over 1200 million hectares of land were
spared from deforestation (Borlaug 2000, Borlaug and Dowswell 2003, 22).
To suggest that three times as much land might have been used to feed the world
than is currently utilized is quite a claim, and one that deserves evaluation. We can
certainly note that the terms of the question, couched in a Malthusian language of
scarcity and demand, fits the contours of the original Green Revolutionâ€™s rhetoric.
But the claim remains that as a consequence of incentives, investment, state violence,
improved seeds and industrial chemicals, less forest was destroyed than might
otherwise have been the case. There are three ways of responding. First, one might
28 R. Patel
observe that, even if true, the ecological costs of the Green Revolution have been
substantially underestimated. Second, one ought to evaluate the amount of land
saved by the Green Revolution. Third, one can flip the counterfactual on its head.
Borlaugâ€™s claim is that without the Green Revolution, environmental catastrophe
would have followed. The appropriate way to respond is to estimate the
opportunity-cost of the Green Revolution, thereby suggesting that the alternative
to the Green Revolution was not to do nothing, but to do things in a radically
First, then, the unstated environmental costs. Pimentel and Pimentel (1990)
cite a report observing that despite a sevenfold increase in pesticide use, loss to
pests remained at 27% because more pest-susceptible rice was planted
(Subramanian et al. 1973). One study cited by Pimentel and Pimentel points to
a curious consequence of treating plants with 2,4-D: rice stem-borers grew 45%
larger on treated plants (Pimentel 1971, 179), with the borer caterpillars
consuming 45% more rice as a result. Outbreaks of pests are also less controlled,
because their natural predators have been killed by the pesticides. Furthermore,
soil erosion rates from the spread of Green Revolution technologies range from
10 to 100 t/ha/yr, which â€˜exceed soil formation rates by at least tenfoldâ€™ (Pimentel
et al. 1987, 277). Shiva points to the thirst of Green Revolution crops, some three
times higher than conventional systems, leading to water tables dropping by 1
per year (Shiva 1991). In 1992, it was found that close to a quarter (24%) of all
irrigated lands suffered from salinization (Otero and Pechlaner 2008). Global
fertilizer consumption also increased by 4.1% per year between 1961 and 1998
(Otero and Pechlaner 2008). Where fertilizer has entered into lakes and streams,
eutrophication has occurred, resulting in the death of aquatic plants and animals
(Pimentel and Pimentel 1990).
The consequences for the integrity and resilience of ecosystems are also
profound. In sacrificing the â€˜agronomic resilienceâ€™ of traditional varieties for the
yield enhancing but more vulnerable Green Revolution seeds, the balance between
crop and environment is undermined (Pistorius 1997, Kloppenburg 2010). As
Frisson notes, â€˜in its ability to buffer yields from season to season and to deliver
improved nutrition, and to do so when few other options are available,
agricultural biodiversity is perhaps at its most useful in precisely the kinds of
marginal and fragile environments that are occupied by the poorest farmersâ€™
(Frison 2008). Claims for the merits of the Green Revolution abide by a narrow
definition of agricultural productivity in which concerns for sustainability are
Environmental myopia is a systemic feature of the Green Revolution. Hugh
Campbell argues that the food regime underpinning the Green Revolution
invisibilised the ecological impacts to effect what Marx had once described as â€˜an
irreparable metabolic rift that increasingly disrupted the interaction between human
beings and natureâ€™ (Campbell 2009, 312). That is, capitalism involves a distancing of
humans from the ecological consequences of their actions. This appears similar to
Sachsâ€™ claim that
It is only by externalizing these costs [the depletion of the nature] and then assuming
them away as if they did not exist that some agricultural operations are presented as a
success story, while in reality they should be considered as nothing short of a
catastrophe. (Sachs 1987, 196)
The Journal of Peasant Studies 29
Campbellâ€™s is more than a simple externality argument, however. Such processes
of externalization can be effected by what Campbell identifies as social/cultural
legitimacy of food regimes. Environmental degradation happens beneath a cloak of
legitimacy provided by narratives of development and modernisation. â€˜Food from
Nowhereâ€™ food regimes such as that underpinning the Green Revolution â€˜create
enormous consequences both socially and ecologically at a global scale, but generally
appear to consumers to have no consequence but priceâ€™ (Campbell 2009, 315).
Throughout this process, as Kloppenburg has noted, the biological realm has been
increasingly commoditized, through a process of accumulation by dispossession
(Kloppenburg 2010). The ownership of global seed supply has become increasingly
concentrated, such that the top four companies control more than half the
global proprietary seed supply (for more on concentration in industrial agriculture
see, inter alia, ETC Group 2008, Bernstein 2010b, Moore 2010, Weis 2010, Wield
et al. 2010).
In other words, the Borlaug hypothesis can be disputed on a number of
grounds â€“ the full ecological and social impact has yet to be tallied, but partial
calculations point to a more fraught arithmetic than Borlaugâ€™s claims suggest.
Further, evidence suggests that the technological innovations that Borlaug wrought
matter less than the character of government that stewards the environment:
environmental degradation is worse under authoritarianism (Kaimowitz 1996,
Utting and UN 1993).
There is, further, a second response to the Borlaug hypothesis, examining quite
how much land has been spared by the Green Revolution. Rudel et al. (2009) find
increased land use with increased yields. Evenson and Gollin (2003) suggest that
between 1960 and 2000, without hybrid seeds, per capita land use would have
increased in developed and developing countries by 2.8 to 4.9%, and without the
CGIAR system, by 1.6 to 1.9%. Over the same period, per capita calorie
consumption would have fallen in developing countries by 13.3% to 14.4% without
the use of hybrid seeds, and without the CGIAR, it would have fallen by 4.5% to
5.0%. These figures are certainly more modest than Borlaugâ€™s hypothesis, though
significant. But this isnâ€™t the opportunity cost of the Green Revolution. This is merely
an examination of what might have happened had the resources deployed in the
Green Revolution not been deployed. A better response is to accept Borlaugâ€™s
invitation to consider counterfactuals, and ask not what would have happened had
the Green Revolution not occurred, but rather what might have happened had the
substantial resources used in the Green Revolution been deployed in a different way.
In the final section of this essay, I examine the rise of the New Green Revolution,
locating it as a completion of, rather than an alternative to, the original Green
Revolution. Only after that, and an assessment of the Green Revolutionâ€™s
persistence, can we offer a deep rebuttal to Borlaugâ€™s hypothesis.
4. A new hope: The New Green Revolution
Historical eras rarely begin or end conveniently. Although Borlaugâ€™s 1970 Nobel win
is often considered the Green Revolutionâ€™s capstone, in many countries where
improved seeds were introduced, changes in government support for agriculture and
multilateral funding for it continued through the 1960s and 1970s. Even at the zenith
of a Green Revolution motivated by concerns around feeding the potentially
insurrectionary poor, other forces and transformations were at work. By examining
30 R. Patel
those forces, we can understand why it helps to consider the Green Revolution a
â€˜longâ€™ process, and situate contemporary trends in a useful historical trajectory.
The rise of sorghum in Mexicoâ€™s â€˜second Green Revolutionâ€™ hints at the problem
of hermetically sealing the original Green Revolution within a (1942â€“1970) bracket.
In response to the growing demand for meat by Mexicoâ€™s growing middle and upper
class and the growing profitability of meat as an export product, the Mexican
government shifted its fiscal support from staple food crops towards the production
of sorghum to serve as a high-protein animal feed. As early as 1964, the Mexican
government ended its 250 million pesos annual subsidy for wheat production and
instead offered a guaranteed price of 625 pesos per ton for sorghum (DeWalt 1985).
Mexicoâ€™s commercial farmers responded to these price signals and switched from
wheat and maize to sorghum production. Mexicoâ€™s per capita domestic production
of food staples steadily declined, while sorghum soared. Sorghum production was
too insignificant to warrant a mention in early 1950s government data but increased
between 1958 and 1980 by 2772% to become Mexicoâ€™s third largest crop in terms of
value and hectares sown. This increase, spurred by concerns of middle class
consumption and export return to commercial farming, and lifted by government
subsidy, won itself the moniker of â€˜Mexicoâ€™s second Green Revolutionâ€™. As Barkin
notes, by 1989, Mexico had become one the largest food-deficit countries in the
developing world, having to import 40% of its grain requirements (Barkin 1990).
The transformation in Mexican state agricultural priorities, toward an exportoriented agriculture policy, was of course incipient within the agricultural technics of
the Green Revolution. But what makes the change striking is its abandonment of
concerns with feeding the hungry, or concerns about equity, years before it became
fashionable to do so (see also Mitchell 2002).
