Agriculture in India has a significant history. Today, India ranks second worldwide in farm output. Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry andfisheries accounted for 16.6% of the GDP in 2009, about 50% of the total workforce. The economic contribution of agriculture to India’s GDP is steadily declining with the country’s broad-based economic growth. Still, agriculture is demographically the broadest economic sector and plays a significant role in the overall socio-economic fabric of India.
The invention of agriculture is one of the great revolutions of human history. It includes the food production and domestication which led to significant changes in human society, population increase and biological changes. However, this revolution is best demonstrated at Margaretha (Period-I Neolithic period) in which the sense of the revolution ultimately set the platform for the rise of urbanisation in the Indian Subcontinent. In the period of the Neolithic revolution (roughly 8000-5000 BCE.), agriculture was far from the dominant mode of support for human societies.
But those who adopted it, have survived and increased, and passed their techniques of production to the next generation. This transformation of knowledge was the base of further development in agriculture. Vedic literature provides some of the earliest written record of agriculture in India. Rigveda hymns, for example, describes plowing, fallowing, irrigation, fruit and vegetable cultivation. Other historical evidence suggests rice and cotton were cultivated in the Indus Valley, and plowing patterns from the Bronze Age have been excavated at Kalibangan in Rajasthan.
Bhumivargaha, another ancient Indian Sanskrit text, suggested to be 2500 years old, classifies agricultural land into twelve categories: urvara (fertile), ushara (barren), maru (desert), aprahata (fallow), shadvala (grassy), pankikala (muddy), jalaprayah (watery), kachchaha (land contiguous to water), sharkara (full of pebbles and pieces of limestone), sharkaravati (sandy), nadimatruka (land watered from a river), and devamatruka (rainfed). Some archaeologists believe rice was a domesticated crop along the banks of the Indian river ganges in the sixth millennium BC. So were species of winter cereals (barley, oats, and wheat) and legumes (lentil and chickpea) grown in Northwest India before the sixth millennium BC.
Other crops cultivated in India 3000 to 6000 years ago, include sesame, linseed, safflower, mustards, castor, mung bean, black gram, horse gram, pigeonpea, field pea, grass pea (khesari), fenugreek, cotton, jujube, grapes, dates, jackfruit, mango, mulberry, and black plum. Indian peasants had also domesticated cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs and horses thousands of years ago. Some scientists claim agriculture in India was widespread in the Indian peninsula, some 3000–5000 years ago, well beyond the fertile plains of the north.
For example, one study reports twelve sites in the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh providing clear evidence of agriculture of pulses (Vigna radiata and Macrotyloma uniflorum), millet-grasses (Brachiaria ramosa and Setaria verticillata), wheats (Triticum diococcum, Triticum durum/aestivum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus), pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), finger millet (Eleusine coracana), cotton (Gossypium sp.), linseed (Linum sp.), as well as gathered fruits of Ziziphus and two Cucurbitaceae.
Some claim Indian agriculture began by 9000 BP as a result of early cultivation of plants, and domestication of crops and animals. Settled life soon followed with implements and techniques being developed for agriculture. Double monsoons led to two harvests being reaped in one year. Indian products soon reached the world via existing trading networks and foreign crops were introduced to India. Plants and animals—considered essential to their survival by the Indians—came to be worshiped and venerated.
The middle ages saw irrigation channels reach a new level of sophistication in India and Indian crops affecting the economies of other regions of the world under Islamic patronage. Land and water management systems were developed with an aim of providing uniform growth. Despite some stagnation during the later modern era the independent Republic of India was able to develop a comprehensive agricultural programme. Agriculture and colonialism
Over 2500 years ago, Indian farmers had discovered and begun farming many spices and sugarcane. It was in India, between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, that the Persians, followed by the Greeks, discovered the famous “reeds that produce honey without bees” being grown. These were locally called साखर, pronounced as saccharum (ζάκχαρι). On their return journey, the Macedonian soldiers carried the “honey bearing reeds,” thus spreading sugar and sugarcane agriculture. People in India had also invented, by about 500 BC, the process to produce sugar crystals.
