II. Land Tenure Relationships in the Context of the Green Revolution

Agrarian reforms discussed so far had, as one of their goals, the increase of agricultural production. As most reforms (Japan and Taiwan are exemptions) are more or less mere reallocations of control over land among people, without changing the traditional form of agriculture, the increase in total amount produced was meagre. During recent years, in many countries there has been a technological change in agriculture which has considerably influenced the level of production. This change, which is usually termed the "Green Revolution", was made possible by the development of new seed varieties with a high yielding potential and their application in a bundle together with other complementary inputs, such as fertilizers, water, etc.

The effect of these inputs on production is considerable. Under suitable conditions, the yield of wheat and rice is two or three times as high as before. In view of such differences in yield and supported further by incentive prices for the products, it is no wonder that the innovations were adopted rather quickly and their application was limited more by the availability of the new seeds and other supplies than by the willingness of the farmers to apply it. Double or treble yields explain the prosperity which is so obvious to the visitor to the centres of the Green Revolution.

So far, the Green Revolution has taken place without institutional changes in agriculture, but is the result solely of the application of the input package by the agriculturists. Because of this spontaneous development some circles have come to the conclusion that development of Asian agriculture is possible without institutional changes. Contrary to this opinion, it is the belief of the author that the Green Revolution makes a change of land tenure and other rural institutions, including the creation of new ones, still more pressing.

If one analyzes the Green Revolution somewhat deeper, one comes across numerous bottlenecks caused by the existing agrarian structure and insufficient institutional arrangements.

The experience, so far, shows an extremely uneven distribution of the fruits of the Green Revolution among the different classes of the rural population and this leads to a rapid and severe widening of the existing disparities.

The adoption of innovations takes place usually more rapidly on large holdings than among small peasants. This holds true as well for the Green Revolution. The owners of large and medium-sized holdings soon realized the possibilities of the new technology, had the necessary capital or access to capital and succeeded in obtaining seeds even at the time when there was still a shortage.

When they were convinced of the profitability of agriculture under modern technology, these "progressive farmers", as they are sometimes called, changed their approach towards agriculture. They began to pursue agriculture as a business rather than as a way of life. Many of them used the increase in income to invest in more tube-wells in order to increase further their output and income by making more water available. Often, as a next step, a tractor was purchased with the aid of which cultivation of the soil was improved and double cropping possible. The purchase of a thresher and other machinery soon followed in a process which led to considerable increase in agricultural production. It was only logical that these progressive farmers should begin to reappraise their labour organization and, from their standpoint of capitalistic agriculture, reach the conclusion that under the changed conditions, personal cultivation with labourers is more profitable than cultivation by sharecroppers. With the new level of output, a sharecropper receiving 50 per cent of the yield was an expensive worker. Besides, changes in the traditional crop-sharing system which were made necessary by the introduction of tractors and tube-wells, often proved difficult so that many landowners evicted their tenants and offered to re-employ them as wage labourers. Tenants sometimes tried to resist and organized strikes during harvest time; but such incidences increased the landowner's desire to become independent of labour problems by employing combines, for example.

The result of this process is an increase in prosperity for the large and middle farmers in the irrigated areas, i. e. the rural upper and upper middle class. They have been able to use the possibilities offered by the Green Revolution and did so in a rather rapid and penetrating way. The participation of small farmers in the Green Revolution is much less. In principle, the new seed is available to everyone and is not subject to economies of scale. But in practice, the small holders suffer from lack of information, lack of managerial ability, lack of capital and access to credit and lack of ability to take risks. If their fields, as is often the case, are not consolidated, it is impossible to construct a tube-well, even if the capital is available.

Because of these factors, participation of small farmers in the Green Revolution is much more limited. In addition, the taste of the new rice varieties and the suitability of the wheat varieties for chapattis did not appeal to the peasants. This is an important consideration for small peasants who use most of their output for home consumption. It is obvious that these arguments hold even more true for tenants. The fact that sharecroppers have been evicted in the course of the Green Revolution has been mentioned already.

