the ‘technical fix.’ While, as noted above, the Report’s recommendations fail to consider the distributional issues that create barriers to change, its focus on the ‘technical fix’ also obscures the distributional impacts of its preferred programs – of its prescription, in particular, for a new green revolution.
The distributional impacts of previous green revolutions are an issue of controversy. On the one hand, the increased production of food grains brought about by high yield seeds and associated inputs can contribute to general economic growth and increased availability and lower prices of basic foodstuffs, improving the lot of the poor. In addition, smallholders can benefit as producers as well as consumers. On the other hand, green revolution technology tends to be biased toward increasing the returns to land, and thus there can be a strong correlation between the size of land holdings and the extent of the gains that accrue to farmers. Also, the effectiveness of high yield seeds generally depends on access to water and to purchased inputs – not only the seeds themselves, but fertilizer and pesticides as well. Access to the purchased inputs and access to water generally requires access to credit (to finance irrigation systems in the case of water), and small farmers are at a distinct disadvantage in obtaining credit. In many circumstances, access to water depends directly on political power. Because the technology both enhances the returns to land and raises smallholders’ need for credit, it can exacerbate landlessness.32
Some experience suggests that the green revolution not only exacerbates inequality in general, but has a particularly negative impact on gender inequality. An FAO adaptation of work by Jiggins (1986) argues:
“…despite its success at increasing aggregate food supply, the Green Revolution as a development approach has not necessarily translated into benefits for the lower strata of the rural poor in terms of greater food security or greater economic opportunity and well-being….[The] introduction of high-yielding varieties of rice in Asia has had a major impact on rural women’s work and employment, most of it unfavorable by: increasing the need for cash incomes in rural households to cover the costs of technological inputs which has forced women to work as agricultural labourers; increasing the need for unpaid female labour for farming tasks thereby augmenting women's already high labour burden; [and] displacing women's wage-earning opportunities through
32 The best description I know of these processes, as well as useful discussion of the history of the green revolution, is in Edelman (1980). As the green revolution was showing production gains in the early 1970s, its negative distributional impacts were recognized by the Director of the World Bank (and Vietnam era U.S. Secretary of Defense) Robert McNamara, who summarized situations in many countries with the following observation in 1973: "The data suggest that the decade of rapid growth has been accompanied by greater maldistribution of income in many developing countries and that the problem is most severe in the countryside", and ... "an increasingly inequitable situation will pose a growing threat to political stability" (McNamara, 1973, as quoted by Huizer, 1997). A friend who has worked with the people at the Bank over many years tells me McNamara’s recognition of the distributional impact of the green revolution, as illustrated by this quote from his Nairobi speech, was an important factor leading him to give so much attention to poverty.