India is the 7th largest nation by area, with more than 1.4 billion people. Agriculture, with its allied sectors, is the largest source of livelihood, with 70% of its rural households still depending primarily on agriculture, while 82% of farmers are small and marginal.
In addition, the population of Indian farmers is spread over a large swathe of geographical areas across east, west, north and south zones of the country; however, they can broadly be categorized into regional clusters around agro produce they cultivate and produce: dairy, milk, wheat, rice, pulses, cotton, ground nuts, maize, millets, corn, tobacco, sugarcane, fruits and vegetables, among others.
Geographically, eastern and northeastern parts of India are dotted with farmers with weaker socio-economic profiles and scarce financial and technical resources, including the absence of access to agricultural extension services. In addition, small land holdings restrict them from doing agro production on the scale as they produce traditional agro products such as wheat, rice and pulses, running errands and earning their livelihoods by selling these traditional products in community markets.
In addition, their agricultural practices are grassroots, organic and nature-based, given that these areas are generally barren, infertile, hilly and lack water resources, suffering periodic floods and droughts. Such a situation also reflects their vulnerable socio-economic condition and scant contribution to domestic and international exports through market access except in cases where they can community-scale production of their agro products in border areas adjoining Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, among others.
However, western and central parts of India have a rich and socially upwardly mobile population of farmers, with extensive land holdings which give them scale to grow large quantities of wheat, rice, sugarcane, pulses, milk and value-added dairy products. These two regions also contribute significantly to foreign exchange earnings for the country through exports and sale of their products through public procurement channels and privately with corporate avenues with government policies to enable their efforts to produce a superior quality of crops acceptable in international markets.
These two regions and their farmers are financially resourceful and adopt some of the finest agro technologies, superior seeds, more R&D, mechanised methods of sowing, harvesting and cultivation, and use of solar pumps drones for irrigation while spacing out their traditional agro produces with cash crops, earning more money in the process. The regions’ farmers also have large corporate contracts for seeding, cultivation, harvesting, and sales of their agro products and value-added products. Rice, primarily produced and consumed mainly by Indian households, has a varying quantum of per acreage yield ranging between 2200 to 2700 kilograms per year. It is estimated that Indian farmers can increase the percentage yield of rice to 3500 kilograms per year by better utilising water resources, using high-yield climate-resistant seeds, better R&D, and leveraging directly mechanised seeding (DMS) methods alone.
Northern Indian region similarly reflects the same trend as the west and the central part of the country. However, southern India specialises in large-scale cash crops due to deeper water resources, a largely rain-fed agriculture landscape, and multiple cropping seasons enabling them to produce vegetables, tobacco, cotton and dairy products instead. These farmers are also advanced in their agriculture practices, well-educated, and socially mobile with corporate farming contracts. They have more considerable land holdings, are well organised, and thus have scale entering into large agro-corporate contracts with significant domestic and multinational companies.
The use of sophisticated farming practices such as drones, drip irrigation, solar pumps and high-yielding variety seeds are a common sight with the sale of their cash crops in Sri Lanka and Maldives. Many of these regions are connected through air routes and use air connectivity to export agro products and cash crops in neighbouring countries daily.
Agriculture in India has achieved grain self-sufficiency, but the production continues to be resource-intensive, water-intensive, cereal-centric, regionally biased and now affected by changing climate conditions. The resource-intensive ways of Indian agriculture have also raised severe sustainability issues. They are increasing stress on water resources. These practices need realignment and rethinking of policies. Desertification and land degradation also pose significant threats to agriculture.
The social aspects of agriculture have also witnessed changing trends. The increased feminisation of agriculture is mainly due to increasing rural-urban migration by men, the rise of women-headed households and growth in the production of labour-intensive cash crops. Women perform significant tasks, both in farm as well as non-farm activities. Their participation in the sector is increasing, but their work is treated as an extension of their household work.
Given that widespread climate change impacts farmers and agriculture, Indian farmers need to improve their management of agricultural practices. Improvements in agriculture performance can lead to increased incomes of farming households, diversified production of crops, empowered women, and strengthened agricultural diversity and productivity. Designing careful price and subsidy policies can encourage nutrient-rich crop production and consumption, incentivising farmers to improve their farming to climate change.
Overall rating: B: Moderate progress
This post was submitted by Climate Scorecard India Country Manager Pooran Chandra Pandey