How Did India Become a Food-Exporting Country? - Revelation Movement

How Did India Become a Food-Exporting Country?

Welcome to this series on The Bible and The Making of Modern India. My name is Vishal Mangalwadi.  From 1976 – 1994, I served the poor in north India, most of whom were subsistence farmers. Because of my experience on the front line, a political party invited me to write the approach paper for reforming India’s agricultural policy that was keeping the peasants poor. Later I also served as an honorary professor in an Agriculture university.  in this session I will discuss how the Bible transformed a land of perennial food shortage and frequent famines into a food exporting country.

The Bible changed Indian agriculture and economy because one its core teachings is that food scarcity is a consequence of the human “Fall” into sin, but God wants to forgive His children and bless them with abundant life on earth and eternal life in heaven. To accomplish His purposes, God sent His servants with a mission to emancipate India from chronic food shortages. We will look at some of the characters who played a lead role in this gigantic mission.


I grew up in in the city of Allahabad, now called Prayagraj, not too far from Pandit Nehru’s home, Anand Bhawan, where leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi met to lead the independence movement.  Nehruji wrote The Discovery of India before Independence. Allahabad was founded by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1575. It became one of Hinduism’s holiest cities because two great rivers, Ganga and Yamuna merge there. Every day, hundreds of Hindus come to their Confluence called Sangam, usually to to immerse the ashes of their deceased loved ones. During winter, a month-long festival, Magh Mela, draws tens of millions to the Sangam. They take a dip in the holy waters to wash away their sins. They are drawn by a myth that a drop of the Nectar of Life fell in the Sangam when the gods cheated the demons and flew away with the whole bowl of the Nectar. Gods and demons had been produced it by churning the ocean together.  They toiled as a team because it was agreed that they will share the fruit of their labour — the Nectar of Life. At the last minute, however, the gods fled with the Life, leaving the demons as the toiling masses.

Once in 12 years, this annual festival becomes Kumbh Mela. It is the largest human gathering in the world. In 2019-Kumbh, about 240 million pilgrims came seeking salvation, the after-effect of that drop of Nectar.  These hundreds of millions are India’s lower castes, the “common man.” Their gathering attracts hundreds of thousands of poor — beggars, lepers, widows and orphans. They come seeking alms for temporary relief from poverty, disease and helplessness. Every resourceful Hindu — learned philosopher, sage, guru, aristocrat, ruler or merchant — also comes to the Sangam, at least once in his or her lifetime. . . And yet, not one of them ever built an Institution to change the plight of the poor — the toiling and starving common man.

The mission to change the future of the poor was taken up by an American philosopher-missionary, Sam Higginbottom. In 1910, he built the Allahabad Agriculture Institute on the banks of the river Yamuna, within walking distance of the Sangam. His goal was to transform agriculture and also the worldview that had condemned the toiling masses a “Backward” That worldview kept  the “wise” away from toil and the plight of the poor.

Higginbottom strove to change India’s work-ethic – the elite’s contempt for working with their hands. Mahatma Gandhi who first met Sam Higginbottom at the inauguration of the Banaras Hindu University in 1916, embraced that mission to change the Hindu work-ethic to change India’s economy. He required his high caste followers, including the Nehrus, to spin the wheel for making the thread used for weaving clothes.  A spinning wheel is still displayed in Anand Bhawan, Nehru’s ancestral home between the University and the Sangam.

Indian leaders such as Gandhi, Nehru and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, who wanted to reform the country, revered Sam Higginbottom and saw his Agriculture Institute as a model. Therefore, on 15 March 2000, India’s BJP Government, led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, upgraded the Institute to the status of a “Deemed University.” On 29 December 2016, the Socialist Government of UP went farther. It passed a Legislative Act, making it a full-fledged Christian (“Minority”) University, the Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS).

My older brother studied in the Agriculture Institute in the early 1970s. From 2014-2016, I served there as an honorary professor and the Director of the Center For Human Resource Development.


Why did no Indian philosopher, sage, ruler or businessman ever make a systematic attempt to fight hunger, eradicate chronic poverty and modernize agriculture?

