The Violence of the Green Revolution
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The Violence of the Green Revolution

Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics

Vandana Shiva

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eBook - ePub

The Violence of the Green Revolution

Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics

Vandana Shiva

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About This Book

The Green Revolution has been heralded as a political and technological achievement—unprecedented in human history. Yet in the decades that have followed it, this supposedly nonviolent revolution has left lands ravaged by violence and ecological scarcity. A dedicated empiricist, Vandana Shiva takes a magnifying glass to the effects of the Green Revolution in India, examining the devastating effects of monoculture and commercial agriculture and revealing the nuanced relationship between ecological destruction and poverty. In this classic work, the influential activist and scholar also looks to the future as she examines new developments in gene technology.

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1

SCIENCE AND POLITICS IN THE GREEN REVOLUTION

IN 1970, Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘a new world situation with regard to nutrition . . .’. According to the Nobel Prize Committee, ‘the kinds of grain which are the result of Dr Borlaug’s work speed economic growth in general in the developing countries.’1 The ‘miracle seeds’ that Borlaug had created were seen as a source of new abundance and peace. Science was awarded for having a magical ability to solve problems of material scarcity and violence.
‘Green Revolution’ is the name given to this science-based transformation of Third World agriculture, and the Indian Punjab was its most celebrated success. Paradoxically, after two decades of the Green Revolution, Punjab is neither a land of prosperity, nor peace. It is a region riddled with discontent and violence. Instead of abundance, Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, waterlogged deserts and indebted and discontented farmers. Instead of peace, Punjab has inherited conflict and violence. At least 15,000 people have lost their lives in the last six years. 598 people were killed in violent conflict in Punjab during 1986. In 1987 the number was 1544. In 1988, it had escalated to 3,000. And 1989 shows no sign of peace in Punjab.
The tragedy of Punjab – of the thousands of innocent victims of violence over the past five years – has commonly been presented as an outcome of ethnic and communal conflict between two religious groups. This study presents a different aspect and interpretation of the Punjab tragedy. It introduces dimensions that have been neglected or gone unnoticed in understanding the emergent conflicts. It traces aspects of the conflicts and violence in contemporary Punjab to the ecological and political demands of the Green Revolution as a scientific experiment in development and agricultural transformation. The Green Revolution has been heralded as a political and technological achievement, unprecedented in human history. It was designed as a strategy for peace, through the creation of abundance by breaking out of nature’s limits and variabilities. In its very genesis, the science of the Green Revolution was put forward as a political project for creating a social order based on peace and stability. However, when violence was the outcome of social engineering, the domain of science was artificially insulated from the domain of politics and social processes. The science of the Green Revolution was offered as a ‘miracle’ recipe for prosperity. But when discontent and new scarcities emerged, science was delinked from economic processes.
On the one hand, contemporary society perceives itself as a science-based civilisation, with science providing both the logic as well as propulsion for social transformation. In this aspect science is self-consciously embedded in society.
On the other hand, unlike all other forms of social organisation and social production, science is placed above society. It cannot be judged, it cannot be questioned, it cannot be evaluated in the public domain.
As Harding has observed,
‘Neither God nor tradition is privileged with the same credibility as scientific rationality in modern cultures . . . The project that science’s sacredness makes taboo is the examination of science in just the ways any other institution or set of social practices can be examined.’2
While science itself is a product of social forces, and has a social agenda determined by those who can mobilise scientific production, in contemporary times scientific activity has been assigned a privileged epistemological position of being socially and politically neutral. Thus science takes on a dual character. It offers technological fixes for social and political problems, but delinks itself from the new social and political problems it creates. Reflecting the priorities and perceptions of particular class, gender, or cultural interests, scientific thought organizes and transforms the natural and social order. However, since both nature and society have their own organisation, the superimposition of a new order does not necessarily take place perfectly and smoothly. There is often resistance from people and nature, a resistance which is externalised as ‘unanticipated side effects’. Science stays immune from social assessment, and insulated from its own impacts. Through this split identity is created the ‘sacredness’ of science.
