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India: Agriculture
Country Study > Chapter 7 > Agriculture


Agriculture has always been India's most important economic sector. In the mid-1990s, it provides approximately one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP -- see Glossary) and employs roughly two-thirds of the population. Since independence in 1947, the share of agriculture in the GDP has declined in comparison to the growth of the industrial and services sectors. However, agriculture still provides the bulk of wage goods required by the nonagricultural sector as well as numerous raw materials for industry. Moreover, the direct share of agricultural and allied sectors in total exports is around 18 percent. When the indirect share of agricultural products in total exports, such as cotton textiles and jute goods, is taken into account, the percentage is much higher.

Dependence on agricultural imports in the early 1960s convinced planners that India's growing population, as well as concerns about national independence, security, and political stability, required self-sufficiency in food production. This perception led to a program of agricultural improvement called the Green Revolution, to a public distribution system, and to price supports for farmers. In the 1980s, despite three years of meager rainfall and a drought in the middle of the decade, India managed to get along with very few food imports because of the growth in food-grain production and the development of a large buffer stock against potential agricultural shortfalls. By the early 1990s, India was self-sufficient in food-grain production. Agricultural production has kept pace with the food needs of the growing population as the result of increased yields in almost all crops, but especially in cereals. Food grains and pulses account for two-thirds of agricultural production in the mid-1990s. The growth in food-grain production is a result of concentrated efforts to increase all the Green Revolution inputs needed for higher yields: better seed, more fertilizer, improved irrigation, and education of farmers. Although increased irrigation has helped to lessen year-to-year fluctuations in farm production resulting from the vagaries of the monsoons, it has not eliminated those fluctuations.

Food-grain production increased from 50.8 million tons in fiscal year (FY -- see Glossary) 1950 to 176.3 million tons in FY 1990. The compound growth rate from FY 1949 to FY 1987 was 2.7 percent per annum. Overall, wheat was the best performer, with production increasing more than eightfold in forty years. Wheat was followed by rice, which had a production increase of more than 350 percent. Coarse grains had a poorer rate of increase but still doubled in output during those years; production of pulses went up by less than 70 percent. The increase in oilseed production, however, was not enough to fill consumer demands, and India went from being an exporter of oilseeds in the 1950s to a major importer in the 1970s and the early 1980s. The agricultural sector attempted to increase oilseed production in the 1980s and early 1990s. These efforts were successful: oilseed production doubled and the need for imports was reduced. In the early 1990s, India was on the verge of self-sufficiency in oilseed production.After independence in 1947, the cropping pattern became more diversified, and cultivation of commercial crops received a new impetus in line with domestic demands and export requirements. Nontraditional crops, such as summer mung (a variety of lentil, part of the pulse family), soybeans, peanuts, and sunflowers, were gradually gaining importance.

The per capita availability of a number of food items increased significantly in the postindependence period despite a population increase from 361 million in 1951 to 846 million in 1991. Per capita availability of cereals went up from 334 grams per day in 1951 to 470 grams per day in 1990. Availability of edible oils increased significantly, from 3.2 kilograms per year per capita in FY 1960 to 5.4 kilograms in FY 1990. Similarly, the availability of sugar per capita increased from 4.7 to 12.5 kilograms per year during the same period. The one area in which availability decreased was pulses, which went from 60.7 grams per day to 39.4 grams per day. This shortfall presents a serious problem in a country where a large part of the population is vegetarian and pulses are the main source of protein.

There are large disparities among India's states and territories in agricultural performance, only some of which can be attributed to differences in climate or initial endowments of infrastructure such as irrigation. Realizing the importance of agricultural production for economic development, the central government has played an active role in all aspects of agricultural development. Planning is centralized, and plan priorities, policies, and resource allocations are decided at the central level. Food and price policy also are decided by the central government. Thus, although agriculture is constitutionally the responsibility of the states rather than the central government, the latter plays a key role in formulating policy and providing financial resources for agriculture.

Last Updated: September 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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