Working Paper

Tracing Policy Connections: The Politics of Knowledge in the Green Revolution and Biotechnology Eras in India

Published on 1 January 2003

This paper explores the dynamic interaction of global and more local knowledge about agriculture, food and rural development through a comparison of policy-making during two periods in India – the ‘Green Revolution’ and ‘biotechnology’ eras.

The paper highlights how the biotechnology era differs in a number of key respects from the Green Revolution. These include: the nature and complexity of policy narratives associated with agriculture, food security and poverty; the types, numbers and networks of actors inside and outside the state involved in policy-making; the form and location of expertise and sites of policy-making, from the local to the global; and the nature and extent of policy debate, controversy and dissent.

Between the two eras, the paper shows how policy emphases have shifted from a focus on national food self-sufficiency and nation-building in a planned economy to engaging with a liberalised, highly unequal and uncertain global market economy and, with this, from Cold War security concerns to liberalisation and trade issues.

Agricultural policy debates have thus shifted from small-scale farming for food production to agriculture as a globally competitive industry. The result has been a move from the involvement of relatively few players in the policy process to multiple players, including many non-state actors (such as NGOs, private sector corporations, the media), each with global connections.

Funding flows too have changed from international philanthropy with state support to an increasing reliance on the private sector. This is associated with different practices of science – from field based to lab based – and from research premised on the free exchange of knowledge to research governed by intellectual property concerns and commercial confidentiality. Despite the easy similarities and apparent continuities between the two eras – used prolifically in popular and policy discourse – the paper argues that the biotechnology era is unquestionably different.

There is not going to be a simple replication of the great Green Revolution story in India, and, the paper argues, more attention needs to be paid to the important differences in policy context and process if some of the challenges of the biotechnology era are to be met.


Ian Scoones

Professorial Fellow

Publication details

published by
Seshia, S. and Scoones, I.
IDS Working Paper, issue 188
1 85864 492 5


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