Within the structure of modern science itself are characteristics which prevent the perception of linkages. Fragmented into narrow disciplines and reductionist categories, scientific knowledge has a blind spot with respect to relational properties and relational impacts. It tends to decontextualise its own context. Through the process of decontextualisation, the negative and destructive impacts of science on nature and society are externalised and rendered invisible. Being separated from their material and political roots in the science system, new forms of scarcity and social conflict are then linked to other social systems e.g. religion.
The conventional model of science, technology and society locates sources of violence in politics and ethics, in the application of science and technology, not in scientific knowledge itself.3 The assumed dichotomy between values and facts underlying this model implies a dichotomy between the world of values and the world of facts. In this view, sources of violence are located in the world of values while scientific knowledge inhabits the world of facts.
The fact-value dichotomy is a creation of modern reductionist science which, while being an epistemic response to a particular set of values, posits itself as independent of values. By splitting the world into fact vs values, it conceals the real difference between two kinds of value-laden facts. Modern reductionist science is characterised in the received view as the discovery of the properties and laws of nature in accordance with a ‘scientific’ method which generates claims of being ‘objective’, ‘neutral’ and ‘universal’. This view of reductionist science as being a description of reality as it is, unprejudiced by value, is being rejected increasingly on historical and philosophical grounds. It has been historically established that all knowledge, including modern scientific knowledge, is built on the use of a plurality of methodologies, and reductionism itself is only one of the scientific options available.
The knowledge and power nexus is inherent to the reductionist system because the mechanistic order, as a conceptual framework, was associated with a set of values based on power which were compatible with the needs of commercial capitalism. It generates inequalities and domination by the way knowledge is generated and structured, the way it is legitimized, and by the way in which such knowledge transforms nature and society.
The experience of the Green Revolution in Punjab is an illustration of how contemporary scientific enterprise is politically and socially created, how it builds its immunity and blocks its social evaluation. It is an example of how science takes credit for successes and absolves itself from all responsibility for failures. The tragic story of Punjab is a tale of the exaggerated sense of modern science’s power to control nature and society, and the total absence of a sense of responsibility for creating natural and social situations which are totally out of control. The externalization of the consequences of the Green Revolution from the scientific and technological package of the Green Revolution has been, in our view, a significant reason for the communalization of the Punjab crises.
It is, however, misleading to reduce the roots of the Punjab crisis to religion, as most scholars and commentators have done, since the conflicts are also rooted in the ecological, economic and political impacts of the Green Revolution. They are not merely conflicts between two religious communities, but reflect tensions between a disillusioned and discontented farming community and a centralising state, which controls agricultural policy, finance, credit, inputs and prices of agricultural commodities. At the heart of these conflicts and disillusionments lies the Green Revolution.
The present essay presents the other side of the Green Revolution story – its social and ecological costs hidden and hitherto unnoticed. In so doing, it also offers a different perspective on the multiple roots of ethnic and political violence. It illustrates that ecological and ethnic fragmentation and breakdown are intimately connected and are an intrinsic part of a policy of planned destruction of diversity in nature and culture to create the uniformity demanded by centralised management systems. The ecological and ethnic crises in Punjab can be viewed as arising from a basic and unresolved conflict between the demands of diversity, decentralisation and democracy on the one hand, and the demands of uniformity, centralisation, and militarisation on the other. Control over nature and control over people were essential elements of the centralised and centralising strategy of the Green Revolution. Ecological breakdown in nature and the political breakdown of society were consequences of a policy based on tearing apart both nature and society.
The Green Revolution was based on the assumption that technology is a superior substitute for nature, and hence a means of producing limitless growth, unconstrained by nature’s limits. However the assumption of nature as a source of scarcity, and technology as a source of abundance, leads to the creation of technologies which create new scarcities in nature through ecological destruction. The reduction in availability of fertile land and genetic diversity of crops as a result of the Green Revolution practices indicates that at the ecological level, the Green Revolution produced scarcity, not abundance.
It was not just ecological insecurity but also social and political insecurity was generated by the Green Revolution. Instead of stabilising and pacifying the countryside, it fueled a new pattern of conflict and violence. The communalisation of the Punjab conflicts which originally arose from the processes of political transformation associated with the Green Revolution, was based, in part, in externalising the political ...

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