India's Second Green Revolution

In Washinton today, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he and President Bush were about to start a "second green revolution" along the lines of the first 1970s green revolution, which reversed India's dire food shortage. It established India as one of the world's biggest agricultural producers, and an exporter of food grains.

But in the long run, it also made previously self-sustaining farmers dependent on the global economy, instead of their own fields, to put food on the table. Previously, they had been able to grow what they ate; during the green revolution, the introduction of high-yielding "miracle seeds" made many farmers convert their fields to either wheat or rice. This meant fluctuations in international demand for these crops determined how well the farmers did, and how much money they had to buy food for their families.

Singh needs to move forward cautiously in his development plans. He wants to equip Indian farmers to participate fully in global farm trade, and that is an important step. But by doing so, he is also putting them at the mercy of the world economy. And history shows that this can be a very fickle thing, indeed.

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