You are here


Agriculture in India

In a developing country like India, the agriculture sector and rural economy have a significant role in providing livelihoods, ensuring food security and giving impetus to the growth of industries and service sectors.  With a population of 1.27 billion, India is the world's second most populous country. 60.3 percent of its arable land employs 49 percent of the Indian labor force and makes up for 13.5 percent of the national GDP and 17.4 percent of total GVA (Gross Value Added) at current prices.

Of the total holdings, 85 percent are in marginal and small farm categories of less than two hectares and the average size of landholding has been estimated as 1.15 hectares. During the last five decades, agricultural production has increased at an average annual rate of 2.5–3 percent. The slow-down in agricultural growth has become a major cause for concern. India’s rice yields are one-third of China’s and about half of those in Vietnam and Indonesia. The same is true for most other agricultural commodities.

The uncertainties in growth in agriculture are explained further by the fact that more than 50 percent of agriculture in India is rainfall dependent which aggravates the production risks. Climate change must also be considered as more extreme events – droughts, floods, erratic rains – are expected and would have the greatest impact in rain-fed areas. 

Challenges for agriculture in India

India’s food security depends on producing cereal crops, as well as increasing its production of fruits, vegetables and milk to meet the demands of a growing population with rising incomes. To do so, a productive, competitive, diversified and sustainable agricultural sector will need to emerge at an accelerated pace. However, innovative solutions to the challenges mentioned below are imperative to India’s overall development and the welfare of its farmers:

Low Yields and Poor Extension System
A report by NITI Aayog, a policy think tank of the Government of India, highlights huge inter- and intra-state yield gaps for some crops (ranging from 6 to 300 percent). One of the reasons for this is inefficient lab-to-land transfer of knowledge. Along with innovating new varieties, we need to facilitate lab-to-land transfer. Bridging yield gaps alone could double or triple the total country production.

The all India percentage of net irrigated area to total cropped area was 34.5 percent, which makes a large segment of cultivation dependent on rainfall. Ways to radically enhance the productivity of irrigation (“more crop per drop”) need to be found. Better on-farm management of water, and use of more efficient delivery mechanisms such as drip irrigation, are among the actions that could be taken.

Agricultural Credit
In India, access to credit remains a significant challenge for small and marginal farmers. Typically, credit is accessed through the informal sector, where monopolistic practices frequently occur, and interest rates can easily exceed 100 percent per year. There has been little increase in the farmer coverage under institutional credit, leaving 60 percent of farmers outside the net.

Market Access
For small and marginal farmers, one of the main problems, apart from credit and extension, is marketing their products. The challenge also lies in organizing small and marginal farmers for marketing and linking them to high-value agriculture.

Climate Change
Predicted temperatures and India’s recent trends in precipitation give rise to estimates for farm income losses of 15 percent to 18 percent on average, rising to 20–25 percent for unirrigated areas. At current levels of farm income, that translates into more than INR 3,600 per year for the median farm household. India needs to increase the area under irrigation – and do so against a backdrop of rising water scarcity and depleting groundwater resources.

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. 


Work of Syngenta Foundation India

In this context, 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, increasing their knowledge of agronomic practices, establishing ease of access to credit and providing systematic market linkages. 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 currently working on the following initiatives to achieve these objectives:

  • Market-led extension (MLE) in vegetables
  • Seed production in hybrid rice and vegetables
  • Promoting allied services such as keeping goats, dairy and farm machinery
  • Agri-entrepreneurship for scaling-up MLE in vegetables
  • Facilitating credit to farmers and agri-entrepreneurs through the IDBI Bank
  • Undertaking pilot projects on new insurance solutions
  • Community-based irrigation projects


Further information

Studies and publications