When the Green Revolution Came to India
India in the 1950’s-60s was going through a great food shortage. Food became so scarce that ships destined for other countries had to be diverted to India. Our situation was one where food went ship to mouth.
The government put many restrictions on food consumption. There were restrictions on guests in parties and marriages. Our late Honorable Prime Minister Shri. La Bahadur Shastriji even asked citizens to miss meals one day of the week to save food. The country was totally dependent on food supplies from the United States under PL 480.
To overcome this situation, the Government of India signed an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation to carry out research to achieve higher food production. The program started with research for the development of suitable hybrids of maize followed by hybrids of sorghum and pearl millet.
Simultaneously, IARI under the leadership of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan was trying to test the dwarf wheat varieties bred by Dr. Norman Borlaug in Mexico. Dwarf rice varieties from Taiwan were also being tested. The dwarf wheat bred by Dr. Borlaug, named Sonaro 4 and Larmarojo, were introduced. These efforts created an agricultural revolution.
I consider myself a farmer and used to grow wheat on 80 acres. I was very happy to harvest about 500 quintals every year – about six quintals for every acre.
The planting of Sonaro 64, with the agronomic practices recommended, led to a harvest of 20 quintals an acre, which was more than three times the previous yield.
These wheat varieties, which were the result of several years of hard work by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues, has brought the Green Revolution to most of the tropical areas of the world like India, Pakistan, etc.
Simultaneously, dwarf rice varieties are also making history. The hybrids of maize, sorghum and pearl millet
also brought better yields and profit to the farming community. I remember three to four years after the introduction of those seeds , India’s wheat production expanded significantly, and quite rapidly India became self-sufficient in food.
The agronomic practices recommended for cultivation of the wheat were shallow sowing with 100-120 pounds of nitrogen per acre. The plants were sturdy and did no lodge; they were able to take these quantities of fertilizers.
The soil was not exploited vigorously earlier and was in reasonable health. The NPK availability and all minor nutrients were adequate to support these types of yields. However, in due course, the soil showed signs of deficiency in phosphorus, potash and micro-nutrients, which started affecting yields.
The lesson we learned from the Green Revolution is that we can reap the benefit of good production with proper agronomy. We have to take care of soil health by recommending the placement of organic matter (compost); green manuring, crop rotation and other practices to ensure sustainability.
Simultaneously, we have learned that water is an important factor in crop production. We must conserve all of the water that nature gives us in the rainy season within our fields so as to make the water table as high as possible. Our earlier method of flood irrigation helped fertilizers to leach deep into the soil and thus carry nitrates to water storage, like wells and tanks. This was not only a waste of expensive nutrients, but also contaminated our natural resources. Gradually, from flood irrigation, we have now almost entirely moved to drip irrigation where water is provided to the plants as needed and in required quantities, nothing more, nothing less.