Sam Higginbottom, who studied philosophy at  Princeton University in the USA in the early 1900s, addressed some of the religious and philosophical ideas that made India poor. A basic factor was that India’s religious thinkers agreed with Buddha’s pessimistic presupposition that “Life is suffering.” That “First Noble Truth“ implied that life without suffering is not possible. The only way to get rid of suffering is to get out of the seemingly endless cycle of births, deaths, karma and re-incarnation. Indian sages and ascetics lacked neither intelligence nor dedication. They did not seek ways of improving food production because they sought escape from Life itself. Their belief was that life is a never-ending, inescapable suffering. This religious worldview bred a culture of fatalism and a fear of fortune. Religion did not try to bring them into a living relationship with God as their Father. It did not inspire them to seek God’s kingdom here in this life. They abandoned economic pursuit and spent their energies in seeking mystic experiences, occult powers or in appeasing deities and demons who become inauspicious unless they are properly appeased.

Missionaries, civil-servants, magistrates, and engineers began changing the traditional culture of resignation. Some of them focussed their spiritual/intellectual energy to transform Indian agriculture because they had been inspired by Charles Grant (1746-1823) and his perspective on the Bible. Charles Grant was an Evangelical civil servant in Bengal who went on to become a Director of the British East India Company, a Member of Parliament and an active leader in the influential Evangelical community known as the “Clapham Sect” or “Saints.” Understanding Grant will help us understand the missionary engagement with agriculture.


Charles Grant arrived in India in 1767, just two years after the Mughal Emperor had given  authority to the British East India Company to administer Bengal. No one had trained the Company’s soldiers, merchants, clerks and accountants the art of governing. Two years after arriving in Bengal, Grant saw the disastrous famine of 1769-73. It devastated over 20 million powerless people and killed between 7-10 million of them. The famine was caused by erratic rainfall and outbreak of smallpox epidemic.

Grant soon learnt that famines were a regular feature of the Indian subcontinent because farming was dependent upon monsoon rains for irrigation. No Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim ruler had ever taken practical steps to change that situation and harness the rain of glacier water in irrigation dams and canals. Rulers did not even build warehouses to store grain for rainless years because pre-scientific farming did not yield surplus grain. In any case rulers did not see welfare as the State’s responsibility and religious leaders interpreted calamity to be a result of karma. The scarcity of food became an opportunity for merchants to raise food prices so high that it became unaffordable to the poor.

Kings and emperors did not build the infrastructure of roads, bridges, and tunnels to transport grain from one part of India to another. Transporting high value products such as grain needed security and insurance. Security could not be provided without political unity. Development of Insurance and banking required a common and just law operating in all the kingdoms and a nation-wide law enforcement mechanism that was accountable.

The famine that Grant and others saw and described had a lasting impact on Indian psyche. A century after Grant, in 1882, another Civil Servant, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, wrote a classic novel, Anand Math. His story of Hindu-Muslim conflict is set in that famine. The novel made Chatterjee’s song, Bande Matram, a popular contender to be considered as India’s national anthem.

Indian publishers routinely omit the novel’s last chapter, which is included in various editions published by the Oxford University Press. This concluding chapter says that after defeating the Muslims, the victors, the Hindu Sannyasins (ascetics) decided to start a military campaign against British Colonialism. Their heavenly guide stopped them. Interestingly, his argument was the Biblical concept of Providence. God who governs history, the heavenly teacher says, had sent the British to India to teach practical matters of science and technology, agriculture and business, law and commerce, management and leadership. Once the people of India have learnt these useful subjects, God Himself will take the British rulers back to England.

Bankimchandra, one of India’s first Nationalist novelists, knew how Charles Grant and others had responded to the awful sufferings inflicted by famine. It made Grant the prophet of modern education and agriculture for India. Bankimchandra believed the Bible’s teaching that human suffering was contrary to God’s will. The Creator had intended human beings to live in a garden — in abundance. Sin had driven man out of the garden, to the jungles and slums. Sin is rebellion against God. It makes us enemies of our loving Father. It makes us slaves of sin and Satan. God sent the Savior, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sin and therefore, from the slums as well.