The majority of the agricultural labourers reaped little benefit from the Green Revolution. Certainly the technological changes involved an increase in labour requirements — application of fertilizers, double cropping, intensification of irrigation and other innovations resulted in more work hours per cultivated area. Even tractors often do not lead to reduction of work requirements but to an increase in workload because of the intensification of farming which is only possible with mechanical power. In addition, much secondary employment has been created by the Green Revolution in such fields as expanded rural trade and transport, the construction of wells and houses, the construction and repair of machinery, etc.

But its impact on different groups of rural labour varies and is generally not very favourable. There are a small number of former labourers and tenants who are now employed as specialists for tractor operation, tube-well operation, etc. and have a better paid and more secure job than before. However, in view of the ample supply of labour in most Asian countries, the increase in labour demand has resulted in a very limited increase in wages for the majority of labourers, often not exceeding the rate of inflation.

At the same time, the large group of casual labourers have actually been adversely affected. Previously they were in high demand during the short harvest time and received, during the harvest period, three times the rate of their normal wages, amounting up to 50 per cent of their annual income. Because of the long periods of unemployment over the rest of the year, this income earned during harvest time constituted the basis of their annual livelihood. If by mechanization the peak of labour requirement is reduced during harvest time, the seasonal wage rate will also be lower. In conclusion, it may be stated that the disparities in income in rural areas have increased in the course of the Green Revolution. In general, the upper classes who were already in a favourable position before, have improved their economic condition considerably. The underprivileged majority have gained little or nothing from the agricultural revolution.

If this process continues in the areas which are affected by the Green Revolution, we can expect the development of a dualistic agriculture: On the one side, the progressive sector, consisting of larger holdings with educated farmers using modern farm management, having access to capital and inputs, earning high incomes and achieving high yields which make further investment and still higher incomes possible; and, on the other, the subsistence sector consisting of small holdings and untrained peasants lacking capital and other resources, following traditional agricultural techniques and having lower yields and smaller incomes.

Both sectors would develop in the form of spirals in opposite directions and augment the contrast between each other. The existing maldistribution of income in rural areas would be intensified and the meagre level of living of the lower classes remains unchanged.

Such widening disparities in income and standards of farming as a consequence of the Green Revolution can already be observed in the different regions of the countries. The precondition for participation in technological advancement is availability of irrigation. By definition areas depending on rainfall cannot participate in the Green Revolution. Even in irrigated areas, application of high yielding varieties is often difficult, especially in the case of rice. The new varieties are very demanding as far as quality of irrigation is concerned: they are adversely affected by too little as well as by too much water. What is needed is controlled irrigation, while most existing irrigation systems in Asia are designed to provide a constant flow of water from the upper to the lower fields, whereby the quantity of water depends on the amount of rainfall in the higher areas. Under these circumstances, the improvement of the existing irrigation facilities is an urgent necessity since controlled irrigation is a precondition for successful participation in the Green Revolution.

What has been said so far about growing disparities holds true for regional development as well as for the different classes of population: the already well-off parts of the country becoming still richer while little or no change takes place in the poor and depressed areas.

The widening disparities and increasing economic power of the progressive farmers are by-products of a process which, for the first time in many years, brought a considerable increase in agricultural production and put an end to continuous shortage in staple food. In this respect, the progressive farmers have done a great service to their countries by following the advice of their governments and by increasing their efforts to raise agricultural production. As mentioned above, high returns, favourable prices and subsidies for inputs made it easy for them to adopt the new technology. An improvement of the food situation was associated with considerable personal gains for the farmers who participated in the Green Revolution.

This increase in the economic power of the progressive farmers caused an important development. In order to retain the advantages of their relative affluence, they increasingly used their economic power to attain political power. They are members of decision-making bodies, from district councils to parliament or influence members of these bodies, and succeeded, in many cases, in retaining their profit instead of transferring part of it to the public. Undoubtedly, part of the gains are due to increased efforts, to risks taken and to investments made by these farmers, and the proceeds of these activities should be retained by them. But part of their increased income is the result of public investment in irrigation systems, electricity, fertilizer plants, experimental stations, extension service, subsidized credit, etc. and at least this part should go back to the public for reinvestment. So far, the political power of progressive farmers has prevented measures, such as higher taxation, large-scale programmes to improve the situation of small farmers and tenants, etc., to equalize the situation between rich and poor farmers.

