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Farmed Land Drops Over 25 Years, So Does Food Per Person

Saumya Tewari,
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Cultivated land on India’s farms has declined 15% over 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.



Sources: Estimates of total area cultivated based on unit-level data from different rounds of NSS Surveys of Employment and Unemployment. Data on net sown area are taken from Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.


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


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


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the centre is trying to push through a controversial land acquisition act, and that might reduce the land available for farming.


The most controversial change proposed in the new act 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% farmers of the area.


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, according to a study by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies, using data from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), an organisation run by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.


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


Source: Economic Survey 2014-15


Key problems with agriculture in India are related to low yields and production, as IndiaSpend has previously reported.


Foodgrain availability has declined from 471.8 grams per capita to 453.6 grams per capita over the last four decades.


Let us now look at another angle: yield, which has been improving over the decades.


Source: Economic Survey 2014-15


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


Despite its fluctuating farm fortunes, India is among world’s top producers of food crops, according to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Crop Rank in world in production Rank in yield among top 5 producers
Cereals 3rd 5th
Coarse grains 4th 5th
Root and tuber 3rd 1st
Vegetable 2nd 5th
Fruits 2nd 4th

Source: FAO Statistical Yearbook 2013


While India figures among the top producers, yields across agricultural products are low, as these data show:



Source: FAO Statistical Yearbook 2013; *Data for Russia’s fruit yield isn’t available and is marked as 0; 1 hectogram (hg) is equal to 0.1 kg or 100 gm


Image Credit: Flickr/Bobinson K.B.




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  1. Ravi Reply

    April 21, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    While it is desirable to increase the yield, we must also compare other aspects like:

    1. No of cultivations per year
    2. Contiguous land available for cultivation
    3. Cost of production and
    4. Impact on soil

    Clearly the doubling in yield in foodgrains over the last 30+ years is negated by the huge increase in population. The so called youth dividend that many economists/politicians are so proud about, may end up causing us severe damage over the next 10-15 years.

    Given Indian agriculture’s dependency on a good monsoon, we are asking for trouble in food security by not putting in place policies that help reduce the population growth.

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