The Lord Jesus came to give the world abundant life. That was also the purpose of God’s invitation to Abraham in the Old Testament to leave his culture and walk in a dynamic inter-personal relationship with God. If he did that, God would give Abraham’s offspring a land flowing with milk and honey. They would become a blessing, a light of hope to the nations.

Grant knew that the Bible was an optimistic, not escapist, book. It began to be written when God delivered Abraham’s descendants from Egypt’s slavery in order to fulfil His promise of shalom — the peace that comes from freedom from tyranny, justice under the rule of law, and economic progress through diligent work, private ownership and security of wealth.

In 1792, Charles Grant followed the suggestion of the Evangelical Member of Parliament and abolitionist, William Wilberforce, to write down His Observations of life in India and his prescription for changing India, including its agriculture and economy. At first the book was hand-copied for the Members of Parliament who had to renew East India Company’s Charter in 1793. The book was printed in 1797, and in 1812,  Parliament itself published it as a State Paper. That made it a lasting influence upon the civil servants who governed India.

Grant advocated that Britain must cultivate reason among the people of Indian by teaching English to improve vernaculars. Merchants, soldiers and clerks do not educate. Therefore, In his Observations Grant contended that the East India Company should send Missionary-educators  to teach natural sciences and mechanical arts to harness nature, reduce toil, and increase productivity through inventions. This move to mix the business of the East India Company with missionary service to build up India had up until that point, been strongly opposed.

In that pre-industrial age, agriculture and cottage industries were the main means of production and wealth creation. Taxing agriculture had been a perennial problem for the Mughal Empire. After 1765 taxing agriculture had become the Company’s responsibility. Therefore, when Charles Grant returned to England in 1790, the East India Company and the British government  sought his advice to how to make taxation fair to incentivize wealth creation. That opportunity to relate with movers and shakers became the first step for Grant to climb the ladder of leadership in the Company and eventually become a Member of Parliament.

Grant’s younger contemporary, William Carey (1761-1834), the first Baptist missionary in Bengal, began implementing Grant’s prophetic vision for transforming Indian agriculture and economy. His mission did not pay him a salary. Therefore, he had to earn his living, initially in indigo farming and factory.


In Britain William Carey had worked as a cobbler before becoming a missionary. Translating the Bible in Indian vernaculars and thereby starting India’s linguistic revolution was his primary mission.  That linguistic effort produced social reformers such as Rajaramohan Roy, novelists such as Bankimchandra Chatterjee, and eventually Bengali poets such as Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Each of them benefitted fromCarey’ infusion of the Bible into into Bengali language, adopting the Bible’s theistic and optimistic worldview and positive notions of nationalism.

Carey’s marble bust will greet you if you visit the Agri-Horticultural Society of India in Kolkata. No such society existed anywhere in the world, when Carey founded it in 1820. If you ask the Society’s receptionist, she would be able to show you the Society’s early Minutes, all in Carey’s handwriting. Reading those Minutes will help you understand what missionaries did to bring new crops, fruit and flowers into India. How they built models and innovative programs, fairs, competitions, incentives to improve production by improving the science of agricultural and horticulture.

Carey, the Bible-translator and a mentor to the civil servants. pioneered the systematic research into agriculture in Bengal. Before him, no Hindu or Muslim scholars had done anything comparable. He published his ground-breaking research in the Journal of Asiatic Society.  He made pioneering contributions to study and teaching of Botany. He learnt and introduced the Linnaean system of gardening. His botanical garden in Serampore became India’s second-best after Kolkata’s. His dedication to science and the environment led to the naming of the ‘Careya’ genus in his honor.

The Bible prevented William Carey from seeing the world as Maya — the Hindu concept of the material realm as entanglement in cosmic illusion. Carey studied plants and taught botany and forestry because he believed the teachings of the Bible that the world was declared “good” by its Creator and given to human beings to manage it on behalf of their Father. The curse came upon the land as a consequence of human sin.

The Gospel’s message is that  sin and the curse it deserved had been nailed on Christ’s Cross on Calvary. A repentance of that sin and receiving forgiveness that the Lord Jesus offers, reconciles sinners with God. In the Bible’s book of Romans 8:20-24 it says that ‘the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.’

