Agriculture contributes slightly more than 20% of India’s GDP but supports nearly 75% of its population.
Cumulative wastage in the agriculture related supply chain is estimated to be about $11 billion, or 9.8% of agriculture component of GDP.
India’s milk production has jumped more than five-fold from 17 million tonnes in 1950-51 to over 90 million tonnes in 2004-05. Over the same period, the production of eggs has skyrocketed from 1.8 billion to 45.2 billion and fish production from 752,000 tonnes to 6.3 million tonnes.
India that in 1966 imported about a sixth of its total requirement of cereals became a net exporter of grain. Unfortunately, for the first time after many years, India is importing wheat. Oilseeds production too has increased, from around 5 million tonnes in 1950-51 to over 25 million tonnes today.
The net availability of food grains that had risen from 394.9 grams per capita per day (gpcd) in 1951 to 510.1 gpcd in 1991 has since fallen to closer to 435 gpcd. In pulses, today’s availability levels are barely half what they were in 1951, having plummeted from 60.7 gpcd to 29.1 gpcd.
Availability of edible oils has grown sharply particularly since the beginning of 1980s (3.8 Kg/annum in 1980-81 to 8.2 Kg/annum in 2000-01) , but per capita cereal availability has declined from the beginning of 1990s (171 kg/annum in 1991 to 141 kg/annum in 2001) and the availability of pulses today is 10.9 Kg/annum less than half what it was at the time of independence (25.2 kg/annum in 1961).
India’s average yield in paddy is about 3,000 kg per hectare, when China’s is 6,350. In wheat, Indian yields are around 2,750 kg/hectare, when China does over 3,800. Even in cane, where India is the world’s largest producer, Chinese yields are about 10% higher than India’s. Production and yields for most important crops including rice and wheat have plateaued since the beginning of the 1990s.
Only about a quarter of the country’s agricultural land is irrigated even six decades after Independence.
Agricultural labourers even today form a larger part of the country’s population than they did in 1951. In that year, three-fourths of those who lived off farming were cultivators and the remaining one-fourth (who made up 7.5% of the total population) were labourers. Today, almost half of these people who earn their livelihood from agriculture (10.4% of the total population) are labourers, not farmers. The proportion of farmers in India’s population has fallen to 12.4% in 2001 as against 19.4% in 1951, but that of farm labourers has increased from 7.6% in 1951 too 10.4%- a significant rise.
Annual growth in Indian agriculture has plummeted to 0.9% over 2002-04. Agricultural profitability has fallen by 14.2% since 1991-the decade of economic reforms. The last seven years of the 19909s India have registered a dismal 0.67% per annum growth of rural employment, the lowest since 1947. Spiraling input costs have made 43.42 million Indian farmers in debt. Only 10% of all farmers are having access to crop insurance.
Public outlay on agriculture research stagnates at around 0.5 of the agricultural GDP. Even the states like Punjab and Haryana today register retarding productivity.
Global warming has reduced the span of winters, leading to early maturing of wheat- every one-degree rise in temperature above normal levels during the second half of December leads to a yield loss of about 315 kg per hectare.
Wheat constitutes around 35% of domestic consumption. The production profile of the cereals consists of: Rice about 91 tonnes, Wheat about 70 tonnes, Pulses about 13 tonnes, and Coarse cereals about 35 tonnes.
India will import a record six million tonnes of wheat at a price nothing less than $260-270 per tonne. MS Swaminathan calls it “wake up call.” A few years ago, India was exporting wheat, but the realization then was no more than around $90 per tonne.
The more visible result of the crisis of agriculture is the spate of farmer suicides in several states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka – not one of which is a BIMARU state.
Fortunately with certain affluence, the consumption pattern has changed, and small farmers are responding to the necessity of high-value farming. Thirty years ago, the average rural Indian consumed approximately 15 kg of cereals each month. Today, this figure has slipped below 13 kg. At the same time, Indian consumers – even the very poorest – have increasingly turned their attention to high-value foods. Between 1970 and 2003, the poorest 30% of India’s rural population accounted for the country’s highest growth rate in milk and milk product consumption. Per capita consumption of vegetables during this period tripled in rural areas and nearly doubled in urban ones. Overall, consumption of high-value foods grew at almost 1% per year over the past three decades. By 2020, India’s monthly expenditure on milk, meat, eggs and fish is projected to double, and to more than double for fruits and vegetables.
India’s smallholder farmers, who account for over 80% of farm families and cultivate about 40% of the country’s total agricultural land, have responded to the growing demand for high-value foods. Between 2002 and 2003, they accounted for 44% of India’s total agricultural production, spurring the development of new marketing channels, such as food processing and retailing.
Solutions are known, but India is to be serious to take all the actions before it is too late to prevent a disaster because of the failure of the agriculture sector. I add only one item required to improve agriculture. Remove or regulate intermediary traders who pay less to farmers, who charge more for all the inputs such as insecticides, and seeds, and that too fake and poor quality.