Green Revolutions in Brazil, China and India: epic narratives of the past and today’s South-South technology transfers

Nearly 50 years since its apex, the Green Revolution (GR) – a chapter in history associated with rapid expansion in agricultural production and yields driven by science and technology – retains the power to inspire. Notwithstanding criticism emphasising its harmful social and environmental legacy, there are talks about unleashing a greener GR and many African countries aspire to a GR that turns their agricultural sectors into the engine of growth and prosperity.

This research looks at the GRs of three agricultural giants of the global South: Brazil, China and India. It analyses and contrasts these countries’ agricultural science and technology history over the last 50-60 years and interrogates how their GRs are framed (and contested) today, both domestically and in these countries’ cooperation and business relations abroad. The project therefore explores the interaction between past, present and future in the three countries’ agricultural trajectories. The notion of ‘epic narrative’ is used to refer to the narration of the past in ways that invoke heroic achievements at times of pressing social and political concerns – being that of ending famines and safeguarding food security or that of strengthening national sovereignty and expanding the state’s control over the territory. Variants of the epic permeate the three countries’ agricultural history and have been deployed in their relations with other countries in the global South, in Africa particularly. So what role do these epic narratives play?

When have these past experiences become crystallised as epic transformations and why? How do they, as invocations of the past, incorporate change in agricultural science and technology, and the context more generally, that have taken place over the years?

The research will offer a new perspective on the history of the GR that puts the focus on the domestic techno-politics of the three countries and how these play out abroad. Besides its contribution to the scholarly debate on the topic, it also engages with policy debates on South-South cooperation and on alternative agricultural development pathways, including the types of technology (and ways of generating it) that can help deliver sustainable development.

Project journal articles

Outlook on Agriculture: The Use of Epic Narratives in Promoting ‘Natural Agriculture’

Listen to Lidia Cabral’s keynote presentation on Green Revolutions at the IX conference of the Brazilian Rede de Estudos Rurais (in Portuguese – minute 41 onwards)

Key contacts

Project details

start date
15 October 2019
end date
14 October 2021


In partnership with
China Agricultural University
Supported by

About this project

Programmes and centres
Brazil IDS Initiative IDS China Centre
Brazil China India


Recent work

Journal Article

Epic Narratives of the Green Revolution in Brazil, China, and India

The Green Revolution is often seen as epitomising the dawn of scientific and technological advancement and modernity in the agricultural sector across developing countries, a process that unfolded from the 1940s through to the 1980s. Despite the time that has elapsed, this episode of the past...

Lidia Cabral
Lidia Cabral & 2 others

9 July 2021