Mexicoâ€™s internal transformations pre-dated larger, global shifts in the funding,
approach and philosophy of the Green Revolution. Structural financial forces â€“ debt
and the departure from the gold standard precipitating a transformation of US
power at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s â€“ meant that other agencies were called
upon to support the Green Revolution (McMichael and Raynolds 1994, McMichael
2009b). The financial crisis that began at the end of the 1960s was to inaugurate a
seismic neoliberal shift in approaches to agriculture. The 1947â€“73 food regime was
reconfigured as the crisis of US surplus post war grain production morphed into a
far larger systemic financial crisis (McMichael 2009b). Part of the international
structural reorganization of agriculture that followed the US inability to finance
international agricultural ventures was an increasing prominence in the role of the
It was under these circumstances that Robert McNamara, President of the World
Bank, unveiled in a September 1973 address to the Board of Governors a new credit
scheme to help the 100 million poor smallholder farmers around the world. The
World Bank had previously been involved in agricultural support at a country level â€“
providing, for instance, a USD 5 million loan to the Philippines in 1965 for credit to
purchase agricultural equipment. But with the US reluctant to finance these
ambitions directly and solely, the Bank vaulted into position as the Revolutionâ€™s
predominant funder in the 1970s.
With an aim to increase smallholder output at a growth rate of 5% per year, the
World Bank would make credit available to the smallholder, without which â€˜he
cannot buy improved seeds, apply the necessary fertilizers and pesticides, rent
equipment, or develop his water resourcesâ€™ (McNamara 1973 cited by Feder 1976,
The Journal of Peasant Studies 31
538). McNamara announced that in its next five-year lending period from 1974 to
1978, the World Bank would increase its agricultural lending activity from USD 3.1
billion to 4.4 billion, 70% of which would contain a â€˜componentâ€™ for the smallholder.
This â€˜small green revolutionâ€™ aimed to propel the smallholder sector to the forefront
of the Green Revolution, to serve as a direct rebuttal of critical claims that the Green
Revolution only served larger, commercial farming units.
Of the range of criticisms garnered by McNamaraâ€™s announcement, Ernest
Federâ€™s neglected yet systematic dismantling of McNamaraâ€™s arguments is a tour de
force. Feder observes that McNamara dispenses with any concern for the landless â€“
whose numbers had increased as a result of the Green Revolution. Instead,
McNamaraâ€™s largesse was directed at poor peasants dealing with â€˜land scarcityâ€™.
Here McNamara assumes land scarcity when, as Feder points out, â€˜there are no
countries where there is at the present time any scarcity of land whatever for the big
landowners who control most of the farm land as well as access to virgin land. Land
is scarce only for the poor peasantsâ€™ (Feder 1976, 535).
While garnering little support from Feder, McNamaraâ€™s approach found favour
with governments ready to conflate an increase in production with a reduction in
poverty. Many states were ready to follow a logic which stipulated that â€˜the poverty
problem revolves primarily around the low productivity of the millions of small
subsistence farmsâ€™ (McNamara 1973), because in framing the problem in this way,
productivity and efficiency, rather than access to the means of production, would be
the biopolitical mode for an agricultural policy that could contribute to output but
also to the power of the liberal state. The Philippines is a case in point. Statesubsidized credit schemes legitimized the state by telegraphing a rural development
that, on closer inspection, served only to maintain the status quo. As Feder points
. . .the mere existence of a credit programme offering low-cost loans to farmers
conveniently provides its sponsoring government the means of gaining political and
ideological support by publicizing its concern for the rural poor, without necessarily
altering the prevailing structure of asset ownership, which is the main source of
inequality. (Feder 1983, 144)
Under the guise of â€˜targetingâ€™ the poor, the Bank supported â€“ through the credit,
marketing and support services – the large-scale farmers favoured by the technics of
the Green Revolution. Land reform, though mentioned by the Bank, on closer
inspection took the form of suggesting that â€˜where much potentially productive land
in the hands of big landowners lies uncultivated there may be widespread support for
measures to turn it over to small farmers without a hint of an attack on rights to
propertyâ€™ (World Bank 1974, cited by Feder 1976, 533).
The World Bankâ€™s funding of the public infrastructure needed to sustain the
Green Revolution did not, however, survive the 1970s. The financial crisis of the
1960s, reinforced by the oil crisis that broke a month after the World Bankâ€™s
small green revolution, became powerful constraints on the existing model of
agricultural development. From the foment of the 1970s emerged neoliberal
economic policies that could not countenance the interference of states in
agricultural markets (Harvey 2005). These policies were â€“ with exceptions (Kelsey
1995) â€“ ones that met resistance from agricultural interests in the Global North.
The US Farm Bill and EU Common Agricultural Policies are reminders of the
limits to free market policies in a time of market triumphalism (Fukuyama 1992).
32 R. Patel
These policies were, however, transmitted through development policy to the
continent that had become most dependent on international development loans
following the petro-dollar fuelled credit boom and subsequent bust in the 1970s:
Although many African states were in the front line of the Cold War, the
continent attracted a different kind of donor and multilateral aid agency attention
from the Global North than did Asia or Latin America (Moyo 2008). In a 1981
assessment (the Berg Report, after US economist Elliot Berg, its principal author)
the Bank suggested that the problems on the continent lay not in its attempt to
recover from the horrors of European colonialism, nor from ongoing European, US,
Chinese and Russian intervention, nor from crippling indebtedness, but from the
failure of African governments adequately to manage their countries (World Bank
1981). African countries were among the most indebted and, as a result, multilateral
institutions had considerable power in shaping the domestic policy agendas of these
countries (McMichael 1996). The imposition of structural adjustment policies
reshaped the government, and governance, of African states (Bromley 1995,
Harrison 2004), with profound impacts in agriculture (Gibbon et al. 1993). The
devaluation, systematic defunding of agriculture, and focus on export-oriented
growth stalled African per capita food production, and substantially harmed the
prospects of African agriculture, according to a recent independent World Bank
evaluation (World Bank 2007b).
This is not to say, however, that agricultural research didnâ€™t happen. It did, and
does. Two months after the Berg Report, a New York Times article suggested that â€˜a
second Green Revolution, one that could provide custom-designed crops to meet
specific emergencies quickly, would be a welcome eventâ€™ (Steinhart 1981). Although
lacking the science-fiction quality of â€˜custom-designed cropsâ€™, research had been
underway on more pedestrian varieties for Africa for quite some time. The
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research had, since its formation
at the Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s behest in 1971, coordinated and organized research
into Africaâ€™s cereal staples. Indeed, since at least 1991, when the CGIAR started
explicitly to disaggregate the destinations for its research funding, Africa has been
the continent toward which the largest slice of the budget has been directed (see
CGIAR 1992 and other years).
Africaâ€™s experiences of restructuring were, then, the result of one of the central
institutions responsible for funding the Green Revolution, at the beginning of the
1980s, wielding sufficient power to impose a neoliberal package of policies on the
continentâ€™s governments. There has been sustained investment in agricultural
technology in Africa. Yet narratives of African agricultural development, as we shall
see below, consistently represent Africa as the continent passed over by the Green
Revolution, a place lacking in the knowledge imparted by modern development
institutions. It is true that African agricultural growth in the 1980sâ€“1990s was
achieved by increasing cultivated area, rather than through the use of Green
Revolution technologies (Evenson and Gollin 2003). Green Revolution seed
technologies were not beyond the ken of African departments of agriculture â€“ but
the Green Revolution subsidies of the 1960s were beyond the budgets available in the
1980s for most African departments of agriculture.
The language of development knowledge remains an important refrain in the
development project. It is no accident that the World Bank now sees itself as a
knowledge bank (Mehta 2001, Stone 2003). Beyond the Bankâ€™s being a central site of
The Journal of Peasant Studies 33
the Green Revolutionâ€™s truth regime, there is another reason for this shift. Under
neoliberal economic policy, the kinds of state support that the original Green
Revolution demanded were no longer thinkable uses of Bank funds. Within a
decade, the idea that development assistance might be used for input subsidy, cheap
credit or marketing boards had become almost comic within the community of
development economists (Friedmann 2009). While funds for subsidies were scarce,
money for restructuring advice was abundant. Knowledge about how governments
might be scaled back, how property regimes pushed forward, how markets might be
created was readily available as were loans to projects ready to exploit those markets
The Bankâ€™s transformation in lending philosophy and practice over the course of
the 1970s and early 1980s, from Keynesian to neoliberal, paralleled broader
transformational change in flows of capital. Such transformations, it should be
noted, are an inherent feature of capitalism. As Braudel notes:
the quality that seems to me to be an essential feature of the general history of
capitalism: its unlimited flexibility, its capacity for change and adaptation. [. . .] [T]he
essential characteristic of capitalism was its capacity to slip at a momentâ€™s notice from
one form or sector or another. (Braudel 1982b, 433, emphasis in original, cited by
Arrighi 2010, 4â€“5)
Arrighi points out that these capitalist transformations have appeared in historic
cycles, with similar underlying features.
