Home India Politics Farmed land, food per person declined over 25 years

Farmed land, food per person declined over 25 years

By Saumya Tewari,

The land available for farming in India, already under decline, is feared to drop further with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government trying to push through a controversial bill that is being criticised in the present format by a host of opposition parties, led by the Congress.

The most controversial change proposed is the exemption of five categories of projects – industrial corridors, public-private partnership projects, rural infrastructure, public housing and defence projects – from getting the consent of 70 percent farmers of the area.

This is worrisome since cultivated land on India’s farms declined 15 percent over the past 25 years, according to government data analysed by IndiaSpend, reducing foodgrain production and portending new pressures as more land is set to be acquired for industries.

While the net sown area includes orchards and crops, the cultivated area covers only crops. Land sown with crops declined from nearly 87 percent in 1987-88 to 72 percent in 2011-12.

IndiaSpend’s recent reports have been focusing on the farm crisis in India with case studies of Bundelkhand farmers. It has also reported on the decline in farmers across India.

Reasons for the decline in cultivated land include a drop in households owning land in rural India and a decline in the proportion of households dependent on manual labour and farming, says a study by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies, using data from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

To analyse how the drop in cultivated area has affected India’s food sufficiency, availability of foodgrains (cereals and pulses) was matched with the decrease in cultivated land. The decline is clear.

Key problems with agriculture in India are related to low yields and production. Accordingly, Foodgrain availability also declined from 471.8 grams per capita to 453.6 grams per capita over the last four decades.

But there is a saving grace: Yield. This has been improving over the decades – from 1,023 in kg per hectare in 1980-81 to 2,101 in kg/ha in 2013-14 for food grains, as per data published in the official Economic Survey.

For oil seeds it was from 532 kh/ha to 1,153 kg/ha and for cotton from 152 kg/ha to 532 kg/ha.

So, foodgrain yield has almost doubled between 1980-81 and 2013-14, while oilseeds and cotton have also witnessed an increase of 116 percent and 250 percent in yields respectively.

Despite its fluctuating farm fortunes, India is among the world’s top producers of food crops, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. But it its yields across the spectrum of agricultural products are low.

In cereals, for example, it is the third largest producer in the world, and in terms of the yields of top five producers, though, the country ranks fifth. For coarse grains, the ranking is fourth and ifth, respectively.

(In arrangement with Indiaspend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public-interest journalism platform)