Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Misappropriated Revolution?

I finished reading a book called “The Owner-Built Homestead” by Barbara and Ken Kern last night, originally published in1977, though it indicates the original copyright year was 1974. The book has languished on my shelf for a number of years now, being referred to sporadically and in a piecemeal fashion. With our new project in it's formative stages I've dusted off a number of books like this and read them cover to cover to make sure I don't miss anything useful.

Last night, as I read the final chapter I came across the following gem that caused me some concern. Please forgive any transcription errors, and unconscious changes of spelling to my native tongue:

Homesteading is a self-reliant way of life on the land, and wholesome food production may well be the first step toward achieving self-reliance. This momentum toward self-reliance and self-provision has been, in recent years, appropriately labeled the Green Revolution. It has been quietly moving forward as families return to the soil to raise their crops and their children. Nothing seems substantially to impede it's progress.

I've enboldened the shocking bit. All through the recent years of my life I've known the Green Revolution according to the standard of the day, that it referred to the scientific conquest over nature. As I drifted off to sleep I thought about this change. It's quite common for different groups to use the one term in different ways, but these two uses of the term seem to be diametrically opposed. One refers to a shift of lifestyle back closer to the earth, the other to a shift in practices that facilitate a movement of people away from the land, and a gradual destruction of the earth.

A quick search of the internet seems to indicate that the first use of the term “Green Revolution” in it's modern context is ascribed to USAID director William Gaud in 1968. To quote

The term "Green Revolution" was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said, "These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution."

Speech by William S. Gaud to the Society for International Development. 1968.

The full text of the speech is available at:

So it would appear that William's use of the term predates it's inclusion in the book by at least 6 and maybe 9 years, though I imagine greater research would perhaps dig up references to the term in a lot of old homesteading literature from those times.

No matter which way it went, whether it was the chicken or the egg, the science based revolution gained the association with the term, for better (and in my opinion) or worse. Reading through the speech, the following sticks out, and I wonder what impact such a statement has had:

Is the aid program in trouble because economic development does not matter - because it is not important? Nonsense! Development is the burning obsession of more than half the people in the world. Development as Pope Paul has said, is the new name for peace. Development does matter and it cannot wait.

Pope Paul said that development is the new peace? Development that now works for the rich and fails the poor? The following from sums it up nicely:

Yet far from bringing prosperity, two decades of Green Revolution have left Punjab riddled with discontent and violence. Instead of plenty, Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest infested cops, waterlogged deserts. indebted and discontented farmers.

It has often being suggested that the Green Revolution was the only alternative by which India and the rest of the Third World could have increased their food availability. Yet, until the 1960's India was successfully following an agricultural development policy based on strenghthening the ecological base of agriculture and the self-reliance of peasants. Most of the states were undergoing land reforms and measures were taken to secure tenure for tenant cultivators, to fix reasonable rents, and tjo abolish the Zamindari system. Ceilings on land holdings were also reduced. The 'land transformation' programme put forward by the Ministry of Agriculture, achieved major successes. Infact, the rate of growth of total crop production was higher during this period.

I don't want to “buy a vowel”, I want a consonant. And that consonant would be the letter “d” and we can replace our “n” and get a much better picture. We know how powerful words and phrases can be, that the pen is mightier than the sword. If only the Green Revolution as we now know it had been correctly labelled as the “Greed Revolution” and left the subsistence movement with the name “Green Revolution” where might we be today?

To finish with another quote from Barbara and Ken, speaking on the Green Revolution:

As one unsung poet puts it, “Don't look for it's soldiers in the city. Most of the real ones are long since gone to their domesand gardens, with goats and chickens the day was won. You will now see only plastic imitations who will starve yelling, “What's it all mean?” - not knowing that the revolution has come and gone and was won in a patch of beans.”

Obviously the closing years of that decade was one of hope for sane and rational living.Unfortunately what was seen as a shift gaining momentum appeared to lose that forward drive during the 1980's and 1990's, floundering against the renewed vigour of capitalism and corporate agribusiness.

The movement is still there, but it still remains a subset of society, a fringe group, probably similar in proportion to what it was when Barbara and Ken wrote that book. The trouble is that we are now faced with greater and more pressing concerns, such as climate change and peak oil, and the apparatus of government and business that has congealed around society is operating to the direct detriment of the homesteading movement (whatever it may be called in people's own societies). These concerns were there back in the 1970's, but they were neglected in the intervening years, so the danger they present has increased dramatically, and our chances of taking action, and of that action producing useful results, have been proportionally reduced.

Here in Australia we face numerous challenges on our path to becoming small farmers, and that's before we even get to the stage of thinking about sticking something in the ground or on the field. Sometimes it seems that the powers that be have done everything possible to make self-reliance a difficult and demanding path to follow. It is likely that this is an unintended side-effect of the push to make things easier for big centralised corporations, but it has it's effect regardless of the ultimate motive.

Reclaiming the Green Revolution is probably beyond us now, and as it was such a catchy, pithy phrase, it is a great shame. All the same, the self-reliance revolution must go on. Perhaps it will be the Golden Revolution, powered by the sun, ushering in a golden age of harmony with the earth?

1 comment:

green with a gun said...

We do indeed need another word for it. As you know, I like "ecotechnia" or "an ecotechnic revolution". An ecotechnic society would be one which is energetically, resource, and socially renewable.

I don't like "sustainable"

"How's your marriage?"
"And work?"
"I can sustain it."

We can aim higher than that ;)

Nice to see you blogging again!