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Smallholders India - Background

Empowering Indian smallholders

The role of agriculture

See what agricultural expert Ashok Gulati said about Indian farming in a mid-2017 interview.

Agriculture is the single largest productive sector in the Indian economy, accounting for almost 14% of GDP. It provides employment to half the total workforce.

The majority of farmers practice subsistence agriculture. About 80% of landholdings are smaller than two hectares (ha), roughly 60% less than 1 ha. Fewer than 2% cover more than 10 ha. One-quarter of the farmers produce 60% of India’s agricultural output.

The challenges

With 260 MT[CB1]  of food grains and 280 MT of fruits and vegetables, overall food security is now better than in the past. However, there are considerable disparities across the country. Productivity of crops in some regions is on par with the world’s best; in others it lags way behind global averages. Use of modern technologies and good agronomic practices varies considerably, as does access to markets.


Debt is a major problem. The government’s 2013 Survey of Agricultural Households found that just over half were indebted.  There were two main reasons: farmers’ dependence on non-institutional credit at high rates of interest and errant monsoons leading to crop failures. The survey also indicated that only a very small segment of agricultural households bought crop insurance.

Natural adversities

Small and marginal farmers, especially in dryland and rainfed regions, are worst affected by misfortunes in agriculture. There is immense scope for helping them towards new technologies and better agronomic practices. Farmers also need strong support in linking to markets. This is especially true for vegetables and fruits, whose markets quite often collapse due to a sudden glut.

Here is a Syngenta Foundation publication on Achievements and Challenges in Agricultural Extension in India, (M. Ferroni and Y. Zhou, 2012, Global Journal of Emerging Market Economies, 4 (3), 319-346).

Role of Syngenta Foundation India

This is the context in which the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and Syngenta India Limited established Syngenta Foundation India (SFI) as an independent not-for-profit organization in 2005.

From the outset, SFI’s mission was to have small and marginal farmers participate in agricultural development by improving their access to better seeds and other inputs, and increasing their knowledge of agronomic practices. The main objective has remained to educate small and marginal farmers on the latest developments suited to their local needs, and thus ultimately improve their income.

SFI is today working on the following initiatives to achieve these objectives:

  • Market-led extension (MLE) in vegetables
  • Seed production in hybrid rice and vegetables
  • Agri-entrepreneurship for scaling-up MLE in vegetables
  • Facilitating credit to farmers and agri-entrepreneurs through IDBI Bank
  • Undertaking pilot projects on new insurance solutions
  • Community-based irrigation projects
  • Community-owned agro-processing units


A word about words: special Indian expressions in farming and other business

When reading about Indian agriculture, one frequently finds the terms "Rabi" and "Kharif". These refer to crop seasons.  Farmers grow rabi crops from about mid-November to April. Rabi crops require irrigation. Sowing of kharif crops follows from the beginning of the first rains around the end of May. These are therefore often called "monsoon crops".  Rabi and Kharif come from Arabic words meaning spring and autumn (fall).


Texts about the Indian economy often include the words "lakh" and "crore". These mean 100,000 and 10,000,000 respectively. So 250,000 rupees are 2.5 lakh rupees. (In full, the number is written "2,50,000").  30 million become 3 crore. The commas in that number are inserted as follows: 3,00,00,000.