Despite the Myth, Sustainable Farming Methods Can Lead to High-Yield Agriculture

According to government data, the rate of increase of farm yields for many crops was higher in the pre-green revolution period when compared to later years.

A farmer removes weeds from her corn field in Kolkata, India, February 28, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

A farmer removes weeds from her corn field in Kolkata, India, February 28, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

This is the first article in a two-part series on sustainable farming methods.

The recent unrest of farmers has prompted a lot of rethinking about alternative farming policies and strategies. However the search for genuine alternatives is still hindered and distorted by the longest prevailing myth in the context of agriculture – that ecologically-destructive methods may be detestable but still are necessary to increase farm production. It is by deliberately foisting this myth that agriculture was made heavily dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the first place.

At the time when traditional highly diverse, well-acclimatised varieties evolved by several generations of millions of farmers were replaced by exotic varieties with a narrow genetic base, (the so-called green revolution) it was stated that this was necessary to increase food production. But in fact, according to the government’s own data, the rate of increase of farm yields in the pre-green revolution years (growing traditional varieties) was higher than in post-green revolution years when exotic HYVs (high-yielding varieties) necessarily requiring high doses of chemical fertilisers and pesticides were spread over hundreds of thousands of hectares very quickly.

This is clearly brought out in the table given below, based entirely on official data presented in the 12th plan document. It is clear from this table that the average annual growth rate in the pre-green revolution years was higher in the case of wheat, rice, jowar other coarse cereals (millets), pulses, oil seeds and cotton, although it was lower in the case of bajra and sugarcane.

Average annual growth rates in yields per hectare

Crop Pre-green revolution (1951-52 to 1967-68)  Green revolution (1968-69 to 1980-81)
Wheat 3.7 3.3
Rice 3.2 2.7
Jowar 3.4 2.9
Bajra 2.6 6.3
Maize 4.8 1.7
Coarse cereals 2.6 1.5
Pulses 2.3 -0.2
Oilseeds 1.3 0.8
Cotton 3.0 2.6
Sugarcane 1.6 3.1

Some of the reasons for this are also evident from the government’s own reports. In the case of the most important food crop – rice – when the green revolution introduced many problems, the government appointed a task force in 1979 comprising eminent farm experts to study the real situation.

These experts met at the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack and prepared a report on the emerging problems of the green revolution. This report said, “Most of the HYVs are derivatives of T(N) 1 or IR 8 and, therefore, have the dwarfing gene of Dee-geo-woo-gen. This narrow genetic base has created alarming uniformity, causing vulnerability to diseases and pests. Most of the released varieties are not suitable for typical uplands and low lands which together constitute about 75% of the total rice area of the country. To meet these situations, we need to reorient our research programmes and strategies.”

Referring to this problem of narrow genetic base at another place again the task force says, “A cursory look at the pedigree of the different rice varieties released in India reveals that a very narrow germplasm base is involved. It is also noticed that many times the same female parent is involved in the cross combination.”

This was the reality of the new exotic varieties. What about the hurriedly displaced traditional varieties?

There is increasing evidence that several of these traditional varieties actually provided high yields while using ecologically-protective methods. This is being rediscovered today by many organic farmers who value traditional seeds.

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several movements and initiatives.


    With the advantage of green revolution, not only crop yield reduced but also farmers had to spend additional amounts on insecticides and pesticides for their crops safety. The GM cropping helped seeds corporates and pesticides corporate to sell their products and earn profits