The Green Revolution was a period of technological innovation in agriculture between 1943 and the late 1970s. Many developing countries were exposed to the ideologies of the Green Revolution and it was deemed a success in many nations for the increased production of grains due to new irrigation techniques, fertilizers and seed technology. In our class we have already discussed the environmental consequences of the Green Revolution such as the loss of biological diversity, increased pollution, depletion of natural resources, loss of soil nutrition, erosion, deforestation, etc. Without a doubt there are many unsustainable effects from the Green Revolution but I would like to take the time to focus on the cultural effects of the Green Revolution, in particular the effect that the Green Revolution had on the peasant population in Malaysia.
In 1966 the World Bank introduced an irrigation project to the Kedah Plain of Malaysia to that was deemed a success because it allowed the peasant farmers to plant rice harvests twice a year that doubled production and reduced unemployment. The evidence of these ‘successes’ can be seen in the rural villages with new stores and buildings and the fact that fewer peasant lost their land. But with many of the world technological innovations and interventions with any positive change there are also costs attributed to it. In the case of the Kedah Plain, there was the obvious gap in the economic inequality in the farmer population and the traditional relationship between the poorer and the richer peasants were challenged.
Before the green revolution was introduced the peasants who owned farm land did not have the labor to farm it by themselves and would rent it out to the poorer farmers at prices determined after a harvest so that the rate could be set based on the quality of the harvest. The farmers would employ the poorer peasant to work their land for a small amount of money as well. Additionally, there was also the traditional gift giving and festival that the rich would hold for the poor in exchange for labor and loyalty in the following harvest.
The innovations of the Green Revolution disrupted this social relationship in the peasant population. The double harvest and increased yield in rice made land more valuable and the prior conditions of settling rent was pushed to the side because outsiders were more willing to pay more than the peasant could to rent the land. Additionally, rent was now demanded before the harvest and would not be adjusted for a poor harvest. The impact of this on the landless peasants was that they lost their access to farm land for their own profit. Another innovation was the technological innovations that used machines to replace manual labor: marginalizing the landless peasants even more. The final change seen was the end to the gift giving practice because they no longer needed the loyalty of the poorer peasant to works their fields
The landowning peasants cannot be blamed for these changes because they were simply playing their part in the capitalist market that is taking over the agricultural sector and were trying to increase their profits, the primary goal of capitalism. They took advantage of the new machines that cut costs and the increased value that came from owning land and lost sight of traditional obligations to the offense and further marginalization of the poorer peasant. They were many displays of protest to the modernization of the rice production some were more peaceful than other. Landless peasants used means of protest that included gossip, appealing to traditional values, theft, sabotage of machines, and strikes by females who were hired when the combines were not enough to transplant rice seedlings. The landless peasants were not upset that the farmers were making excessive profits only that they were violating traditional behaviors where they had exploited the peasants for their labor. Many protests that are arising from the technological innovations that are being introduced into the capitalist economy are that workers who were once exploited for their labor are now being completely eliminated from the equation. A recently fired American factory worker summed up the theme of these protests perfectly, “The only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited” (314).
The Green Revolution can definitely be deemed a success in the eyes of a capitalist economy; it is increasing profit and growth which further spurs spending in our consumptive culture. However, the marginalization of the less privileged populations, in addition to the increased economic inequality will lead to an increase in protests in the periphery and they will not always be as peaceful as that in the Kedah Plains.
Robbins, Richard H. Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism. Pearson Education, Inc. 2008.