In the local language, these crystals were called khanda (खण्ड), which is the source of the word candy. Prior to 18th century, cultivation of sugar cane was largely confined to India. A few merchants began to trade in sugar – a luxury and an expensive spice in Europe until the 18th century. Sugar became widely popular in 18th-century Europe, then graduated to becoming a human necessity in the 19th century all over the world. This evolution of taste and demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient unleashed major economic and social changes. Sugarcane does not grow in cold, frost-prone climate; therefore, tropical and semitropical colonies were sought.
Sugarcane plantations, just like cotton farms, became a major driver of large and forced human migrations in 19th century and early 20th century – of people from Africa and from India, both in millions – influencing the ethnic mix, political conflicts and cultural evolution of various Caribbean, South American, Indian Ocean and Pacific island nations. The history and past accomplishments of Indian agriculture thus influenced, in part, colonialism, first slavery and then slavery-like indentured labor practices in the new world, Caribbean wars and the world history in 18th and 19th centuries. Indian agriculture since 1947
Over 50 years since its independence, India has made immense progress towards food security. Indian population has tripled, but food-grain production more than quadrupled: there has thus been substantial increase in available food-grain per capita. Prior to the mid-1960s India relied on imports and food aid to meet domestic requirements. However, two years of severe drought in 1965 and 1966 convinced India to reform its agricultural policy, and that India could not rely on foreign aid and foreign imports for food security.
India adopted significant policy reforms focused on the goal of foodgrain self-sufficiency. This ushered in India’sGreen Revolution. It began with the decision to adopt superior yielding, disease resistant wheat varieties in combination with better farming knowledge to improve productivity. The Indian state ofPunjab led India’s green revolution and earned itself the distinction of being the country’s bread basket. The initial increase in production was centred on the irrigated areas of the Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
With both the farmers and the government officials focusing on farm productivity and knowledge transfer, India’s total foodgrain production soared. A hectare of Indian wheat farms that produced an average of 0.8 tonnes in 1948, produced 4.7 tonnes of wheat in 1975 from the same land. Such rapid growths in farm productivity enabled India to become self-sufficient by the 1970s. It also empowered the smallholder farmers to seek further means to increase food staples produced per hectare. By 2000, Indian farms were adopting wheat varieties capable of yielding 6 tonnes of wheat per hectare.
Men and women at work in rice paddy fields in Tamil Nadu
With agricultural policy success in wheat, India’s Green Revolution technology spread to rice. However, since irrigation infrastructure was very poor, Indian farmer innovated with tube-wells, to harvest ground water. When gains from the new technology reached their limits in the states of initial adoption, the technology spread in the 1970s and 1980s to the states of eastern India — Bihar,[Orissa] and West Bengal.
The lasting benefits of the improved seeds and new technology extended principally to the irrigated areas which account for about one-third of the harvested crop area. In the 1980s, Indian agriculture policy shifted to “evolution of a production pattern in line with the demand pattern” leading to a shift in emphasis to other agricultural commodities like oilseed, fruit and vegetables. Farmers began adopting improved methods and technologies in dairying, fisheries and livestock, and meeting the diversified food needs of India’s growing population.
As with Rice, the lasting benefits of improved seeds and improved farming technologies now largely depends on whether India develops infrastructure such as irrigation network, flood control systems, reliable electricity production capacity, all season rural and urban highways, cold storage to prevent food spoilage, modern retail, and competitive buyers of produce from the Indian farmer. This is increasingly the focus of Indian agriculture policy. India’s agricultural economy is undergoing structural changes. Between 1970 and 2011, the GDP share of agriculture has fallen from 43 to 16%. This isn’t because of reduced importance of agriculture, or a consequence of agricultural policy. This is largely because of the rapid economic growth in services, industrial output, and non-agricultural sectors in India between 2000 to 2010. Irrigation
Main article: Irrigation in India
Irrigation in India refers to the supply of water from Indian rivers, tanks, wells, canals and other artificial projects for the purpose of cultivation and agricultural activities. In country such as India, 64% of cultivated land is dependent on monsoons. The economic significance of irrigation in India is namely, to reduce over dependence on monsoons, advanced agricultural productivity, bringing more land under cultivation, reducing instability in output levels, creation of job opportunities, electricity and transport facilities, control of floods and prevention of droughts. Output
Indian agriculture is diverse, ranging from impoverished farm villages to developed farms utilising modern agricultural technologies. This image shows a farming community in a more prosperous part of India.
A farm in Haryana, a northern state of India, prospering with India’s Green Revolution.