Marxâ€™s general formula of capital (M C M0
) can therefore be interpreted as
depicting not just the logic of individual capitalist investments, but also a recurrent
pattern of historical capitalism as world system. The central aspect of this pattern is
the alternation of epochs of material expansion (M C phases of capital
accumulation) with phases of financial rebirth and expansion (CM0 phases). In
phases of material expansion money capital â€˜sets in motionâ€™ an increasing mass of
commodities (including commoditized labor-power and gifts of nature); and in
Figure 1. Comparative Net per capita Production trends for Africa, Asia and World (2004â€“
2006 Â¼ 100)
34 R. Patel
phases of financial expansion an increasing mass of money capital â€˜sets itself freeâ€™
from its commodity form, and accumulation proceeds through financial deals (as in
Marxâ€™s abridged formula MM0
). Together, the two epochs or phases constitute a full
systemic cycle of accumulation (M C M0
) (Arrighi 2010, 6).
Arrighi outlines the character of these cycles over time, and suggests where we
might look for similar features today:
It can thus be seen that the expansion of capitalist power over the last five hundred
years has been associated not just with inter-state competition for mobile capital, as
underscored by Weber, but also with the formation of political structures endowed
with ever-more extensive and complex organizational capabilities to control the
social and political environment of capital accumulation on a world scale. (Arrighi
The 1980s, argues Arrighi, were the moment of just such a transformation.
Rather than see the emergence of an era of â€˜flexible accumulationâ€™ as radically new,
Arrighi points to Braudel to understand â€˜â€˜â€˜financial expansionâ€™â€™ as a symptom of
maturity of a particular capitalist developmentâ€™ (Arrighi 2010, 6). The phase of
capitalism in which post-war Keynesianism was supplanted by neoliberalism ought
not, then, to be seen as two distinct periods, but as features of one long cycle of
accumulation, with political structures developing new organizational capacities
over time to manage global capital accumulation.
This matters for a consideration of the Green Revolution. The heart of the this
paperâ€™s hypothesis is this: if Arrighi is correct, then the phase of the Green
Revolution characterized by state support and investments to facilitate the
transformation of money into commodities and back into money might more
usefully be seen as a precursor for a financialized phase of agriculture which, it must
be argued, characterizes the New Green Revolution. The state remains central in
both moments, albeit in a different relation to agriculture and finance in a
reconfigured hegemony. But, crucially, both original and New Green Revolutions
only appear distinct â€“ they are much more fruitfully understood as one Long Green
This paper can only begin to outline the argument of continuity between the two
phases of the Long Green revolution. To build the case, the rest of this paper will
show the extent to which financialization matters in current pushes for agricultural
development, and then will set the calls for a New Green Revolution in a context that
shows both the continuities and the effects of a more financialised and biopolitical
turn of the Long Green Revolution.
To do this, itâ€™s worth returning to a signal moment in agriculture, contemporary
with the Berg Report and the New York Timesâ€™s call for a second Green Revolution.
In October 1981, Goldman Sachs paid an estimated USD 100 million for J. Aron
and Company, a billion-dollar-revenue commodities trading firm. Many banks had
made similar moves â€“ Goldman Sachsâ€™ was the fifth such merger involving banks and
commodity traders in the preceding two months. The recession had dropped the
price of commodities, and so the firms trading in them were relatively undervalued.
At the same time, high interest rates had made attractive to the trading firms the
access to capital that a bank could provide (Maidenberg 1981). Banking and
commodity trading were well matched in the economic crisis of the late 1970s and
1980s. Over the ensuring decade, trading and associated financial product
engineering would become the heart of the finance industry. But not only was
The Journal of Peasant Studies 35
Goldman Sachs to buy in Lloyd Blankfein, a future CEO of the company, but they
were to purchase a model for building the firmâ€™s power that would result, in
Kaufmanâ€™s words, in â€˜the history of food [taking] an ominous turn in 1991â€™
(Kaufman forthcoming). In 1991, traders developed the Goldman Sachs Commodity
Index. Although well over half the index is dominated by an energy component, it
also tracks Chicago wheat, Kansas City wheat, corn, soybeans, coffee, sugar, cocoa,
cotton, lean hogs, live cattle and feeder cattle (Standard and Poors 2012). In 1991,
the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) also increased the number of
future contracts that selected financial institutions could hold, from 5000 to 130,000
contracts. In so doing, they reversed legislation dating from 1936, which restricted
the trading of agricultural futures contracts to agricultural, rather than financial,
entities (Kaufman forthcoming). As Ghosh has observed, the financialization of
food deepened with the passing in 2000 of the â€˜Commodity Futures Modernization
Act [which] effectively deregulated commodity trading in the United States, by
exempting over-the-counter (OTC) commodity trading (outside of regulated
exchanges) from CFTC oversightâ€™ (Ghosh 2010). The deeper point amid this shift
can be easy to miss. In the rise of commodity markets and financial instruments as
tools for managing uncertainty, and in the retreat of the stateâ€™s responsibilities for
social insurance, both the terms and the guarantors of the social contracts around
food have changed.
This process of financialization in agriculture, noted by a range of commentators,
proceeded through the 1980s and 1990s (Lohmann 2009, Clapp and Helleiner 2010,
Tang and Xiong 2011, Magdoff 2012, UNCTAD 2011). The dismantling of
international marketing agreements, such as the International Coffee Agreement in
1989, preceded the full liberalization and subsequent financialization of a range of
commodities under the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and
Trade (Newman 2009). The World Trade Organizationâ€™s Agreement on Agriculture
cemented neoliberal doctrines in agriculture, even if in the Global North these
doctrines sat uneasily with ongoing transfers to agribusiness. While the US
continued many of these transfers through arcane evasions of international law so
as to appear compliant with the WTO (Bello 1994), the 1996 Farm Bill ended
government responsibility for domestic grain reserves. The result was that, by the
time of the second Gulf War, â€˜the United States was holding eight hours worth of
soybeans and five hours worth of cornâ€™ (Kaufman forthcoming). The political
regimes of public property ownership, insurance, and risk management were being
transformed to allow for greater capital accumulation. The result can be gauged by a
recent opinion offered by Rajiv Shah, the current administrator of USAID:
We are never going to end hunger in Africa without private investment. There are things
that only companies can do, like building silos for storage and developing seeds and
fertilizers. (Strom 2012)
This is an almost wholesale reversal of the views about the role of the state
argued above by Willam Gaud, Shahâ€™s predecessor, half a century earlier, and a view
that â€“ given recent experiences around international food prices â€“ suggests a triumph
of ideology over necessity (for more on grain storage see the instructive Bruins and
Bu 2006). The role of the private sector in this phase of the Long Green Revolution
is parasitic on the accumulated resources of the previous phase. The privatization of
grain reserves involves the transfer of power over the food system from public to
36 R. Patel
private hands, over the control of resources built and sustained by state management
of the food system. This is reflected in the wider â€˜power grabsâ€™ associated with
everything from grain reserves to land grabs (Borras et al., 2012).
These power grabs have been accelerated by events such as the war on terror and
war on drugs, which have been alibis for an increased concentration of power in
private hands (Kerssen 2012). Yet note, too, that even something as abstruse as the
process of financialization was characterized by resistance. Although often forgotten
today, a 1995 proposal within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) to push financialization to new heights, the Multilateral
Agreement on Investment, was foiled partly through its own internal political
failings, but also because of successful international mobilization against it by a
range of NGOs (Kobrin 2012). By April 1998, the proposal had been abandoned.
But the push for a reconfigured approach to agricultural development, and a reimagination of the roles of property and finance within agriculture, has continued.
4.1 The New Green Revolution in context
By centuryâ€™s end, the world had changed dramatically since the original Green
Revolutionâ€™s conception. Most significantly, the threat of communism had been
extinguished with the fall of the Soviet Union. Net per capita food production
was continuing its rise. The number of undernourished in 1995â€“97 had fallen
below 800 million for the first time since records began in the 1960s (FAO 1999,
2011a). Nonetheless, 1997 saw the publication of a book arguing that the original
Green Revolution had â€˜bypassedâ€™ small farmers (Conway 1997, 44), that
environmental setbacks had been serious, and that nonetheless a new generation
of agricultural technology was necessary to meet the food needs of future
generations. Gordon Conwayâ€™s call in A Doubly Green Revolution was for an
ecologically-sound replay of the first Green Revolution, but one that held firm to
the promise of uplifting small farmers. It was a call that resonated within the
development community, even spurring a rhetorical arms-race: Ismail Seregeldin,
then head of the CGIAR, called in 1997 for a â€˜thrice green revolution: green for
productivity, green for environmental sustainability, and green for increased
income as the entry point to improved living conditionsâ€™ (Holt-GimeÂ´nez 2002, 1).
DanËœo (2007) helpfully explains the reasons for the resonance of the call for a
New Green Revolution by observing who the author of A Doubly Green
Revolution was. The book was published a month after Gordon Conway was
elected to the post of President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and five months
before he started his duties there.
