Green Revolution in India: Advantages and Disadvantages

  Green Revolution in India: The Other Side of the Coin 

 -Dr. Arvind Singh

Green revolution refers to the quantum jump in food grain production following the use of high yielding varieties, fertilizers and pesticides coupled with the expansion of irrigation facility, multiple cropping and use of modern mechanized implements like tractors, threshers, harvesters etc. The Green revolution came on the scene around the middle of the sixties, beginning with Kharif crop of 1966.

Green Revolution in India
It happened because of certain circumstances like drought conditions, which prevailed during 1965-66 and 1966-67. These were also the years when the seeds of high yielding variety became available. It led to enhanced agricultural production providing security to India in food grain production. Prior to the Green revolution, the problem of hunger and malnutrition prevailed in the country and the demand for food was fulfilled through imported food grains from abroad.

The Green revolution triggered by high yielding varieties brought a complete change in production technology, marketing, storage and extension. The production of food grains by 1977 grew so much that imports were stopped, old debts were paid and the country became self-sufficient. The production of food grains rose from less than 61 million tonnes in 1949-50 to 131 million tonnes in 1978. The production of cereals (rice, wheat, maize and barley) rose from less than 51 million tonnes to about 120 million tonnes during the same period. By the end of the 20th century, the food grain production rose to 209 million tonnes with a buffer stock at around 6o million tonnes. In 2013 the food grain production in the country has reached to about 259 million tonnes. 

The term Green revolution was coined in 1968 by Dr William S. Gaud, Director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to describe the breakthrough in food grain production and rapid diffusion of the semi-dwarf wheat and rice varieties in India, Pakistan and another part of the developing world.

The dwarf varieties of wheat were produced by American born Mexican scientist Dr Norman E. Borlaug at CIMMYT (Centro International de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo) known as International Centre for Wheat and Maize Improvement, Mexico. These varieties of wheat eliminated hunger and malnutrition not only in Mexico but also in several parts of the world. For this contribution, Borlaug was honoured with Nobel Prize for peace in 1970. He is also known as the 'Father of Green Revolution'.

A Japanese variety of wheat Norin-10 was the source of dwarfing genes for wheat improvement. The Sonora 64 and Lerma Rojo were the semi-dwarf wheat varieties developed by incorporation of dwarfing genes through plant breeding at CIMMYT. The varieties were introduced to India in 1963. The variety Kalyan Sona and Sonalika were modified form of the imported dwarf varieties integrated to Indian agriculture.

It paved the way for the Green revolution through the efforts of Dr M. S. Swaminathan who is known as the 'Father of Green Revolution' in India. For more than one decade these varieties were the most popular wheat varieties in India. A great majority of wheat varieties now grown in the country are semi-dwarf. These wheat varieties are fertilizer responsive, high yielding and are resistant to lodging and diseases as well. 

The De-geo-woo-gen, a dwarf, early maturing variety of Japonica rice from Taiwan was the source of the dwarfing gene for rice improvement. Taichung Native 1(TN1) developed in Taiwan, and International Rice 8 (IR8) developed at International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines, were the varieties of rice produced by the introduction of dwarfing genes. These rice varieties were introduced to India in 1966. They were extensively grown for a few years but were later replaced by superior semi-dwarf varieties developed in India e.g. Jaya, Ratna etc. The semi-dwarf varieties are lodging resistant, fertilizer responsive, high yielding and photo-insensitive.

Harmful Effects of Green Revolution in India: (Disadvantages of Green Revolution)

The Green revolution initiated with a motive to achieve self-sufficiency in food grain production fulfilled the desired goal. However, its several harmful effects are evident now. The burgeoning problems of land degradation, deforestation, environmental pollution, depletion of biodiversity, increased incidence of mosquito-borne diseases, pest resurgence, lowering of the groundwater table are the results of the Green revolution in India. The harmful effects of Green revolution on ecology and environment, human health and agriculture are as follows:

Ecology and Environment:

The worst effect of the Green revolution has been witnessed on the ecology and environment of the country. The green revolution has caused a marked decline in the forest cover of India. Use of modern mechanical instruments has led to large scale deforestation for agricultural practices. The per capita forest land in India is 0.1 hectare compared to the world average of 1.0 hectare.

