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Indian Agriculture Industry: A look at the key policies and reforms


With a rich history spanning over 9000 years, Indian agriculture boasts of some of the most arable land served by an extensive network of rivers.  Today agriculture employs, directly and indirectly, close to 50% of India’s considerable workforce and accounts for 17-18% of our GDP. Having produced almost 292 million tonnes of foodgrains in 2019-20, it is no wonder that India presently ranks second in the world in farm outputs and has the largest net cropped area globally.

But this picture of the agriculture sector washes over the multiple challenges that had to be overcome since the country's independence and the tremendous administrative and bureaucratic help the sector received to get to its present state. Here is how the Indian agriculture sector evolved since independence to be what it is today.  

The beginning of a difficult journey [1947 - the 1950s]

The single biggest challenge facing the agricultural sector post-independence was for it to become self-sufficient. Owing to very little investment in agricultural infrastructure, especially irrigation networks and the use of low yield seeds, agricultural output was mostly dependant on the monsoons and a bit of luck. This issue was compounded by the fact that almost 80% of the Indian workforce was, in some way, involved in the agriculture sector.  

Therefore the government undertook numerous initiatives to bridge this gap: 

  • The ‘Grow more foods’ campaign was the first government initiative launched with the express purpose of making India self-sufficient in its agricultural needs. 
  • The first five-year plan was heavily invested in the agriculture sector. It paid attention to land reclamation (a serious concern in post-Zamindari India), land development, electrification, and the use of fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides. 
  • The ‘Integrated Production Program’ launched in the 1950s shifted the focus to cash crops. 

However, the biggest hurdle facing agriculture in these times was irrigation. Out of 160 million hectares of arable land in India, only 22.6 million hectares were irrigated by 1951.

The years of Revolution [1960s - 1990]

Despite India’s best efforts, the drought of 1965-1966 was a severe blow to the aim of food security. This, coupled with a need to increase revenue from the massive agriculture sector, resulted in a slew of administrative reforms and initiatives which ushered in various revolutions:  

  1. The Green Revolution - A worldwide phenomenon, the Green Revolution in India was heralded in 1966 and proved to be a hit. India switched to High Yielding Varieties of wheat seeds that were particularly resistant to rust - a disease infecting wheat crops. This, coupled with an increasing network of canals across the states of Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, ensured a dramatic increase in the yield of wheat crops. Additionally, the use of fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides on a large scale resulted in an increased yield of wheat in Punjab from 0.8 tonnes/hectare in 1948 to 4.7 tonnes/hectare in 1975. Today, the average yield of wheat crops across India is at a healthy 6 tonnes/hectare. 
  2. White Revolution - Launched in 1970, Operation Flood is considered the largest dairy development program to ever exist. From being a milk deficit nation, India surpassed the US in 1998 to become the largest milk producer in the world. As a direct result of this, India’s per capita dairy consumption rose by 105% from 1977 to 1999. 
  3. Blue Revolution - Pisciculture in India has experienced its own revolution since 1973. From a meagre 60000 tonnes then to over 4.7 million tonnes today, India is now the second-largest producer of fish in the world, with exports exceeding INR 47000 crores and contributing 1% to our GDP. 
  4. Yellow Revolution - Launched in 1986, the yellow revolution targeted 9 oilseeds, namely groundnut, castor, linseed, niger, safflower, sesame, mustard, soybean, and sunflower. From 12 million tonnes produced, India managed to double the amount within the next ten years.

The years of policy and digitization [1990 - Present]

After improving upon the basics of agriculture by introducing HYV seeds, a massive irrigation network, pesticides, fertilizers, and insecticides, the Indian government embarked on numerous formative policies to ensure that the agriculture sector met local demands could also actively compete on a global stage. The first in this endeavour was the Small Farmer’s Agri-Business consortium [1994], which ushered in private and institutional investments in agriculture.

The Horticulture Mission for North East And Himalayan States [2001] was established to capitalise on the rich soils of these states and their geography, which is not conducive for large-scale farming of grains but is ideal for fruits and vegetables. Consequently, India’s horticultural output has more than doubled since 2001 and stood at 314 million tonnes in 2018-19.

Through a collaboration between various farming agencies, NGOs, farmer cooperatives, and other government bodies, the Agricultural Technology Management Agency [ATMA], launched in 2005, seeks to ensure that it can provide the technological infrastructure required by Indian farmers under a multitude of schemes. Furthermore, the National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture and the National Food Security Mission launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively, are also responsible for bringing the agricultural sector into the digital age by incorporating the latest technological practices into the Indian agriculture sphere. 

Boasting of extensive arable land, massive irrigation projects, and the use of the most modern technologies along with firm administrative and bureaucratic support, India’s agricultural sector can become one of the richest and largest in the world. Considering that India’s largest workforce is employed in this sector, it is not only important but necessary that we do so. 



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