The Bible’s promise of the earth’s renewal inspired William Carey to advocate cultivation of wastelands and teach scientific forestry. His advocacy of revealed truth about nature, its problems and its renewal became the catalyst for government initiatives in such spheres. It inspired a number of initiatives that challenged pessimistic resignation and changed India.  Irrigation systems was one of those crucial initiatives.


Many officers of the British army were trained at the Addiscombe Military Seminary established in 1809. They studied subjects such as drawing, surveying, fortifications, mathematics, classics, and Indian languages. The brightest students were recruited in the Engineer corps.

Around 1818-19, a young cadet named Proby Thomas Cautley attended the Seminary. Like many others he was the son of a church pastor. Cautley and nine of his fellow students joined the engineering corps. Many of them played pivotal roles in designing public works such as dams, canals and railways. Seldom did they engage in military conflicts.

Cautley, for example, became the Superintendent of Ganges Canal projects. Learned Hindu sages worshipped the holy river Ganges and meditated on its banks. They sought liberation from reincarnation  and partook in rituals such as Varuna Yajna or Parjanya Yajna. These rituals had been invented to appease the god of rain, Varuna. Yajna means sacrifice or ritual. One such ritual, still practiced in distressed times, required dozens of naked women to plough the fields, while the priests recited sacred mantras.


Cautley surveyed river Ganges to contemplate harnessing its waters to save north India from hunger and famines. He planned overcoming complex challenges with limited resources. Capable Hindu entrepreneurs had built many temples and ashrams on the banks of the river. Cautley proposed to establish a water engineering college so that bright Indians may learn to rule over rivers, instead of worshipping them.

James Thomason, the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces, supported Cautley’s idea actively. He helped establish India’s first engineering college. It began in Roorkee in 1848 as the Thomason College of Engineering. A century later, Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru led the Government of Independent India to  upgrade its status to become India’s first engineering University. In 2001, Prime Minsiter Atal Bihari Vajpayee led Hindu government of India rename the institution  the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee. Today it is well known and renowned University throughout world.

The opening of the Ganges canals in April 1854 was a historic event. It changed  more than irrigation and agriculture. It injected into the Indian soul, the Bible’s idea that human beings ought to worship the Creator and establish their dominion over the creation. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the inaugural ceremony of the Ganga-Canal, including the Maharaja of Gwalior. The Delhi Gazette of 1855 reported, “On foot, on horseback, drawn by cattle in all kinds of carriages, on elephants covered with showy trappings, in palanquins, on unweldy camels, one by one, or in troops, Hindoo and Buddhist, Parsee and Mussulman, Jew and Christian have met together to welcome the birth of the new stream.”  The Canal made history because it gave to India a new perspective on the necessity of establishing human dominion over rivers that used to be feared and worshipped.
British engineers and their Indian pupils completed the Lower Ganges Canal-system between 1872 and 1878. That resulted in over a thousand miles of main channels irrigating over 1.5 million acres of India’s most densely inhabited area.

Developing India’s human potential has been as important as building canals. A number of alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee have gone on to play significant roles in India’s technological development. They have received prestigious awards and occupy prominent positions in government and private sector of the industry.


Godavari, one of South India’s mightiest rivers, frequently flooded its delta region in south-east India. This created havoc and precluded the possibility of building a strong housing, industrial and economic culture.  Sir Arthur Cotton (1803-1899), a British irrigation engineer, faced intense criticism, stiff  opposition and impeachment proceedings in order to turn the area into the “Rice Bowl of India.”

Arthur Cotton came from a family of evangelists. His evangelist daughter, Elizabeth Reid Cotton who became Lady Hope was the best known. Arthur joined the military at the young age of eighteen. His dedication enabled him to ascend the ranks quickly to become a captain.

In 1832-33, a devastating famine struck the coastal districts of Rajahmundry which today sits on the south east coast of India in the state of Andra Pradesh. This resulted in widespread suffering and loss of life. Captain Cotton was assigned the task of assessing the situation. His report identified poor irrigation practices as a root cause of the famine. He urged British rulers to intervene. Why should they, when no Indian ruler had ever done anything to prevent such natural calamities? Wasn’t life suffering? Wasn’t suffering a consequence of karma? Could future be better than the present? Such Hindu concepts created many obstacles to growth.

