Petrol-Geographies of Famine: India's Green Revolution in the Global Energy Crisis of the 1970s

Authors: Matthew Shutzer*, New York University
Topics: Energy, Environment, Asia
Keywords: Petroleum, Food, India, Energy, Development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Following the Bihar famine of 1966 – 67, postcolonial India embarked on a new agricultural development model that rendered Indian agriculturalists dependent on the petrol-chemicals of modern farming industries, now known as the green revolution. The raising of staple grain yields through fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds was conditioned by commodity chains comprising U.S. and German-based agricultural companies, Indian and European-owned oil refineries, and the petroleum-exporting states of the Persian Gulf. Whereas Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s embrace of petrol-chemical farming technologies was undertaken to achieve nominal national food security, the green revolution exacerbated India’s dependency on costly foreign oil, paid for in scarce foreign reserve currency. This combination of food, oil, and money would prove disastrous at the outset of the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, which, although primarily associated with global rises in gasoline prices, was experienced in India as an unprecedented inflation of food costs. The embargo precipitated emergency meetings between Prime Minister Gandhi and OPEC leaders, which in turn transformed India’s energy policies at a moment of global economic restructuring. This paper reconstructs this period of crisis and argues that the early 1970s mark a crucial shift in Indian food policy that deepened unstable dependencies between India and petroleum-exporting nations. This shift set into place, I suggest, previously unexplored market networks comprising what Philip McMichael has described as the contradictions of the “development climate,” namely, the pairing of energy, climate, and food crises under a single model of agricultural revolution.

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