Until now, progressive farmers have tended generally speaking to reinvest their profits in agriculture in the form of land, tube-wells and machinery, i. e. in the agricultural production, and increase in consumption is limited. But not all forms of private investment are at the same time beneficial to the public or can be justified by over-all development considerations.

The process of the Green Revolution has met with a number of bottlenecks, which seem to increase further as the Green Revolution spreads to less suitable regions and smaller farms. Such bottlenecks have occurred especially in the rural service structure and the institutions which serve the small farmers. The old institutions which sufficed for the needs of a traditional agriculture are unable to cope with the requirements of technologically dynamic agriculture. The sudden increase in the volume of production marketed requires a corresponding organizational change in rural trade, often a change from a trader with a donkey to a businessman with trucks. The same is true for rural transport. This change, which concerns private trade, co-operatives and public enterprises alike, involves a change from low risk to high risk enterprise, without a simultaneous increase in the trader's management abilities. Moreover, in the case of input trade, in many regions there is no tradition since the old traditional agriculture hardly used inputs from the market. In fact, after the introduction of new technology in many regions, the level of agro-techniques is higher than that of agro-business, i. e. the trade and business side of rural development has not yet caught up with the technological advancements in agriculture. The lack of institutional prerequisites is responsible for other bottlenecks in the Green Revolution. Modern controlled irrigation, successful measures of plant protection as well as supply and marketing require the farmer's co-operation and joint action for which the necessary institutions have to be created. In the course of time, market-oriented agriculture will come into competition with other sectors of the economy for prices, subsidies, etc. Agriculture will need institutions to formulate and present its point of view and these do not exist so far.

Finally, the development of capitalistic agriculture needs a counterbalance to safeguard the interests of labourers and tenants, in the same way as capitalistic industry needs labour unions. Without such counter-checks, the inherent forces of capitalism will lead to rapid rate of development of a small progressive sector in agriculture, without the rest of the population having a share in it. It is an open question how such a representation of agricultural labourers and tenants can be organized in view of the lack of training and leadership.

An attempt to evaluate the land tenure and agrarian structure in the context of changes brought about by the Green Revolution results in highlighting positive as well as negative effects. Tremendous increases in production have resulted in an improvement in the food situation in several countries, an achievement which cannot be rated high enough. In addition, the Green Revolution has put an end to the stagnation in agriculture and started a development which had been repeatedly attempted, by numerous previous schemes, but without success. The high output and returns have made agriculture a profitable business, making agriculture interesting for many people as a field for investment. Farmers who have participated in the development process have increased their income considerably. This prosperity in the regions of the Green Revolution has caused secondary increases of income for agrobusiness, construction and agricultural labour as well.

This favourable record should not, however, be allowed to conceal a number of other consequences which are less favourable: it is an indisputable fact that mainly the rural upper class has benefited from the Green Revolution. They were able to make use of the possibilities offered, so that the rich became richer. Small farmers and tenants have hardly had a share in the increased prosperity, sometimes even losing their status and being evicted. Similarly the majority of rural labourers have experienced only a very limited increase in income. In addition, the Green Revolution is limited to the irrigated areas, thus widening the difference between already prosperous regions and regions dependent on rainfall for their water supply.

Emphasis on private enterprise in the development of capitalistic agriculture causes a dualism in agriculture which might have serious social and political consequences. The lack of suitable institutions of different kinds not only fails to support the smaller farmers and labourers but hinders even the operation of progressive farmers.

With respect to the defects in the agrarian structure (as listed at the end of Chapter I) the Green Revolution has not only failed to reduce them, but even intensified these defects:

  • maldistribution of ownership has now an even stronger impact than before since it enables the larger landowners to further increase their profits;
  • the rural power structure has become even more rigid as progressive
    farmers with their increased economic power have gained political power;
  • the belief that economic power in rural areas is based on the control of
    resources and is important for determining political power has been con
  • distribution of income and wealth has become even more uneven than
  • insufficient supporting services have made participation of smaller farmers impossible so that owners of small holdings and tenants have hardly
    participated in the Revolution and are as poor as before;
  • rural labourers in general have experienced only a limited increase in
    their wages.

It may be said that the Green Revolution, with all its benefits, has done little to solve the problems of land tenure and agrarian structure, but often made them more serious and more obvious to the rural population.