Conwayâ€™s success in nurturing a program for agricultural research in Africa at
the Rockefeller Foundation, and in normalizing the history and rationale behind
it, can be seen in a more recent 2006 text from the Rockefeller Foundation
entitled Africaâ€™s Turn: A New Green Revolution for the 21st Century. After
presenting a potted history of the Green Revolution remarkably similar to that at
the beginning of Section 2 above, the Foundation offers this summary of the first
It was, at its origins, a strategic act of philanthropy, enlisting experts, government, and
ultimately local scholars and farmers in a carefully wrought partnership that grew
geometrically â€“ and deliberately â€“ over many years. Science, donations, and market
The Journal of Peasant Studies 37
forces all played an indispensable part; but all were guided, in the first instance, by a
philanthropic plan. (Rockefeller Foundation 2006, 4)
That plan, according to the Foundation, though not according to its archives,
was hatched thus:
The idea started with a casual comment in 1941 by Henry Wallace, then Vice-President
of the United States [and founder of the Pioneer Hi-Bred seed company, now a
subsidiary of DuPont], to Rockefeller President Raymond B. Fosdick: Increase the yield
per acre of corn and beans in Mexico, and you would do more for the country and its
people than by any other means. (The same might now be said, 60 years later, about
crops in Africa.) (Rockefeller Foundation 2006, 2)
Note the absence of history, the misremembering of the Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s initial interest in Mexico and the erasure of the Foundationâ€™s anti-communist,
pro-US-state thinking in the original Green Revolution. Even within todayâ€™s
updated history, there is an elision; increased yields, and the technologies used to
produce them, were aimed not at the small farmers celebrated by Conway, but at
commercial ones. There was never a suggestion of a compact between small-scale
farmers and philanthropists at the outset of the Green Revolution. The goal,
tiresome though it is to restate, was the management of class tensions through an
increase in the food supply and the management of this food supply to suppress
urban hunger. Presenting the Green Revolution as the successful and sole-minded
attempt to eradicate hunger is simply untrue. In this misremembering, foundations
try to cloak themselves in a blanket of, for want of a better word, philanthropy. This
is redolent of the first Green Revolution, of course. But there are reasons to see the
second time as farce.
To be fair, not everyone in the world of philanthropy is delighted with the
resurrection of the Green Revolution. In a 2009 interview Roy Steiner, the deputy
director of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation, winced at the choice
of name for AGRA, feeling that it didnâ€™t adequately capture the lessons learned from
the failures of the first Green Revolution (Patel et al. 2009). When one reads the
language of some of those involved in the New Green Revolution, it sometimes
appears that in fact lessons have been learned. The crass language of Africaâ€™s Turn
isnâ€™t entirely representative of the philanthropic genre. At the 2009 World Food
Prize, an award founded through a partnership between Borlaug and General Foods
in 1986, the following remarks were offered by Bill Gates:
The fact is, we need both productivity and sustainability â€“ and there is no reason we
canâ€™t have both. Many environmental voices have rightly highlighted the excesses of the
original Green Revolution. They warn against the dangers of too much irrigation or
fertilizer. They caution against a consolidation of farms that could crowd out smallholder farmers. These are important points, and they underscore a crucial fact: the next
Green Revolution has to be greener than the first. It must be guided by small-holder
farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the
environment. Let me repeat that. The next Green Revolution must be guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and
the environment. The last thing anyone should do is create short-term gains for poor
farmers that have long-term costs for their children. Thatâ€™s why our foundation works
closely with local farmersâ€™ groups. And thatâ€™s why we are one of the largest funders of
sustainable approaches such as no-till farming, rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation,
and biological nitrogen fixation. Our approaches are customized for diverse crops,
38 R. Patel
different climates, and small plots of land. Weâ€™re responsive to the needs and
recommendations of the farmers themselves. And we respect the expertise of women
farmers, who do most of the farming in Africa. The second principle â€“ the value chain â€“
guides our overall strategy. Farmers need new seeds, of course. But they tell us they also
need new tools and training; they need access to new markets to sell their surplus; and
they need stronger organizations that can represent their interests. (Gates 2009)
This does rather sound as if key criticisms have been heard, yet much is unsaid. It
is striking that Gates calls for stronger organizations to represent farmersâ€™ interests.
Such organizations exist worldwide, such as the International Federation of
Agricultural Producers (IFAP) and La Via Campesina, and have for decades
(Desmarais 2003, Edelman 2003, MartÄ±Â´nez-Torres and Rosset 2010). Not all farmersâ€™
organizations are the same, however. As Borras observes, the class allegiances of
farmers, and the preponderance of smallholder famers within La Via Campesina,
leads to distinct politics:
IFAP tends to form alliances with similar minded entities that are committed to the
same issues of productivity, agribusiness, trade and the like. For example, IFAP works
closely with agencies within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR) network, while VÄ±Â´a Campesina stays away from CGIAR and works
with independent alternative research institutions such as those promoting agroecology.
(Borras 2010, 789â€“90)
The kinds of policy that La Via Campesina advocates are not consonant with
those of a second Green Revolution. So, while smallholder farmers are asked to
guide the second Green Revolution, it seems as if they are asked to do so in ways that
conform to an agenda that has already been written. Their voices matter, but only
when they say what they ought.
This schizophrenic representation of smallholder farmers, as both vocal
stakeholders and mute victims, both pioneers of the frontier of agricultural
development and antiquated remnants of a nineteenth-century agrarian economy,
is common to the philanthropic and development establishment. The tension is most
visible in the World Bankâ€™s 2008 World Development Report on Agriculture for
Development, in which smallholder farmers, and the resources they deploy, are
presented as a missed opportunity for investment for development (World Bank
2007a). The report acknowledges the high social return on agricultural development
assistance, while decrying the inefficiency of smallholder farms compared to largerscale commercial farming (Patel 2007a, Amanor 2009, McMichael 2009a, Oya
2009a, b, Woodhouse 2009).
Those most connected to the value-chain principle that Gates celebrates are the
private sector, and in particular the large-scale private sector. In the New Green
Revolution, the role of the private sector is far more central than that of the state or
of the gifts of science shared by philanthropic investment. The Rockefeller
Foundation expanded its Green Revolution in Africa program under Conway,
supporting hybrid rice efforts but also helping to implement biosafety regulations for
the use of biotechnology on the continent. By building and nurturing its own
agricultural technology program, the Rockefeller Foundation was in a position, in
2006, to partner with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The offspring of this
philanthropic encounter was The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, born
later that year, incorporated as an NGO in the US, but operating out of Nairobi
(Food First 2009). The board of the Alliance initially included Raj Shah, a Gates
The Journal of Peasant Studies 39
Foundation executive who now fills Gaudâ€™s shoes as USAID administrator, with
AGRA presided over by Gary Toenniessen, then Director of the Rockefeller
Foundationâ€™s Food Security programme. At the time of this writing in early 2012,
the 10-person board is a mix of two African telecommunications entrepreneurs, two
African agricultural research civil servants, two Gates Foundation employees (one of
whom now runs the Walmart Foundation), two Rockefeller representatives, a
professor from Wageningen, and Kofi Annan, who has been the Chair of the Board
As DanËœo notes (2007), the personnel drawn to implement AGRAâ€™s vision
were drawn largely from the private sector, and the world of proprietary
biotechnology in particular. As I have argued elsewhere, it is perhaps
unsurprising that such a model of privatized knowledge-driven change should
appeal to a man who built Microsoft with similar tools (Patel 2009). In
inculcating such a model on an entire continent, Gates found allies in the
international development banking community, the New Partnership for Africaâ€™s
Development (NEPAD), and other foundations, notably the Yara Foundation â€“
associated with the Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara. But none have been so ready
to reap the rewards as the private sector, and this private sector couldnâ€™t have
imagined a better builder of bridges between its needs and the philanthropic
infrastructure required to support it than William Gates III.
4.2 The private sector
Just like the previous Green Revolution, tropes of population play in current
debates. McMichael (2000a, 26) cites a caption on Monsantoâ€™s homepage: â€˜Guess
Whoâ€™s Coming To Dinner? 10 billion people by 2030â€™. Guess Whoâ€™s Coming to
Dinner is a 1967 film concerning a white daughter bringing her black boyfriend home
to meet liberal parents whose racial tolerance has never been tested (Kramer 1967).
Monsanto use the phrase, together with ideas of migration and teeming populations
of people of colour, to stoke racially inflected concerns over the urgency of action in
increasing food production (rather than, for example, distribution) (Patel et al.
2005). Again, such concerns arenâ€™t new. The first Green Revolution was concerned
with fecund people of colour, too. The firms named in 1968 Senate testimony around
the Green Revolution were not agricultural but pharmaceutical, because they were
the vendors of birth control needed to reduce the number of hungry mouths in the
Global South. The differences today lie in the role of the state, and the kinds of
enterprise interested in transforming the food system in search of profit (Bereano and
English 2010, McMichael 2000a).