British rulers wanted to build a network of railways to increase their revenue and make it possible to move their armies quickly when needed. Cotton argued passionately that investing in irrigation infrastructure to increase agricultural production would uplift the poor and generate greater revenue. He had already built a barrage for the  Kollidam River in the state of Tamil Nadu. That success supported his case: Yes, the technical challenge of damming Godavari was staggering. The river’s discharge was immense over a vast basin. But the Creator Himself had called us to establish our dominion over the earth. Canal irrigation would reduce dependence on unpredictable monsoons and boost production of food and cotton, which will reduce Britain’s dependence on American cotton.  It did not require much imagination for Arthur Cotton’s critics to see that regulating river waters would make it possible to build secure housing and industries.

The Godavari Barrage was completed in 1852. In 1970, the Government of Independent India renamed it the Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage. It irrigates about 364,000 acres of agricultural land.


The mindset of men such as Grant, Carey, Cautley, Cotton, Higginbottom and Borlaug who changed India by changing agriculture was shaped by the Bible and its unique worldview. Indians also pursued knowledge, but of a different kind. The Path of Knowledge or Jnana Marga was and remains one of Hinduism’s most important paths of Moksha which means the liberation of the Self from birth and rebirth.. The sages that followed this path of “knowledge” were second to none in intelligence or dedication. Yet, none of them studied or taught agriculture to pave the way for India’s Green Revolution. They did not even try to fight hunger or transform India into a food-exporting country. That became the mission of the Nobel Prize winning American scientist Norman Bourlaug. He is known as “The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives.”

Norman was Born on a farm in Iowa in 1914 to a Lutheran family. During his teen years he experienced America’s Great Depression – a time of great economic uncertainty and unemployment. The horrors of his times could have pushed him into an escapist spirituality. But his Lutheran environment encouraged him to become an agricultural scientist. After earning a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology, he moved to Mexico in 1944 to serve the farmers. Due to rust infestations these farmers were producing only half the wheat that they could. For thirteen long years, Borlaug and his team researched ways to develop enhanced wheat breeds that increased Mexico’s crop sixfold.

In the 1950s and 60s, India was also struggling with food shortages. The US government provided relief, but many people saw that India had plenty of untapped capacity to produce enough food for itself and many others. Therefore, along with Foundations such as The Rockefeller and Ford Foundation the US government offered scientific knowledge to improve India’s agriculture. They launched The India Agriculture Program (IAP).

In 1965, the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the agriculture scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan sought Norman Borlaug’s help. He came and trained Indian scientists to produce high-yielding semi-dwarf wheat seeds. That effort could not realize its potential because of the socialist policies and bureaucratic delays in India. Borlaug confronted officials, including Union Minister Ashok Mehta, advising against the Stalinist policies that Mrs. Gandhi’s father Pandit Nehru had adopted following Russia and some Western universities.

Stalinist collectivization of agriculture was diametrically opposite to the Bible’s vision of economic freedom of “each man under his own fig and wine.” (1  King 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10) Nehru’s Socialism devasted Indian agriculture as Stalin’s Communism had destroyed Russia’s.

Eventually, Borlaug’s scientific guidance and Bible-based economic philosophy of limited government and free-market economy paved the way for India’s green revolution. That philosophy, still followed only half-heartedly in India, relies upon the citizen’s freedom from the government and its ideologically driven bureaucratic experts. Individual liberty requires personal development, initiative, responsibility, and inner discipline.

The Green Revolution succeeded because Mrs. Gandhi was willing to listen and change at least some of her government’s policies. Today India is producing enough food. India will become a blessing to the world, when its’  leaders become humble enough to rethink  religious, moral, political and economic beliefs that have kept India poor.

So in this session we have learned that the people who followed the Bible saw hunger and poverty very differently than the worldview that had guided traditional India. They change farming, irrigation and economic policies because they believed that chronic hunger is not a result of karma in previous lives but a curse brought upon the land because of human sin. India was changed by the Bible’s teaching that God wants to bless His children with forgiveness of sins and abundant life.



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