Dried up livelihoods: The political economy of the "Liberalised Green Revolution" in India

  • Ambarish Karamchedu

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis argues that since the 1980s, agricultural policy in developing countries has restructured around a new, "Liberalised Green Revolution", premised on the principles of economic liberalisation. It retains the same agricultural development model as the public sector led Green Revolution from the 1960s, linking intensification of soils, crops and water with higher productivity, economic growth, and the structural transformation of the economy. However, this time, policy makers have placed the private sector as the focal point initiating agrarian change, positioning the public sector as facilitators of market intermediaries who lead the provisioning of inputs, seeds, irrigation, credit, and extension services. Most crucially, proponents of the Liberalised Green Revolution have targeted the spatial expanse of farmers in dryland subsistence smallholder settings, encompassing 40% of the world's area and 1.5 billion farmers across 55 countries who often subsist on less than $2 a day. This thesis builds upon theoretical insights from political ecology and agrarian political economy in theorising the Liberalised Green Revolution. I study the intersection of environment, credit/debt relations, market intermediaries and governments in an economic liberalisation context to critique normative agricultural modernisation models, underexplored together in the literature thus far. Combining these together, I show that in certain contexts, market intermediary led agricultural intensification in dryland smallholder settings accelerates indebtedness, stagnating yields and deagrarianisation. This thesis applies the Liberalised Green Revolution framework to India, where since economic liberalisation in the 1990s, public sector retrenchment in agriculture has facilitated private intermediaries to aggressively promote and disburse seeds, inputs, credit, irrigation, and extension services in markets. Bt cotton, a pest resistant cotton biotechnology brought to India by Monsanto in 2002, accelerated India to become the world largest cotton grower covering 48% of the global Bt cotton area, cultivated primarily by almost 6 million smallholder farmers. Similarly, private sector led smallholder groundwater irrigation adoption since the 1990s propelled India into the biggest groundwater user globally, consuming 37% of global groundwater. Both agricultural technologies therefore are regarded by proponents as the apotheosis of private sector smallholder development in India. The thesis conducted eight months of village level ethnographic fieldwork via 84 interviews and 151 household surveys in the south Indian state of Telangana, an agricultural backwater that transformed into a smallholder Bt cotton and groundwater agrocapitalist system within two decades. Yet, my fieldwork found the Liberalised Green Revolution increased technology adoption but simultaneously saw stagnating Bt cotton and groundwater irrigation outcomes in ecologically fragile terrain. Contrary to agricultural modernisation theory assumptions, the thesis found that input and irrigation intermediaries heavily marketed the capital and resource intensive technologies on cheap credit to the detriment of smallholders. For the poorest farmers in Telangana, groundwater well failure rates of 89% and losses from Bt cotton for 65% of households caused long-term stagnation in farming incomes, chronic indebtedness, and the eventual abandonment of farming as a primary income. Farmers subsequently became trapped within risk-indebtedness treadmills, doubling down on technology adoption to earn cash and repay mounting high interest debts from farming losses. This drove environmental degradation of multiple well and harvest failures and indebtedness further in agroecologically barren landscapes that did not bring expected yields. The chasm between the promise and reality of the Liberalised Green Revolution has dried up farming as a viable livelihood for smallholders in certain rainfed areas in India
Date of Award31 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAdmos Chimhowu (Supervisor)


  • India
  • Liberalised Green Revolution
  • Telangana
  • Political Economy
  • Agrarian Political Economy

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