Consider, as an example of the New Green Revolution, the model for the
dissemination of technologies sold by Monsanto (another key partner in AGRA,
and one whose stock is held by the Gates Foundation). It doesnâ€™t simply involve a
revolving door between the corporations and public bodies tasked with rural
development. There is very consciously an attempt to bring the private sector in at a
meso-level that was once the provenance of the state. One of AGRAâ€™s earliest
commitments was to an â€˜Agro-Dealer Development Programmeâ€™, which involved the
training of at least 10,000 â€˜well-functioning agro-dealersâ€™, with the hope of
instigating a capitalist farming revolution in Africa. By 2009, AGRA reported that
it had trained 9200 such dealers, who had sold over USD 45 million worth of seed,
fertilizer and pesticide (AGRA 2012).
40 R. Patel
The broadbased spread of market capitalism is an explicit goal of the project of
the Green Revolution in Africa. One of the original entities spawned by AGRA was
a USD 120 million loan facility, administered by KPMG Development Services
Limited and funded by a range of European development agencies together with
Australia, with a goal to â€˜encourage private sector companies to compete for
investment support for their new and innovative business ideasâ€™ (AECF 2012). The
Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund has faced some challenges. One project in Ghana
has followed Gatesâ€™ twin principles of â€˜public-private partnershipâ€™ and â€˜value chain
developmentâ€™, but achieved poor results. Farmers were reluctant to participate in an
association the membership of which involved clearing virgin land on which to farm,
and poor weather and waterlogged soil meant that output was at half the expected
levels. But a central problem, the project team reports, was that â€˜the majority of
farmers in the project locations viewed agriculture as a way of life and not a business.
One of the main objectives of the Association is therefore to reorient the farmers to
business. It is doing this by providing quality inputs and extension servicesâ€™ (Guyver
and Maccarthy n.d., 5). Yara Ghana, a subsidiary of the Norwegian giant, did
indeed provide these services, yet farmers clung to pre-capitalist notions of their lives
and economic activity. The attempt to correct this is ongoing.
There are entities keen on making this happen. Consider the connection of a
Washington DC-based organization called the Citizensâ€™ Network for Foreign Affairs
(CNFA), a pro-market NGO with extensive experience in bringing markets to the
former Soviet Union. They won a three-year USD 13.1 million grant from the AgroDealer programme to work in Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania. At the same time, in a
joint public-private partnership project with USAID, AGRA, Monsanto, and
DuPont, CNFA was tasked with managing the commercial seed and distribution
networks of the West African Seed Alliance, a USD 60 million programme, funded
until October 2012. In 2009, CNFA described their new agricultural work in
Uzbekistan as complement[ing] USAIDâ€™s strategic objectives of developing value
chain linkagesâ€™ (CNFA 2009).
What emerges from this examination are the increasingly tight links between
philanthropic foundations, the private sector, and the state in international
agriculture in a world in which US neoliberalism has done its best to install itself
as the only viable mode of economic and political organization (Fukuyama 1992).
Yet the US is not the only economic power, nor possessed of the only economic
model. Although there is no longer a Cold War in which a New Green Revolution
might be an alternative to a Red one, the Pentagon, State Department and US
Capitol still think geopolitically in a multipolar world. There remains an
intensification of the search for surplus value simultaneous with the management
of crisis, if no longer directly in service of quelling urban social discontent in US
client countries. Certainly the logic of food production, population and unrest
matters today â€“ former President Ben Aliâ€™s last act before fleeing Tunisia was to drop
the price of bread. In the absence of the war on communism, the main legitimation
for the New Green Revolution is humanitarian and, explicitly, pro-smallholder.
Note that the sincerity brought to the task of fighting hunger in Africa, deeply felt by
all who set themselves the task, doesnâ€™t alter this analysis. No one wants more
hunger. Yet the moral purity of its goal masks the sordid means by which the New
Green Revolution seeks to achieve it.
Further, the humanitarianism obfuscates a question posed by Arrighiâ€™s analysis.
Recall that the historic cycles of capital accumulation are spurred by competition
The Journal of Peasant Studies 41
between corporations, but also by that between states. An appeal to feeding the
world appears to transcend concerns of statehood, yet the New Green Revolution
remains tied to geopolitics. Perhaps most telling, concerns about unrest and food
prices now come from the USâ€™s economic competitors. The Chinese government, for
instance, is concerned about food price inflation, and its domestic consequences
(McBeath and McBeath 2010), and is one among many states aggressively looking at
ways to secure food for its citizens by â€˜opening upâ€™ markets in hitherto untapped
territory. Herein lies an important continuity from original to New Green Revolution.
The Green Revolution always involved the creation and shaping of markets with the
geopolitical involvement of nation-states. Although couched in philanthropic terms, the
New Green Revolution represents a new attempt, largely through the instruments of
U.S. based hegemony, to control the power to commodify. The rising global
importance of China, whose EXIM bank lends more to Africa than the World Bank
(Cohen 2011) â€“ though see Brautigam (2011) for broader analysis of aid data â€“ prompts
deeper questions about the character of agricultural technology and development aid at
a time of waning US hegemony. An enquiry beyond the scope of this particular essay,
though within the scope of the research agenda proposed by it, is the extent to which
international agricultural development and private sector investment in agriculture is
linked specifically to national priorities as the first Green Revolution was. Anecdotal
evidence suggests a â€˜new scramble for Africaâ€™, in which the interests of states and of
private sector firms with some attachments to that nation often align. In response to
Chinese investment, the US is advancing soft power in Africa and building
AFRICOM, a combined joint-forces headquarters with particular interests in
protecting new finds of mineral and oil wealth (Keenan 2008).
Suffice it to say, however, that the New Green Revolution provides philanthropic
reasons for renewed commodification. This cuts both ways: commodification also
transforms philanthropy. In a recent opinion piece by the CEO [sic] of The Nature
Conservancy, an environmental NGO with assets in excess of USD 6 billion (The
Nature Conservancy 2012), Mark Tercek offered a vision of a â€˜smarter world food
systemâ€™ developed in partnership with Cargill and General Mills (Tercek 2012). An
example of this partnership is the NGOâ€™s role in ensuring Brazilian soy farmersâ€™
compliance with forestry laws. The poor performance of civil society monitoring
around â€˜responsible soyâ€™ has been noted by Dauvergne and Neville (2010) and is best
understood as what Logan and Wekerle (2008) term the â€˜neoliberalization of
environmental governanceâ€™. The transformation of environmental NGOs from
petitioning governments for change to becoming the toothless goads for less
rapacious behavior, from state advocacy to state surrogacy, can be understood
through Arrighiâ€™s analysis as â€˜extensive and complex organizational capabilities to
control the social and political environment of capital accumulation on a world
scaleâ€™ (Arrighi 2010, 15). NGOs are not the only entities reconfigured by increased
financialization. States themselves are subject to similar pressures to provide
managed opportunities for capital accumulation, as evinced by the rise in
prominence of land markets as a central issue in contemporary agricultural
4.3 Land markets and land grabs
History counts neither the dropped jaws nor raised eyebrows at the 2000 anniversary
Nobel lecture in Oslo when Norman Borlaug praised a country for adopting the
42 R. Patel
Green Revolution that had a principal target of that revolution: China (Borlaug
2000). Yet, in successive comparisons, China was lauded for its increased
production, its hunger abatement and its economic growth. Borlaug was
untroubled by the historic threat of communism as the motivation for the Green
Revolution. And while increased production in China, like proper Green
Revolution countries, relied on state subsidy and coercion, it also rested on land
reform, a feature avoided by the Green Revolution. World Bank economists
Ravallion and Chen argue,
It would not be unreasonable to presume that the [Chinese] agrarian reforms around
1980 accounted for the bulk of rural poverty reduction in the first half of the 1980s,
which . . . accounted for roughly three-quarters of the total decline in the national
poverty rate over 1981â€“2001. (Ravallion and Chen 2007, 25)
Similar reports from Zimbabwe tell of rural lives improved without market, but with
state, forces (Moyo 2011, Scoones et al. 2011). What makes China and Zimbabwe
anomalous is, of course, the prominence of state-led agrarian reform against marketled agrarian reform (Borras 2003). And what characterizes neoliberal agrarian
change is precisely an insistence on the fungibility of land as a sine qua non of
A confidential version of the Gates Foundation Agricultural Development
Strategy Executive Summary points to a vision of agricultural change that Carl
Sauer would recognize from the Rockefeller Foundationâ€™s adventures in 1940s
In order to transition agriculture from the current situation of low investment, low
productivity and low returns to a market-oriented, highly-productive system, it is
essential that supply (productivity) and demand (market access) expand together. . . [this] involves market-oriented farmers operating profitable farms that
generate enough income to sustain their rise out of poverty. Over time, this will require
some degree of land mobility and a lower percentage of total employment involved in
direct agricultural production (Gates Foundation 2008). (AgraWatch 2011, emphasis
The call, in the name of efficiency and productivity, to reduce the rural
population involved in agriculture is one echoed by the World Bank with the same
Orwellian language of â€˜land mobilityâ€™ â€“ Orwellian because it isnâ€™t the land that
moves, but the people working on it. The role of the nation-state in this context has
shifted from the first Green Revolution. In the Philippines, for instance, conservative
land reform required local markets in land. In India, such markets functioned too. In
Mexico, land reform had been a galvanizing concern for the seeding of the Green
Revolution there. In all cases, however, there are restrictions on the ownership of
agricultural land by foreign nationals (Mexico being the least stringent of the three
examples). The opening of land markets to international buyers is a novel feature of
this phase of international agricultural development policy. Internationalizing
markets by suspending nationality as a concern in the stateâ€™s calculus of property
management, although consistent with the liberal economic philosophy behind
international trade treaties, has brought controversy. Spurred by the 2008 food
crisis, international investment in land has increased dramatically. GRAIN (whose
data provided the data for subsequent World Bank analyses) has detailed land grabs
The Journal of Peasant Studies 43
involving 56.6 million ha worldwide (Cotula 2012, 3). Land is a frontier not only for
commodification, but also its subsequent financialization. Perhaps one of the
greatest contradictions in the new era of capital accumulation, and one that raises
questions around the inter-state character of capitalist competition, is that the
investment within state borders increasingly comes from sovereign wealth funds.