The changing face of Indian agriculture – formation of larger farms and adoption of wind power generation technologies.
Rice farming in Bihar, an eastern state of India
A panoramic view of a rice, cassava and banana farm in Kerala, a southern state of India.
A mustard farm in Rajasthan, a western state of India.
Amul – an integrated dairy with milk processing plant in Gujarat, a western state of India.
India has some of the world’s best agricultural yields in its tea plantations. An tea estate in Kerala, a southern state of India
A Stepped Paddy fields near Araku Valley, Visakhapatnam district, Andhra Pradesh As of 2011, India had a large and diverse agricultural sector, accounting, on average, for about 16% of GDP and 10% of export earnings. India’s arable land area of 159.7 million hectares (394.6 million acres) is the second largest in the world, after the United States. Its gross irrigated crop area of 82.6 million hectares (215.6 million acres) is the largest in the world.
India is among the top three global producers of many crops, including wheat, rice, pulses, cotton, peanuts, fruits and vegetables. Worldwide, as of 2011, India had the largest herds of buffalo and cattle, is the largest producer of milk and has one of the largest and fastest growing poultry industries. The following table presents the twenty most important agricultural products in India, by economic value, in 2009. Included in the table is the average productivity of India’s farms for each produce.
For context and comparison, included is the average of the most productive farms in the world and name of country where the most productive farms existed in 2010. The table suggests India has large potential for further accomplishments from productivity increases, in increased agricultural output and agricultural incomes. Agriculture in India, largest crops by economic value
Average yield, India
World’s most productive farms
(2009 prices, US$)
(US$ / kilogram)
(tonnes per hectare)
(tonnes per hectare)
The Statistics Office of the Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that, per final numbers for 2009, India had grown to become the world’s largest producer of the following agricultural products: Fresh Fruit
Lemons and limes
Buffalo milk – whole, fresh
Castor oil seeds
Mangoes, mangosteens, guavas
Indigenous Buffalo Meat
Chillies and peppers, dry
Anise, badian, fennel, coriander
Goat milk, whole, fresh
Per final numbers for 2009, India is the world’s second largest producer of the following agricultural products: Wheat
Groundnuts, with shell
Cauliflowers and broccoli
Cashew nuts, with shell
Silk-worm cocoons, reelable
Cow milk, whole, fresh
Nutmeg, mace and cardamoms
Indigenous Goat Meat
Cabbages and other brassicas
Pumpkins, squash and gourds
In 2009, India was the world’s third largest producer of eggs, oranges, coconuts, tomatoes, peas and beans. In addition to growth in total output, agriculture in India has shown an increase in average agricultural output per hectare in last 60 years. The table below presents average farm productivity in India over three farming years for some crops.
Improving road and power generation infrastructure, knowledge gains and reforms has allowed India to increase farm productivity between 40% to 500% over 40 years. India’s recent accomplishments in crop yields while being impressive, are still just 30% to 60% of the best crop yields achievable in the farms of developed as well as other developing countries. Additionally, despite these gains in farm productivity, losses after harvest due to poor infrastructure and unorganised retail cause India to experience some of the highest food losses in the world.
Agriculture productivity in India, growth in average yields from 1970 to 2010 Crop
Average YIELD, 1970-1971
Average YIELD, 1990-1991
Average YIELD, 2010–2011
kilogram per hectare
kilogram per hectare
kilogram per hectare
India and China are competing to establish the world record on rice yields. Yuan Longping of China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Centre, China, set a world record for rice yield in 2010 at 19 tonnes per hectare in a demonstration plot. In 2011, this record was surpassed by an Indian farmer, Sumant Kumar, with 22.4 tonnes per hectare in Bihar, also in a demonstration plot.
Both these farmers claim to have employed newly developed rice breeds and System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a recent innovation in rice farming. The claimed Chinese and Indian yields have yet to be demonstrated on 7 hectare farm lots and that these are reproducible over two consecutive years on the same farm.
Farmers manually harvesting rice in southern India
Maize Crops in India
A rural market in India – farmers with limited marketing options sell their surplus produce
India lacks cold storage, food packaging as well as safe and efficient rural transport system. This causes one of the world’s highest food spoilage rates, particularly during Indian monsoons and other adverse weather conditions. Food travels to the Indian consumer through a slow and inefficient chain of traders. Indian consumers buy agricultural produce in suburban markets known as ‘sabzi mandi’ such as one shown or from roadside vendors.
