09 / 2009
India is a key element in the world agriculture and food scenario. It ranks second in the world in farm outputs. India is also the largest producer in the world of milk, cashew nuts, coconuts, tea, ginger, turmeric and black pepper. It is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut and inland fish. India accounts for 10% of the world fruit production with first rank in the production of banana and sapota. It is the third largest producer of tobacco.
Internally, agriculture is a key element of social livelihood. Almost two-thirds of India’s population of 1.1 billion depends on agriculture, which in turn feed in a substantive way the entire population. Thus India does have a very large agricultural production and population base. Agriculture is still the largest economic sector and plays a significant role in the overall socio-economic development of India.
However for some reason this is actually being eroded, and in many areas, rendered insecure by the current model of growth and development. Despite its importance, in terms of GDP, agriculture accounts for only 18% of it. It is also significant that, since the economic reforms of 1991 which are considered the glorious years of India’s so called development where the country saw an overall growth rate of more than 9% till 2008, agricultural production actually declined - in money terms at least. In fact the average agricultural growth during 2002-07 was 1.87% where in the 1980s i.e. before the reforms programme the growth was 5%.
Further, while agricultural production declined, agro-industry based on seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, and farm machinery has shown significant rise, and related corporates have shown huge profits. The farm insurance sector which insures wheat, fruit, rice and rubber farmers in the event of natural disasters or catastrophic crop failure, has grown.
However, the basic outcome of such a policy has been that post 1991, farmers’ income rose only by 0.28% as compared to 4% in the other sectors. The average farmer’s household’s income worked out to Rs. 2,115 per month, leaving more that 48% farmers indebted and 40% farmers wanting to quit farming. In fact since 1997 more than 1, 50,000 farmers have been driven to commit suicide.
This file on small scale agriculture explores the present issues of agriculture in India, the challenges for its small farmers and which alternatives can be developed. We certainly have to move from viewing food as an economics good to looking at agriculture as a livelihood. A study of traditional Indian agriculture, particularly the knowledge and methods used by small farmers, provides us critical sources of alternatives particularly in the context of mitigation as well as adaptation to climate change.
This file is available in French: L’agriculture paysanne en Inde
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