These are investment portfolios run for profit by states themselves, and are an
important driver of â€˜land grabsâ€™ (Cotula et al. 2009).
The World Bank has equivocated on the issue of â€˜land grabsâ€™. Its 2010 report on
the issue is entitled Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and
Equitable Benefits? (Deininger et al. 2010). The authors do their best to bend the data
to the reportâ€™s subtitle. Although the record of land grabs has to date been one of
rarely mitigated disaster, the reportâ€™s authors can imagine a paradise in which land
grabs might yield sustainable and equitable benefits â€“ in the same way one can
imagine the moon is made of cheese â€“ and so the authors answer their question in the
affirmative. Yes, rising global interest in farmland can yield sustainable and equitable
benefits, even if it doesnâ€™t at the moment.
Bill Gates himself has shared his views on the land reforms, engaging in almost
Clintonian wordplay with the idea of land grabs, pointing out that:
Itâ€™s not actually possible to grab the land. People donâ€™t put it on boats and take it back
to the Middle East. If we could have clear guidelines there could be more land deals and
overall it could be very beneficial. . . The truth is the person who is most at risk on a land
deal is the person who is putting the money in. (Thuburn 2012)
A range of commentators have, in the pages of this journal, suggested reasons
why Gatesâ€™ logic might not be as robust as he hopes. The greatest risks will likely be
borne by the women displaced from and threatened by denial of access to resources
associated with the newly grabbed land. As Behrman and colleagues note,
throughout the process of acquisition, gender inequities in bargaining power, access
to information, public goods and resources can leave women worse off from the
moment the land beneath their feet is sold, to the period of building new homes and
livelihoods in the areas to which they are displaced by investment (Behrman et al.
2012). Of the groups most affected by land grabs, women rank highest, even in the
World Bankâ€™s own attempts to analyse and justify these markets (Deininger et al.
2010). Behrman et al. summarise:
The available evidence thus far indicates that large-scale land deals have tended to
overlook the rights, needs and interests of women and as a result have tended to
aggravate gender inequalities in affected communities. Whether or not women and men
will benefit from future land deals depends in part on the rights and responsibilities
women and men have prior to the land deal and in part on how the implementation of
the land deal will build upon, improve, or distort these roles and responsibilities. (2012,
That the real world has failed consistently to live down to World Bank
economistsâ€™ expectations over the benefits of these exchanges partly explains why in
a more recent report, Klaus Deininger, Lead Economist in the World Bankâ€™s
Development Research Group, together with his colleagues suggests that rather than
prevent foreign acquisition of land (a policy that might be skirted by savvy foreign
investors using locals as intermediaries),
44 R. Patel
A more appropriate policy response would place priority on efforts to improve land
governance â€“ by recognizing local rights and educating local populations about the
value of their land, their legal rights, and ways to exercise those rights. . . .Also, given
the size of the phenomenon and the dangers it can pose, a global effort is needed to
document cross-national investments in coordination with domestic authorities. . .
which should be led by a suitable multilateral. (Arezki et al. 2012, 49)
Thus will the perils of land grabs be dodged: not by the decommodification of
land, but by the capitalization of the peasantry. In its logic, the World Bank takes
Hernando De Sotoâ€™s â€˜Mystery of Capitalâ€™ out of the city, and brings its many flaws
to the countryside (De Soto 1989, Skidelsky 2000).
Again, central in this discussion is the orchestration of the state, development
institutions and philanthropists in support of a regime of accumulation by
dispossession, achieved through the creation of markets in land. Yet the World
Bankâ€™s moves toward a generalized peasant capitalism resonate well with Gatesâ€™
thinking. In Creative Capitalism â€“ a title that critics have mocked for what it implies
about ordinary the lack of creativity in more everyday varieties of capitalism â€“ Gates
The world is getting better, but itâ€™s not getting better fast enough, and itâ€™s not getting
better for everyone . . . Why do people benefit in inverse proportion to their need?
Market incentives make that happen . . . We have to find a way to make the aspects of
capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well. . .. To make the
system sustainable, we need to use profit incentives whenever we can. At the same time,
profits are not always possible when business tries to serve the very poor . . . The
challenge is to design a system where market incentives, including profits and
recognitions, drive the change. I like to call this new system creative capitalism â€“ an
approach where governments, businesses, and nonprofits work together to stretch the
reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing
work that eases the worldâ€™s inequities.. . . our greatest impact is . . . when we show how
to use technology to create solutions. This kind of creative capitalism matches business
expertise with needs in the developing world to find markets that are already there but
are untapped.. . . this is a worldwide movement . . . (Gates in Kinsley et al. 2008, 9â€“15)
In a yen for capitalism, and an abnegation of analysis of how it operates, the process
of accumulation of dispossession is legitimated.
As previous work suggests (Patel et al. 2009), the Gates Foundation has foundered in
its thinking about women and, in this, follows broader failures in the international
development establishment (Razavi 2012). A recent update to its agricultural
development strategy, the Gates Foundation offered this observation:
In sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, women are vital contributors to farm work, and
typically in charge of selecting food for, and feeding their families. Yet compared to
their male counterparts, women farmers are less productive and unable to reach their
full potential. Yields on womenâ€™s plots are typically 20 percent to 40 percent less than
menâ€™s, putting rural families and communities at risk of not having enough nutritious
food to eat or any extra to sell at the market. (Gates Foundation 2011, 3)
Setting aside the productivist ideas here (Burton 2004), we might ask why it is
that womenâ€™s full potential isnâ€™t reached (Folbre 2009). An answer involving power
The Journal of Peasant Studies 45
and patriarchy, and its consequences for rural women and girlsâ€™ lives, might be put
forth, but instead the foundation offers this:
The reason for this gender gap is that women have less access to improved seeds and
other inputs, training, and markets. This gap has real consequences: households are less
productive, new approaches and technologies that could increase the amount of food
they grow are less likely to be adopted by women, and children in poor household are
undernourished. (Gates Foundation 2011, 3)
Few analysts of gender would vouchsafe that gender gaps are caused by a lack of
access to improved seeds. Differential access to agricultural inputs are a symptom of
an inequality in power that keeps more women hungry than men, women poorer
than men, with differential access to land (Agarwal 1994) and education (Klasen
2002), shouldering the triple burden (Moser 1989), and so forth (Behrman et al.
2012). Yet here it appears that by fixing a single symptom, one might address a
cause. Itâ€™s wishful thinking of course, but itâ€™s repeated often enough in the overview,
with â€˜gender gapsâ€™ understood as differential access to fertilizer and inputs so
frequently that one might almost begin to believe that patriarchy waits to be
overcome with a bag of fertilizer and a few magic beans.
This is a point of continuity between original and New Green Revolutions. The
household remains as black a box today as it was under the original Green
Revolution. Smallholders, too, are poorly specified â€“ one is led away from awkward
class-filtered questions like asking whether the people displaced by â€˜land mobilityâ€™
were not perhaps former and still aspiring smallholders. Indeed, as recent analysis of
agricultural technology suggests (Witt et al. 2006; Richards et al. 2010) the category
of â€˜the poorâ€™ itself seems to help the cause of agricultural technology, rather than the
other way around (Glover 2010).
