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Country profile - India


Despite impressive economic growth in recent years, and now the 10th largest economy in the world, India is ranked 121st out of 169 countries in the UN's Human Development Index and continues to be home to the largest concentration of people living below the poverty line. The government has placed a high priority on reducing poverty by raising agricultural productivity, but much remains to be done.


Two-thirds of the working population in India are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Rice, wheat, sorghum, maize and millet are the major food grain crops grown while oilseeds, sugarcane, cotton, tea, coffee and jute are important cash crops. Due to its favourable agro-climatic conditions and rich natural resource base India has become the world's largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables, and ranks second in the production of cashew, cabbage, cotton seed, garlic, cardamom, onions, sugarcane, tomatoes, coconut, groundnut, tea, green peas, cauliflower, potatoes and inland fish.

India's rice yields are only one-third of China's (© IRRI)
India's rice yields are only one-third of China's

Self-sufficiency in grain was achieved during the Green Revolution in the 1970s due to a sharp rise in production, and the subsequent lowering of food prices through cropping intensification increased demand for labour, which raised rural wages, reducing poverty. However, a slowdown in agricultural growth over the last decade is causing concern. According to the World Bank, India's rice yields are only one-third of China's and about half of those in Vietnam and Indonesia. With the exception of sugar cane, potato and tea, the same is true for most agricultural commodities.

Experts have partly blamed flawed agricultural policies for India failing to capitalise on the success of the Green Revolution. Punjab and Haryana are among the most fertile regions of the world and are the largest contributors to the production of grains in India. But average yields are only 30-50 per cent of the world average. Low productivity has also been blamed on inadequate finance and marketing services for farm produce, poor adoption of modern agricultural practices and illiteracy.

India produces 13% of global milk production (© WRENmedia)
India produces 13% of global milk production
© WRENmedia

Animal husbandry

The animal husbandry and fisheries sectors play a significant role in India's economy, providing employment to 70 per cent of rural people and cheap nutritious food to millions. But although India produces 13 per cent of global milk production, with an annual output of about 112 million tonnes, none is exported. And though India has a livestock population of more than 500 million, including cattle, buffalo, goats, pigs and sheep, meat production is generally low. Livestock policies have often focused on cross-breeding, ignoring the better adapted and more productive indigenous breeds.

Often seen as backward, pastoralists have been marginalised and government policies have also attempted to exclude pastoralists from traditional grazing areas. While the future of pastoralism depends heavily on political decisions, a small number of NGOs are working to empower the pastoralists to enable them to continue producing food on marginal lands.

Fisheries and forests

India is the world's third largest producer of fish and has more than ten per cent of the global diversity in fish and shellfish species. More than 50 different types of fish and shellfish products are exported to 75 countries, accounting for 20 per cent of agricultural exports and three per cent of total exports.

India is the world's third largest producer of fish (© FAO/I de Borhegyi)
India is the world's third largest producer of fish
© FAO/I de Borhegyi

Forests cover 22 per cent of India and over one-quarter of the population depend on forests for part of their livelihoods. Weak resource rights and economic incentives for forest dwellers, inefficient participatory management and poor access to markets ensure that forest productivity is only about one-third of its potential. Almost half of the country's forests have also been degraded and the government's target is to increase forest cover to 33 per cent. According to the World Bank, community forestry, better technology and market access could increase productivity, which would increase forest incomes by ten-fold.


With a limited irrigation network, India's agriculture is mostly dependent on the increasingly erratic seasonal rains, and India has been experiencing changes in its climate: more intense rainfall, resulting in increasingly frequent and intense floods, changes in monsoon patterns, melting glaciers, longer and more frequent droughts and stronger storms. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide during the past few years because of indebtedness and crop failures due to erratic rains. According to the World Bank, many states lack incentives and the necessary policy and regulatory frameworks for the efficient, sustainable and equitable allocation of water. While land policies and regulations intended to increase security of tenure for some have also reduced access for landless people, discouraging some rural investment.

Rodents are another challenge, attacking food on a large-scale in granaries: about 40 per cent of agricultural produce is lost due to inadequate infrastructure in India. According to agricultural experts, combating rodent attacks, improving road networks, increasing soil fertility and converting agricultural bio-wastes are some of the key issues that need to be addressed to promote growth in the agricultural sector.

Future outlook

National agricultural research centres are working to develop drought and pest-resistant crop varieties (© FAO/Jon Spaull)
National agricultural research centres are working to develop drought and pest-resistant crop varieties
© FAO/Jon Spaull

To boost agricultural production, the Indian government is encouraging farmers to adopt new technologies as one way to achieve their target of four per cent annual growth in agriculture. Meanwhile, national agricultural research centres are working to develop drought and pest-resistant crop varieties to combat the impacts of climate change. To help farmers adopt new technologies, the government is planning to provide financial support to farmers, in addition to strengthening agricultural insurance to protect them against climate related stresses. Also included in India's future plans is the development of GIS and remote sensing methodologies to map vulnerable regions and disease hotspots.

To enhance productivity, the World Bank has called on the government to strengthen agricultural research and extension systems and improve water management and irrigation, and access to land and rural finance. According to the Bank, bold action from the government is required to shift away from subsidies in order to build a solid foundation for a highly productive, internationally competitive and diversified agricultural sector.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of India
  • Capital: New Delhi
  • Area: 3,287,263 sq km
  • Population: 1,189,172,906 (July 2011 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 1.3% (2011 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 67 (2011 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3%
  • Languages: Hindi 51%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjab 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%
  • Inflation: 12% (2010 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$4.06 trillion (2010 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$3,500 (2010 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 18.5%; industry: 26.3%; services: 55.2% (2010 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 48.83%; permanent crops: 2.8%; other: 48.37% (2005)
  • Major industries: textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, software, pharmaceuticals
  • Agricultural products: rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, lentil, onions, potatoes; dairy products, sheep, goats, poultry; fish
  • Natural resources: coal, iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, natural gas, diamonds, petroleum, limestone
  • Export commodities: petroleum, precious stones, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, vehicles, apparel
  • Export partners: UAE 12.5%, US 11.1%, China 6.1%, Hong Kong 4.2%, Singapore 4.1% (2009)

Written by: Athar Parvaiz

Date published: November 2011


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