Lessons to Learn from India’s Embrace of Industrial Agriculture

Lessons to Learn from India’s Embrace of Industrial Agriculture

Technological approaches to agriculture amp up production at the expense of all else

A spate of recent articles detail India’s ongoing struggle with hunger. Though the entry points vary, from how this year’s crop failures, attributed to climate change and increasingly erratic rainfall, are resulting in famine, to how India continues to experience endemic malnutrition despite its booming economy, the takeaway is the same: food security is non-existant for millions of Indians.

Forty-three percent of Indian children under five are malnourished, compared with 28 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to an article on India’s persistent malnutrition by David Rieff in the New York Times Magazine’s recent food issue.  On a global scale, out of the world’s 146 million undernourished children, 57 million – nearly one-third – live in India. These figures are startling on their own, and together, but become even more worrisome given the purported success of the many technology-oriented policies (the Green Revolution, Operation Flood, the Pink Revolution) implemented by India over the past four decades to improve its peoples’ food security and access to vital nutrition.

India’s modern agricultural system is a product of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, through which American agribusinesses, including Monsanto, supplied Indian farmers with high-yield seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Though these ‘advancements’ are criticized by many for polluting Indian groundwater, depleting soils of nutrients and poisoning humans and animals alike, the program is upheld by many others as essential to India’s dramatically increasing food production and staving off starvation among a rapidly growing population.  In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is currently leading an effort to export India’s Green Revolution to Africa. To date, it’s spent $1.3 billion () in Africa, using India’s agricultural development since the 1960s as a model on which to base the modernization of African agriculture and its capacity to feed Africa’s people.

But some 40 years after the advent of India’s Green Revolution, 3,000 Indian children die daily as a result of malnutrition.  It’s fair to ask what a full measure of lessons from India’s foray into industrial agriculture are, and what mistakes the international community can avoid making in Africa.  One lesson seems clear: any agricultural revolution in Africa ought not to be based exclusively on technology. Rather, sustainable practices must be implemented in which valuable indigenous knowledge is harnessed, soils are enriched rather than depleted, and vital water resources are respected, and perhaps even replenished.  Rather than pursuing policies that amp up production at the expense of all else, it’s important to keep India’s complex example in mind, and seek to launch and sustain an African agricultural revolution based on access to food and equity for all.