The intertwining of state, philanthropy and academy continues just as it did under
the original green revolutions (Ross 2005), with a variety of disciplines drawn to the
flame of Foundation funding, especially in the twilight of public education resources
in public universities in the Global North (Moyo et al. 2009). The financialization of
agriculture deepens through the invention of technologies to turn agricultural
production into fuel â€“ an extension and deepening of trends within agricultural
capitalism (Borras et al. 2010, White and Dasgupta 2010). But in concluding this
essay, I want to focus on a subject that might initially seem a little removed from the
central concerns of the Green Revolution: nutrition. The power to commodify has a
corollary â€“ the power to diagnose and treat problems arising from the exercise of
commodification. There is nothing inherent within an era of financialized capital
accumulation that necessitates a particular character of transformation. The
transformation that has emerged in the neoliberal era has been conditioned by the
politics that preceded it. Margaret Thatcherâ€™s â€˜there is no such thing as societyâ€™
(Margaret Thatcher Foundation 1987) is the victory slogan of the neoliberal battle
against socialism. It isnâ€™t unnecessarily Hegelian to notice that the neoliberal
program is one that is markedly individual because of the collective politics it rejects.
The Green Revolution that began as a tool for opposing socialism has been
reconstituted with contemporary, and particularly individualized, political ideas and
46 R. Patel
concerns. It is in the domain of nutritional intervention that these individualizing
politics are laid bare.
Central not to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, but to the
Foundations behind the Green Revolution, has been a constant parallel track of
investment in agriculture under the rubric of nutritional improvement. Nutrition
strikes me as an exemplary case of biopolitics used in the service of capitalist
agriculture. It is of course true that bodies have been damaged by poverty. Indeed,
some of that damage can be traced to the Green Revolution itself. Yet common to
the approach presented by foundations is a discourse that enables the treatment of
the symptoms of poverty while postponing or even ignoring the deeper causes of that
poor diet. The rise of nutritionism pulls the locus of policy action toward the
individual body, rather than on the relations that humans have to one another, and
the world around them (Scrinis 2008). In conceding this biopolitical shift, one loses
the possibility of broader structural change. When La Via Campesina, for instance,
demands change, it advocates for comprehensive agrarian reform, not â€˜vitamins for
allâ€™. Yet one of the consequences of the technics of the New Green Revolution has to
normalize a policy approach based on deficits in blood chemistry, rather than
inequalities in power. It is in this sense again that one can understand the Green
Revolutionâ€™s discourse and trajectory as an anti-politics machine, and one that
matters for current events.
Again, it is possible and necessary to understand the bodily privations that have
resulted from agrarian change. One need not throw out the baby of biochemical
analysis with the biopolitical bathwater As Hardt (2011) notes, biopolitics can be a
means of resistance. â€˜Biopoliticsâ€™ is not a synonym for a kind of personalised
totalitarianism. It is a terrain in which governance operates, one that is never total,
and in which resistance is always possible. The food system has examples of
resistance that takes bodily privation seriously, but that seeks to end that privation
through systemic change (see e.g. Patel 2011b).
It is also important to understand that the domains of biopolitics are constitutive of,
and constituted by geopolitics. So, for instance, it is reasonable to point to the changes in
diet that resulted from the Green Revolution. While over 850 million people suffer from
chronic hunger, two billion people suffer from malnutrition, with around six million of
the 10 million deaths of children under five in developing countries related to micronutrient deficiency (Frison 2008). Around two-thirds of the worldâ€™s undernourished live
in Asia, the continent where the Green Revolution claims its greatest success in terms of
yields (Rosset 2000). Furthermore, we are now also seeing an increasing incidence of
â€˜diseases of affluenceâ€™ in the developing world, with increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes,
heart disease, cancers and obesity amongst poor people (Frison 2008).
One of the ways in which the Green Revolution has undermined human nutrition
was through its displacing of nutritionally rich food crops with commodity crops.
Traditional micro-nutrient rich crops such as pulses, vegetables and fruits have been
substituted for cereal grains which have a much lower nutritional value. Whole
cereal grains contain relatively high levels of anti-nutrients which reduce the bodyâ€™s
absorptive capacity for micro-nutrients (Welch and Graham 2000). Yet the
production of beans and pulses has declined significantly as land has been given
over to the cultivation of cereals (Conway 1997). In south India, this decline in the
production of pulses has been accompanied by an increase in iron-deficiency anemia
in pre-menopausal women (Welch and Graham 2000).
The Journal of Peasant Studies 47
Thus, it is possible to use nutrition data, such as the fact that 48% of stunted
children live in India (Save the Children 2012), to agree with Jennifer Bryce and
colleagues that vitamin deficiencies and poor sanitation are among the reasons for
this malnutrition (Bryce et al. 2008), but to suggest very practically that even if oneâ€™s
goal is not to prevent the poverty that spawns this malnutrition, but merely to treat
its symptoms effectively, the solution lies not in bags of vitamins and bars of soap,
but massive investment in public healthcare systems. (Sonia Shahâ€™s (2010) analogous
discussion of the failure of the Gates Foundations attempts to eradicate malaria for
want of investment in public healthcare systems is instructive.)
Dixon observes that â€˜[t]he social history of nutrition politics reveals that food
regimes were in part based on the trade in human energy and health as much as a
trade in commodities and capitalâ€™ (Dixon 2009, 324). Yet it can surely be no accident
that the Gates Foundation aims to tackle modern problems in Africaâ€™s food system
not under the aegis of its New Green Revolution, but under concerns about public
health. This implies a shift in Green Revolution institutional forms to a more
specifically biopolitical mode of intervention than the first Green Revolution. This is
not to say that public health is itself a bankrupt idea, but to be reminded that it is a
distinctive mode of management and governmentality that allows concerns about
poverty and injustice to be recast as bodily problems of nutritional inadequacy.
Foucaultâ€™s observations about the liberal state, and the terms in which it can
conceive of problems and political solutions to those problems, match this picture
4.6 A new hope
That â€˜things neednâ€™t be this wayâ€™ is a standard response to the Green Revolution and
its consequences (DanËœo 2007, Bereano and English 2010). Indeed, it is precisely the
demonstration of another world being possible that disrupts the other Thatcherite
neoliberal slogan â€˜there is no alternativeâ€™ (Fisher and Ponniah 2003, Holt-GimeÂ´nez
2008). The food crisis of 2008 has been analysed as the culmination of trends in
agricultural development linked to financialization, neoliberalism and the failure of
the Green Revolution (Holt-GimeÂ´nez and Patel 2009). In response to such critiques,
one commentator suggested,
romantics have portrayed the food crisis as demonstrating the failure of scientific
commercial agriculture, which they have long found distasteful. In its place they
advocate the return to organic small-scale farming â€“ counting on abandoned
technologies to feed a prospective world population of nine billion.
The â€˜romantic attachmentâ€™ to peasant agriculture might well have come from
Harvardâ€™s Magelsdorf in the 1940s. It comes instead from Oxfordâ€™s Collier (2008).
Calls for alternatives are, however, also to be heard from proponents of the New
Green Revolution itself where â€˜sustainable intensificationâ€™ (Reardon et al. 1999) or,
more honestly, agricultural modernization (Kydd and Dorward 2001) is offered as a
response to the unsustainable, backward way that farmers, particularly in Africa,
It is, however, possible to reject the Manichean logic of â€˜disaster or capitalist
sustainabilityâ€™ by looking at the evidence. Claims that, in the absence of the Green
Revolution, starvation would have been rampant can be countered by observing
both that starvation continues, and also that there are models for agriculture and
48 R. Patel
food distribution that address hunger, landlessness, poverty, ecological sustainability
and gender inequality in ways that the Green Revolution never could.
Had the Green Revolution not happened, Evenson and Gollin tell us, crop yields
in developing countries would have been 19.5â€“23.5% lower, requiring developing
countries to increase the area under production (with attendant environmental
consequences) and import between 27 and 30% more food. Food prices meanwhile
would have been 35â€“66% higher. All this translates into a 13.3â€“14.4% lower calorie
intake per capita and a 6.1â€“7.9% increase in the proportion of children
malnourished. This would mean that the Green Revolution succeeded in raising
the health status of 32â€“42 million preschool children. Interpreting these findings,
Evenson and Gollin believe that â€˜It is unclear what alternative scenario would have
allowed developing countries to meet, with lower environmental impact, the human
needs posed by the massive population expansion of the 20th centuryâ€™ (Evenson and
Gollin 2003, 761). This is the attenuated version of Borlaugâ€™s hypothesis.
Yet deep counterfactuals exist. Badgley et al. conduct a modelling exercise
demonstrating that â€˜organic methods could produce enough food on a global per
capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even
larger population, without increasing the agricultural land baseâ€™ (Badgley et al.