Cotton flower in India. This is the main cash crop in Vidarbha region.
One of the varieties of chili pepper(which colour,dwarf) found in Karnataka
Indian agriculture includes a mix of traditional to modern farming techniques. In some parts of India, traditional use of cattle to plough farms remains in use. Traditional farms have some of the lowest per capita productivities and farmer incomes. “Slow agricultural growth is a concern for policymakers as some two-thirds of India’s people depend on rural employment for a living. Current agricultural practices are neither economically nor environmentally sustainable and India’s yields for many agricultural commodities are low.
Poorly maintained irrigation systems and almost universal lack of good extension services are among the factors responsible. Farmers’ access to markets is hampered by poor roads, rudimentary market infrastructure, and excessive regulation.” —World Bank: “India Country Overview 2008″
“With a population of just over 1.2 billion, India is the world’s largest democracy. In the past decade, the country has witnessed accelerated economic growth, emerged as a global player with the world’s fourth largest economy in purchasing power parity terms, and made progress towards achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals.
India’s integration into the global economy has been accompanied by impressive economic growth that has brought significant economic and social benefits to the country. Nevertheless, disparities in income and human development are on the rise. Preliminary estimates suggest that in 2009-10 the combined all India poverty rate was 32 % compared to 37 % in 2004-05.
Going forward, it will be essential for India to build a productive, competitive, and diversified agricultural sector and facilitate rural, non-farm entrepreneurship and employment. Encouraging policies that promote competition in agricultural marketing will ensure that farmers receive better prices.” —World Bank: “India Country Overview 2011″
A 2003 analysis of India’s agricultural growth from 1970 to 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation identified systemic problems in Indian agriculture. For food staples, the annual growth rate in production during the six-year segments 1970-76, 1976–82, 1982–88, 1988–1994, 1994-2000 were found to be respectively 2.5, 2.5, 3.0, 2.6, and 1.8% per annum. Corresponding analyses for the index of total agricultural production show a similar pattern, with the growth rate for 1994-2000 attaining only 1.5% per annum. Infrastructure
India has very poor rural roads affecting timely supply of inputs and timely transfer of outputs from Indian farms. Irrigation systems are inadequate leading to crop failures in some parts of the country because of lack of water. In other areas regional floods, poor seed quality and inefficient farming practices, lack of cold storage and harvest spoilage cause over 30% of farmer’s produce going to waste, lack of organised retail and competing buyers thereby limiting Indian farmer’s ability to sell the surplus and commercial crops.
The Indian farmer receives just 10 to 23% of the price the Indian consumer pays for exactly the same produce, the difference going to losses, inefficiencies and middlemen. Farmers in developed economies of Europe and the United States, in contrast, receive 64 to 81%. Productivity
Although India has attained self-sufficiency in food staples, the productivity of Indian farms is below that of Brazil, the United States, France and other nations. Indian wheat farms, for example, produce about a third of the wheat per hectare per year compared to farms in France. Rice productivity in India was less than half that of China. Other staples productivity in India is similarly low.
Indian total factor productivity growth remains below 2% per annum; in contrast, China’s total factor productivity growths is about 6% per annum, even though China also has smallholding farmers. Several studies suggest India could eradicate hunger and malnutrition within India, and be a major source of food for the world by achieving productivity comparable with other countries.
By contrast Indian farms in some regions post the best yields, for sugarcane, cassava and tea crops. Yields for various crops vary significantly between Indian states. Some Indian states produce two to three times more grain per acre than in other Indian states. The table compares the statewide average yields for a few major agricultural crops within India, for 2001-2002. Crop
Average farm yield in Bihar
Average farm yield in Karnataka
Average farm yield in Punjab
kilogram per hectare
kilogram per hectare
kilogram per hectare
Crop yields for some farms within India are within 90% of the best achieved yields by farms in developed countries such as the United States and in European Union. No single state of India is best in every crop. Tamil Nadu achieved highest yields in rice and sugarcane, Haryana in wheat and coarse grains, Karnataka in cotton, Bihar in pulses, while other states do well in horticulture, aquaculture, flower and fruit plantations.