Indian forests comprise only 0.5 per cent of the world forest area. India is losing forest at a rate of 1.5 million hectares per year and consequently losing 6,000 million tonnes of soil annually containing about 5.53 million tonnes of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash valued about Rs.700 crores. Deforestation has led to the problem of drought, siltation of rivers and dams, flood, loss of biodiversity, global warming, lowering of groundwater table etc. 

Indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides for enhanced crop yield has caused the problem of air, water and soil pollution. The nitrous oxide (N2O) produced by microbial action on inorganic fertilizers in the soil causes depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, which serve as a shield against harmful UV-rays emanating from the sun. Methane (CH4) produced by methanogenic bacteria in the waterlogged paddy fields is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. India is often blamed by the international community for global warming due to large scale paddy cultivation (Greenhouse gas methane is emitted from waterlogged paddy field). 

The inorganic fertilizers applied to the field are drained by rainwater to rivers and lakes causing water pollution. The phenomenon of nutrient enrichment of aquatic bodies is known as eutrophication which deteriorates the water quality leading to the death of fishes. Besides this, the seepage of fertilizers and pesticides also pollutes the groundwater. There have been reports of groundwater pollution in the state of Punjab.


Agriculture is a predominant sector as the economy of India revolves around this sector. Prior to the Green revolution, several indigenous varieties of crops were grown but the advent of the same has led to use of some high yielding varieties of crops only. This has not only resulted in uniformity in biodiversity but also has led to the loss of biodiversity. The local indigenous varieties lost their importance owing to the persistent use of high yielding varieties. The loss of landraces and indigenous varieties is a matter of serious concern as these crop varieties possess several useful characters (resistance to diseases, pests, drought etc.), which can be used in the crop improvement programme.

Soil erosion which is the removal of the topsoil cover is the result of the Green revolution. The nutrients, organic matter and microbial population are mostly concentrated in the top layer of the soil. Thus the topsoil is the core of soil fertility. The intensive cultivation practices under the Green revolution without fallowing have put severe pressure on land resources leading to the problem of soil erosion. The excessive use of chemical fertilizers destroys the soil structure making the soil prone to erosive forces like water and wind. About 25% of the total land area is already suffering from the problem of soil erosion due to water, which is a great loss to the economy of the nation. It has been found that each inch of topsoil lost due to erosion reduces the yield of wheat by roughly 6 %. 

The indiscriminate use of inorganic fertilizers has led to the depletion of soil micronutrients which are required by plants in small quantity. When fertilizers containing macronutrients (N, P & K) are added to a crop, the plant absorbs not only the extra nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from the fertilizer, but also proportionally increased levels of micronutrients from the soil like iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, molybdenum etc. The soil has become deficient in these micronutrients in areas influenced by the Green revolution. Continuous use of nitrogenous fertilizer urea to enhance the crop yield in the areas affected by the Green revolution has led to the problem of soil acidification thus resulting in the loss of soil fertility. 

Excessive use and mismanagement of water resources have resulted in the problem of soil salinity, alkalinity and waterlogging. Saline soils contain chloride and sulphates of sodium, magnesium and calcium while alkaline soils (sodic soils) contain carbonates and bicarbonates of sodium. Saline and alkaline types of soils are problem soils discouraging the growth of plants. In India, about 7 million hectares of land is converted into wastelands due to the problem of soil salinity and alkalinity. 

Waterlogging depletes the soil oxygen causing the death of microbial flora and fauna responsible for the maintenance of soil fertility. Moreover, waterlogged soil is incapable of supporting the growth of plants. Thus water logging converts the productive land into a wasteland. An area of about 6 million hectares of land is lying unused due to waterlogging. 

The increased use of pesticides has enabled the pests to develop resistance against the pesticides. This has led to the problem of pest resurgence and multiplication. More than 140 pesticides are used in India and their annual consumption is about 90,000 tonnes. The development of resistance has several grave implications. Farmers are forced to use higher and higher doses of more expensive and more toxic chemicals to protect their crops. This effect is called as pesticide treadmill, where farmers use larger proportions of their income in pesticides without increasing their yield. This is supposed to happen in the state Punjab, Hariyana, Western Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. 

