- The history of agriculture in India is very old and dates back to the times of Rigveda.
- India, today ranks second in the world in terms of farm output.
- Agriculture, along with its allied sectors like fisheries and forestry accounted for 13.7 per cent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2013, with almost 50 per cent of the workforce involved.
- However, the contribution of agriculture to the country’s GDP is steadily declining with economic growth. But, still agriculture is the broadest economic sector, demographically. It plays a significant role in the socio-economic fabric of India.
- In 2013, India ranked at number seven worldwide by exporting agricultural products worth US$ 39 billion. Most of Indian agricultural exports are targeted towards developing or least developed nations.
- India exports agricultural/horticultural products and processed foods to more than 100 countries, mostly in the Middle-East, Southeast Asia, SAARC nations, USA and the European Union.
- India is the second largest producer of wheat and rice, the world’s major food staples. Apart from this, India produces many fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, spices, fibrous crops like jute, grains like millets and castor oil seeds.
- India ranks third in production of dry fruits, agriculture-based textile raw materials, roots and tuber crops, pulses, fish, eggs, coconut, sugarcane and vegetables. In 2010, India ranked amongst the five largest producers of cash crops like coffee and cotton.
- India is also one of the world’s five largest producers of livestock and poultry meat.
- In the fiscal year ending June 2011, India registered a record agricultural production of 85.9 million tonnes of wheat, a growth of 6.4 per cent from the previous year.
- Production of rice also touched a new high in the same year with a production of 95.3 million tones, a growth of 7 per cent from the previous year. Indian farmers produced 71 kg of wheat and 80 kg of rice for every person of the Indian population in 2011.
- Aquaculture and catch fishery are amongst the fastest growing industries in India. In the period between 1990 and 2010, India’s fish capture doubled while the aquaculture harvest tripled.
- In 2008, India emerged as the world’s sixth largest producer of marine and freshwater capture fisheries and the second largest aquaculture farmed fish producer. India exported 600,000 tonnes of fish products to almost half of the world’s countries.
Types of agriculture in India
Physical as well as human factors have largely contributed towards giving rise to different types of farming methods in different regions of the country. The three broader categories of farming are hereunder:
- Subsistence farming: Majority of farmers in India practice subsistence farming. Draught animals and family members are involved in cultivating small and scattered holdings of land. Primitive techniques and simple tools are used for this type of farming. Modern farm implements are hardly used in subsistence farming.
- Productivity is low in this type of farming as poor farmers are unable to purchase fertilizers and high yielding varieties of seeds. Facilities like electricity, irrigation and credit badly lack in this system, as a result the farmer is only able to produce a limited farm production for his own family’s use, without any surplus to sell.
- More emphasis in this farming system is levied on food grains and other crops like sugarcane, cotton, jute and tobacco. Although the condition of farmers has improved after independence and they are able to buy fertilizers, high-yielding seeds etc, but still barely manage to grow any surplus to sell.
- Plantation agriculture: British introduced plantation agriculture in India in the 19th century. This kind of agriculture involved growing a single cash crop purely meant for sale. Plantation agriculture employs large capital inputs, vast estates, management, and technical know-how, advanced farm machinery, fertilizers, transportation system and a factory for processing the farm produce.
- The various crops planted in this type of agriculture are coffee, rubber, tea, cocoa, banana, spices, coconut etc.
- This kind of agriculture is practiced in Assam, sub-Himalayan regions of West Bengal and the Nilgiris, Anaimalai and Cardamom Hills of south India.
- Shifting agriculture: When a piece of forest land is cleared mostly by tribal people by felling or burning of trees for growing crops is known as shifting agriculture. After a period of 2-3 years, when the productivity of the cleared land deteriorates, the tribal people abandon that land and shift to another piece of land.
- The process continues with farming again shifting back to the first piece of land after a gap of 10-15 years.
- In India, this kind of agriculture is practiced over an area of roughly 54 lakh hectares, with about 20 lakh hectares being cleared every year.
- Maize, buck wheat, dry paddy, small millets and tobacco are some of the crops that are grown in this type of agriculture.
- However, this system of agriculture is crude, primitive and results in large scale deforestation. Moreover, it also results in soil erosion, especially on hill sides causing devastating floods in the plains. Shifting agriculture causes degradation of at least one million hectares of land each year.
Problems facing Indian agriculture
- The condition of roads in rural India remains poor, which greatly affects timely availability of inputs and timely transfer of outputs from Indian farms.
- Irrigational infrastructure is also poor, which many times results in crop failure.
- Lack of water for farming also makes Indian agriculture largely dependent on rainfall.
- In some areas, regional floods, poor seed quality, inefficient farming practices, lack of cold storage facilities and spoilage of harvest accounts for over 30 per cent of farmer’s produce going to waste.
- Lack of an organized retail sector also limits the farmers from selling their surplus and commercial crops.
- The Indian farmer barely receives 10 to 23 per cent of the price an Indian consumer pays for exactly the same produce, while farmers of Europe and USA receive 64 to 81 per cent.
- A major challenge facing Indian agriculture is productivity.
- Although, India has become self-sufficient in food staples, the productivity of its farms is even less than that of Brazil.
- India produces only one third of wheat per hectare per year in comparison to France.
- India’s productivity is less than that of China in production of rice.
- India’s total factor productivity growth remains below 2 per cent per annum, in a sharp contrast to China’s 6 per cent per annum.
- Several studies have indicated that if India is able to solve its problem of productivity, it would become a major food provider for the entire world.
- There are rampant disparities between different Indian states with regards to their agricultural productions.
- Some states in India produce two or three times more grain per acre than others.
- In the year 2012 itself, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) recorded 13,754 farmer suicides.
- Farmer suicides account for almost 11.2 per cent of all suicides in India.
- According to scholars and social activists, most farmer suicides occur in India due to monsoon failure, rising debts on farmers, faulty government policies, personal issues and family problems.
Conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes
- The Indian National Policy for Farmers, 2007 clearly states that: “prime farmland must be conserved for agriculture except under exceptional circumstances, provided that the agencies that are provided with agricultural land for non-agricultural projects should compensate for treatment and full development of equivalent degraded or wastelands elsewhere.”
- The policy clearly suggests that as far as possible, the land with low or no farming yields should be earmarked for non-agricultural purposes like construction of industrial parks and commercial development. But, unfortunately this has not been practically implemented in India.