From an agri economy struggling to feed its people to self-sufficiency and surplus, the story of Indian agriculture has been one of many milestones and some reverses
Farmers load a harvester in a UP field, 2021; (Photo: Chandradeep Kumar)
In the past few years, many global organisations monitoring agriculture have India listed as one of the largest producers of fresh fruits like banana, mango, guava, papaya, lemon along with vegetables such as okra and aubergine and pulses like chickpeas. They have also traced India’s progress in producing critical spices like chili pepper and ginger along with fibrous crops like jute, cotton and oilseeds such as mustard, castor and millets. India, at present, is also one of the largest producers of wheat and rice, as also livestock and poultry. Agriculture contributes 17-19 per cent of the country’s GDP, although we still only export produce worth around $50 billion.
It was only in the mid-1960s, after the country was rocked by back-to-back droughts and the residual impact of an Indo-Pak war that the nation was coaxed into going for a Green Revolution—using more scientific ways and high yielding seeds and fertilisers to produce more cereals (wheat and rice), to feed the population.
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By the 1990s, with India opening its economy to the world, and the emergence of a new-middle class, the demand for high value crops increased. This new class was not only consuming more, but was also looking for more processed food. This saw the large-scale entry of private investments. Lack of trust between private players and farmers continues to force farmers to look at APMC markets to sell their produce. The fear that the corporates may overrun the farmers has held up reforms in agriculture. The Narendra Modi-led government tried to ease restrictions with new farm laws but it met with massive protests and had to be withdrawn. The government is now focussed on creating a better web of cooperatives and farmer-producer organisations (FPOs), coupled with missions to promote natural and organic farming and micro/ small financing schemes to help out farmers.