These differences in agricultural productivity within India are a function of local infrastructure, soil quality, micro-climates, local resources, farmer knowledge and innovations. The Indian food distribution system is highly inefficient. Movement of agricultural produce within India is heavily regulated, with inter-state and even inter-district restrictions on marketing and movement of agricultural goods. One study suggests Indian agricultural policy should best focus on improving rural infrastructure primarily in the form of irrigation and flood control infrastructure, knowledge transfer of better yielding and more disease resistant seeds.
Additionally, cold storage, hygienic food packaging and efficient modern retail to reduce waste can improve output and rural incomes. The low productivity in India is a result of the following factors: The average size of land holdings is very small (less than 2 hectares) and is subject to fragmentation due to land ceiling acts, and in some cases, family disputes. Such small holdings are often over-manned, resulting in disguised unemployment and low productivity of labour. Some reports claim smallholder farming may not be cause of poor productivity, since the productivity is higher in China and many developing economies even though China smallholder farmers constitute over 97% of its farming population.
Chinese smallholder farmer is able to rent his land to larger farmers, China’s organised retail and extensive Chinese highways are able to provide the incentive and infrastructure necessary to its farmers for sharp increases in farm productivity. Adoption of modern agricultural practices and use of technology is inadequate, hampered by ignorance of such practices, high costs and impracticality in the case of small land holdings. According to the World Bank, Indian Branch: Priorities for Agriculture and Rural Development”, India’s large agricultural subsidies are hampering productivity-enhancing investment. Overregulation of agriculture has increased costs, price risks and uncertainty. Government intervenes in labour, land, and credit markets. India has inadequate infrastructure and services.
World Bank also says that the allocation of water is inefficient, unsustainable and inequitable. The irrigation infrastructure is deteriorating. The overuse of water is currently being covered by over pumping aquifers, but as these are falling by foot of groundwater each year, this is a limited resource. Illiteracy, general socio-economic backwardness, slow progress in implementing land reforms and inadequate or inefficient finance and marketing services for farm produce. Inconsistent government policy. Agricultural subsidies and taxes often changed without notice for short term political ends.
Irrigation facilities are inadequate, as revealed by the fact that only 52.6% of the land was irrigated in 2003–04, which result in farmers still being dependent on rainfall, specifically the Monsoon season. A good monsoon results in a robust growth for the economy as a whole, while a poor monsoon leads to a sluggish growth. Farm credit is regulated by NABARD, which is the statutory apex agent for rural development in the subcontinent.
At the same time overpumping made possible by subsidised electric power is leading to an alarming drop in aquifer levels. A third of all food that is produced rots due to inefficient supply chains and the use of the “Walmart model” to improve efficiency is blocked by laws against foreign investment in the retail sector. Farmer suicides
Following the liberalising economic reforms of 1991 the government withdrew support from the agricultural sector. These reforms, along with other factors, led to a rise in farmer suicides. Various studies identify the important factors as the withdrawal of government support, insufficient or risky credit systems, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, a downturn in the urban economy which forced non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counseling services. Initiatives
Viticulture farms in Maharashtra, a western state in India.
A coffee plantation in Kerala, South India
Polyculture Practice in Andhra Pradesh, a South Indian State. The required level of investment for the development of marketing, storage and cold storage infrastructure is estimated to be huge. The government has not been able to implement various schemes to raise investment in marketing infrastructure. Among these schemes are Construction of Rural Godowns, Market Research and Information Network, and Development / Strengthening of Agricultural Marketing Infrastructure, Grading and Standardisation. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), established in 1905, was responsible for the search leading to the “Indian Green Revolution” of the 1970s.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is the apex body in agriculture and related allied fields, including research and education. The Union Minister of Agriculture is the President of the ICAR. The Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute develops new techniques for the design of agricultural experiments, analyses data in agriculture, and specialises in statistical techniques for animal and plant breeding. Recently Government of India has set up Farmers Commission to completely evaluate the agriculture programme. However the recommendations have had a mixed reception. In November 2011, India announced major reforms in organised retail.
These reforms would include logistics and retail of agricultural produce. The reform announcement led to major political controversy. The reforms were placed on hold by the Indian government in December 2011. In the summer of 2012, the subsidised electricity for pumping, which has caused an alarming drop in aquifer levels, put additional strain on the country’s electrical grid due to a 19% drop in monsoon rains, and may have helped contribute to a blackout across much of the country. In response the state of Bihar offered farmers over $100 million in subsidised diesel to operate their pumps.