2006, 86). Very recently, Seufert et al. (2012) have found that overall organic
yields are 25% lower than conventional crops, though the yield difference varies:
they find no statistically significant difference between organic and conventional
fruit and oilseeds, and 26% and 33% less for organic cereals and vegetables
respectively. They also find that the longer a farm has been organic, the better it
performs. Seufert and colleagues compare large scale industrial with monocultural
organic, and admit that their research leaves open issues of externalities
associated with conventional and organic agriculture. They do not, however
consider the agroecological farming featured in IAASTD (2008) and (De Schutter
2010). Examples from Cuba and Malawi, for instance, fell outside the parameters
of the study, thus losing local evidence that agroecological systems might outperform conventional agriculture (Msachi et al. 2009, Altieri and Toledo 2011,
Rosset et al. 2011).
The absence of agroecological cases is significant because one of the most
compelling features of high performing agroecological systems is not their yield, but
their capacity to fight hunger through organizing and social change (Altieri and
Nicholls 2008). It is important to appreciate that alternative farming systems will
have alternative technics. Large-scale organic monoculture is the very slimmest of
alternatives to large-scale industrial agricultural monoculture. Agroecological
systems often have contrasting systems of governance, innovation and distribution.
Rosset and colleagues, for instance, report a vibrant peasant movement striving for
autonomy against a socialist state in Cuban agroecological practices (Rosset et al.
2011). Holt-GimeÂ´nez similarly reports that agroecological best practices in Central
America have been developed and shared in non-hierarchical, horizontal and
collaborative ways (2002). Similar stories, involving hundreds of farmers researching
and sharing results as peers, might be told of agroecological experiments and food
distribution in Malawi (Msachi et al. 2009). The forms of government, and ultimate
goals driving these researchers, couldnâ€™t be more different from those behind the
biotechnological revolution offered in the New Green Revolution (Kaimowitz 1996).
There is a great deal more work to be done, though itâ€™s clear that the politics that
govern the distribution of food are likely to look different from markets as they
The Journal of Peasant Studies 49
currently stand, whether domestically or internationally (Heynen 2009, De Schutter
2010, Alkon and Agyeman 2011, Holt-Gimenez 2011). A defining feature of
alternatives to agricultural systems produced under the current phase of capitalist
accumulation is likely to be the extent to which peasant groups are able to attain
relative autonomy from the forces of state, private sector and civil society that have
shaped the latter part of the Long Green Revolution (van der Ploeg 2008).
Unadvertised, this paper has been an attempt to outline a program of incorporated
comparison (McMichael 1990, 2000b). To understand how the Green Revolution
matters today, one needs to understand its place and transformation in a longer
history of capitalist accumulation. Arrighiâ€™s project was one that followed
McMichael in not presuming but constructing cycles of accumulation,
both factually and theoretically, with the explicit purpose of gaining some understanding
of the logic and likely outcome of the present financial expansion. The comparison is
incorporated into the very definition of the research problem: it constitutes the substance
rather than the framework of the inquiry. The cycles that emerge from the inquiry are
neither subordinated parts of a preconceived whole, nor independent instances of a
condition; they are interconnected instances of a single historical process of capitalist
expansion which they themselves constitute and modify. (Arrighi 2010, 24)
This paper, in pale imitation of Arrighiâ€™s project, has gestured at the possibility of
a research project around agricultural change over the long twentieth century.
Motivated by the threat of communism, the Green Revolution advanced through the
concerted effort of large-scale philanthropy, the United States government, recipient
governments, and the World Bank in ways that ensured accumulation for the
dominant hegemonic bloc within countries in receipt of the package of technologies,
subsidies and violence that constituted the programme.
Following the reconfiguration of the relation between states and the private
sector under neoliberalism, agricultural development fell out of favour among
international development agencies. It was, however, the source of increasing interest
â€“ a recurring and loaded word â€“ for finance capital. Through the 1990s, instruments
like the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index and firms like Glencore (Patel 2011a)
were building positions beyond their core energy and minerals domains, within
agriculture. The financialization of agriculture was well underway by the time the
calls for a second Green Revolution were made by Conway. The timing of Conwayâ€™s
call follows the international liberalization of agriculture through the World Trade
Organizaiton, and slightly precedes an increase in investment from the World Bank
in agriculture (World Bank 2012).
The character of the New Green Revolution is clearly different from its
predecessor, insofar as it lacks an anti-communist tilt. Neoliberal suspicions over the
role of the state have prevented the kinds of intervention that made the original
Green Revolution successful in its own terms. No longer are subsidies thinkable.
Violence, on the other hand, is very much within the purview of the neoliberal
development state, as is the management of knowledge. Indeed, regimes of violence
and truth are among the continuities of the Long Green Revolution. Development,
and the intermittent need â€“ in the name of developmental order â€“ for the state to
mete out violence on the bodies of the poor are constant refrains. For deeper
50 R. Patel
continuities, Braudel offers an understanding of the operation of capitalism that
invites us to consider how the habits not only of peasants, but of philanthropists and
academics, have changed in light of the original Green Revolutionâ€™s transformation.
From Marx, we nonetheless see in the processes of accumulation, and the conduits of
circulation smoothed by a combination of state, private sector and philanthropic
agencies, a distinctively new configuration of â€˜strategic philanthropyâ€™ (Barnes 2005,
243). Foucault helps to craft ideas about regimes of truth, and the biopolitical
imperatives of the liberal state, to understand how problems of hunger, poverty,
injustice and ecological destruction have been understood through the prism of
capitalism, how certain ideas have been made true or false.
From food regime analysis, understood in a Gramscian light, we see the
structures of legitimation that enabled the first Green Revolution, and its
descendants. Central to this is a recognition that political ecology matters (Peet
and Watts 1993). Climate change has already been deployed as an alibi for the
spread of the New Green Revolution. The Gates Foundation sees adaptation â€“ not
mitigation or remediation â€“ as the only response to climate change, in particular
through the spread of drought-tolerant monoculture (Gates Foundation 2011).
History suggests that ecology and climate have previously been conscripted to the
cause of capitalist agriculture, whether in Mexico and India in the early days of the
Green Revolution, or in Africa during the 1970s prelude to structural adjustment.
Although historical knowledge isnâ€™t a sufficient inoculant against historical
repetition, itâ€™s a necessary one.
The notion of a â€˜Long Green Revolutionâ€™, and the suggestion that it is centrally a
set of actions to control the process of accumulation, prompts further research
questions. What, for instance, is the role of the recipient state in the New Green
Revolution? In the first Green Revolution, the developmental state mattered
(Cumings 1999). The state clearly matters in the New Green Revolution, and the
emergence of sovereign wealth funds, particularly from China, India and Brazil,
greatly complicates Arrighiâ€™s suggestion that we look to inter-state and inter-firm
competition. Further, the character of international philanthropy capitalism, and its
relation to US power, deserves a closer examination than I have been able to afford it
here. The alignment of capital to state is certainly different in the New Green
Revolution. The interests of Yara and Monsanto are more divorced from the
governments of Norway and the United States than under the first Green
For scholars interested in resistance, the attempt to wrestle with the Green
Revolutionâ€™s counterfactual can be fruitful, for the attempt prompts questions of
how the state ought to be involved, if indeed it can be involved at all, together with
questions of legitimation, distribution, and power beyond the call that agroecological farming rule the earth (Altieri and Toledo 2011). La Via Campesinaâ€™s
sloganeering â€“ â€˜Small Farmers cool the Earthâ€™, for instance â€“ may sound like an
obfuscation along the lines of the New Green Revolutionâ€™s attempt to help â€˜small
farmersâ€™. Absent an analysis of class and power, demands for food sovereignty can
conceal no less than calls for â€˜pro-poorâ€™ agriculture. The difference, of course, is that
food sovereignty is precisely an invitation to analyse the power that accompanies the
food systemâ€™s technologies (Patel 2009). Which returns us to Mumfordâ€™s thoughts:
from late neolithic times in the Near East, right down to our own day, two technologies
have recurrently existed side by side: one authoritarian, the other democratic, the first
The Journal of Peasant Studies 51
system-centered, immensely powerful, but inherently unstable, the other man-centered,
relatively weak, but resourceful and durable. If I am right, we are now rapidly
approaching a point at which, unless we radically alter our present course, our surviving
democratic technics will be completely suppressed or supplanted, so that every residual
autonomy will be wiped out, or will be permitted only as a playful device of government,
like national ballotting for already chosen leaders in totalitarian countries. (Mumford
An incorporated comparison suggests ways that the conscription of Green
Revolution thinking into everyday practices might be more subtle and enduring than
we suspect. But Mumford also points to ways in which, by appreciating the
Revolutionâ€™s technics, we might do things differently. The actuality of the resistance
(Bosteels 2011) that has shaped the trajectory of the Green Revolution suggests this:
the Green Revolution may be long, but it neednâ€™t be destiny.
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Raj Patel is an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Development Studies, University
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The Journal of Peasant Studies 63
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