Cotton is a commercial crop grown on a large scale in black soil belt of India. This cash crop is susceptible to attack by multiple pests. Due to excessive use of pesticides since several decades, cotton pests have developed resistance against the pesticides consequently pests infestation leads to failure of the cotton crop.

The indiscriminate extraction of groundwater for irrigation purposes has led to the depletion of groundwater at an alarming rate. In several states, the groundwater table has declined by more than 4 meters compared to the level in 1980. Punjab (the chief centre of Green revolution) is the state where the problem of lowering of the groundwater table is very acute.

Human Health:

The construction of canals to boost the agricultural production under Green revolution package technology has led to the spread and outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases like Malaria, Lymphatic filariasis and Japanese encephalitis. Due to improved irrigation facilities, the scourge of Malaria has increased manifold. Malaria and Lymphatic filariasis persist as a serious health hazard in paddy growing regions of the country.

The Japanese encephalitis which mostly afflicts children has become a challenging health problem in states Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam. The Gorakhpur and adjoining districts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh are worst affected by Japanese encephalitis. It is a viral disease spread by Culex spp. of mosquitoes. The West Nile fever is another mosquito-borne disease which is gradually emerging as a health problem in the state Punjab. It is also a viral disease spread by Culex vishnui and Culex fatigans species of mosquitoes. 

Endosulfan is a commonly used pesticide for the control of pests in rice crop is highly hazardous as it causes serious eye, kidney and liver disorders. The harmful effects of endosulfan on human health have been reported from the state of Kerala. Pesticides like DDT are non-biodegradable and are fat-soluble which enter the food chain and reach the human body where they are deposited in adipose tissue. When oxidation of the fat takes place in body the pesticides are released in the system causing a harmful effect to human health.

The concentration of pesticides increases with increasing food chain and the phenomenon is known as biomagnification or biological amplification. India's daily diet is reported to contain 270 µg of DDT. The concentration of DDT in Indians has reached alarming proportions ranging between 13 to 31 ppm (parts per million). Delhi’s citizens have the highest level of pesticides in their body fat in the world. There have been reports of cases of cancer, deformities, hepatic diseases and neurological disorders due to pesticide poisoning in cotton-growing belts of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. 

The excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizers decreases the potassium content of the food grains. Potassium is an important element, which checks the rise of blood pressure and also averts the chances of a heart attack in human beings. Excessive potash treatment decreases valuable nutrients in foods, such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and carotene.

The vitamin C boosts the defence system while carotene is the precursor of vitamin A, which is important for the vision. The nitrate fertilizer increases the crop yield (carbohydrate) but at the cost of proteins. Moreover, a subtle balance of amino acids is disturbed within the protein molecule thus lowering the protein quality. Hence the escalating problem of cardiac disorders, hypertension, night blindness and other eye disorders, malnutrition and susceptibility to infectious diseases among Indians is due to the result of the Green revolution. 

Pulses are the major source of protein in the diet of the predominantly vegetarian population of India. They form an important segment of the balanced diet. Apart from proteins, pulses are the source of minerals and fibres. The Green revolution has helped in enhancing the per capita availability of cereals especially wheat and rice but the similar impact is not reflected in the availability of pulses per head. 

A significant decline in per capita availability of pulses had led to the problem of malnutrition, especially in children. In rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Kwashiorkar and Marasmus are the common diseases caused due to deficiency of protein in children. Moreover, protein malnutrition in adults has made them susceptible to diseases like Pulmonary tuberculosis, which has emerged as a serious health problem among poor sections of the society of rural India.


Green revolution in India has led to a substantial increase in food grain production but has created threatening problems of deforestation, soil erosion, soil salinity, environmental degradation, loss of crop diversity, pest resurgence, increased incidence of mosquito-borne diseases etc. Therefore, the advantages of the Green revolution have been masked by the problems posed by it. Therefore it is the need of the hour to shift from fertilizer and pesticides based conventional agriculture practices to a natural and renewable resource-based sustainable agriculture, which is cheap, environment-friendly and emphasizes on the conservation of natural resources.

Author Bio:  

Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph. D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozen published Research Papers in the Journals of National and International repute. His main area of Research is Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University-Main Campus, India.
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