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Sustainable Development of Indian Agriculture: An Overview

Sustainable Development of Indian Agriculture: An Overview

**Bibhu Santosh Behera,Ph.D Research Scholar,OUAT,Bhubaneswar

**Prof.Anama Charan Behera,Dept. of Economics,D.B.College,Turumunga,Keonjhar

***Rudra Ashish Behera,P.G.Scholar,The Techno School,Bhubaneswar


Agriculture in India occupies an important place as it contributes nearly 25 per cent of GDP and two-thirds of the population depends upon it. Agricultural growth in the past has been sufficient to move from severe food crisis to aggregate food surplus today. The sustainability issue of the crop productivity is fast emerging. The post-Green Revolution phase is characterized by high input-use and decelerating total factor productivity growth (TFPG). The agricultural productivity attained during the 1980s has not been sustained during the 1990s and has posed a challenge for the researchers to shift the production function upward by improving the technology index. It calls for an examination of issues related to the trends in the agricultural productivity.            Sustainable management of agriculture, forests, fisheries and ecosystem services is necessary for achieving the goals of intra generational equity and inter generational equity. As the dependence of the poor on the natural resource base is relatively higher than for the non-poor, sustainable management of natural resources helps in poverty eradication. The poor also benefits more from greater access to clean water, non-timber forest products and other eco-system services. Here the authors described about various policies and strategies for Sustainable development.

Key Words:-Sustainable,GDP,TFPG,Developement ,Agriculture


As the bed rock of India’s Economy, agriculture and its allied activities have remained the focal point of the India’s planned economic development. In fact, two- thirds of the country’s workforce deriving their livelihood from agriculture and allied activities, the performance of this sector still holds the key to improvements in real incomes and living standards of the bulk of the India’s population. Despite phenomenal diversification of the country’s economy, this sector even now constitutes the largest contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Thus, there can be no sustained growth of Indian economy without broad based progress of our agriculture.

Agriculture produces 51 major crops, provides raw materials to country’s agro-based industries and fetches approximately one-sixth of total export earnings. India is a rich endowment of nature. India has diverse agro-climatic regions, large arable land, suitable fertile soil qualities, abundant sunlight, and spread of monsoon rains, comparative advantage in global markets and a receptive and resurgent farming community. Our climate, being moderate, enables us to grow two to three crops a year, whereas in most parts of the world, due to severe winters only one crop can be grown a year.

The report of Brundtland Commission (1987), defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The world commission on Environment and Development stated that sustainable development “.. is a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investment, orientation of technological development, and institutional change are all in harmony and endorse both the current and future potential to meet human needs and operations.”Arrow, Dasgupta, Goulder, Mumford and Oleson (2010) take the view that economic development should be evaluated in terms of its contribution to intergenerational well-being.

The UN bodies and many governments consider three dimensions of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental. Economic efficiency is necessary for achieving the maximum possible growth with limited resources. The social dimension is in terms of equity, particularly intra generational equity. Poverty eradication is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); it has become a global public good by global public choice. The environmental dimension captures internalization of environmental costs of pollution and natural resource degradation in decision making of all economic agents and intra generational equity. It is being realized that natural resource degradation and pollution are not just environmental challenges; they threaten poverty eradication and achievement of the MDGs.

The sustainability of agriculture in India cannot be isolated from the sustainability of development of India and beyond. Agriculture is one of the important components of sustainable development.

The comprehensive definition of Sustainable agriculture was put forth firstly in US farm Bill 1990. According to this bill sustainable agriculture “as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site specific application that will, over the long run, satisfy human food and fibre needs, enhance environmental quality and conservation of natural resources base upon which the agriculture economy, make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources; and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls, sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and hence the quality of life of farmers and society as a whole”. American Society of Agronomy defines sustainable agriculture as “… one that, over the long term enhance environmental quality depends provides for basic human food and fibre needs, is economically viable, and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

Sustainable agriculture has been recognized as agriculture that combines modern technological and innovation with proven resources conservation and food and fibre production practices to protect environmental quality, maintain and enhance  profitability, preserve rural communities, and  produce  a safe and adequate supply of food of food for current and future generations. The sustainable agriculture entails management of agricultural activities to protect air soil and water quality and to conserve biodiversity, and thereby increasing long term productivity and profitability, as well as enhancing human health and well being. Production of a safe, high quality and affordable supply of food and fibre in a manner that protects and conserves natural resources and human health are all interrelated aspects of sustainable agriculture.

The objectives of sustainable agriculture have been stated as follows:

  1. To conserve and enhance the natural resource that agriculture uses and shares.
  2. To be compatible with other environmental resources which are affected by agriculture.
  3. To be proactive in protecting the agri-food sector from the environmental impacts caused by other sector and factors external to agriculture.


Agricultural Growth, Employment and Rural Poverty

During the first decade of the Millennium the rate of growth of agricultural output was lower than the planned output. The Planning Commission of India fixed a target growth rate of four percent per annum for the 11th plan. The target of four percent growth in GDP from agriculture and allied sectors was felt necessary to achieve overall GDP growth target of nine percent per annum without undue inflation and generate exportable surplus. Also global experience reveals that growth originating in agricultural sector is at least twice effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating in other sectors. There are forward and backward linkages with the non-agricultural sector.

The annual rate of growth of crop output during 2000-01 to 2004-05 was only one percent and during 2004-05 to 2009-10 it was 1.7 percent. These growth rates were close to the overall population growth rate during the decade. The growth rates of higher value added sectors (per hectare of land) namely horticulture, livestock and fisheries outputs were higher. This diversification is desirable as the shares of horticultural and livestock products increase in food budgets as households incomes increase. The forestry output growth rate was lower because of policies related to conservation and sustainable use for forest resources.

The share of agriculture and allied activities in gross domestic product at factor cost fell from 55.1 percent in 1950-51 to 14.6 percent in 2009-10. This declining share of agricultural sector is consistent with the development experiences of developed countries. What is disconcerting is the very slow shift of employment from agricultural sector to non-agricultural sector. As the share of rural population in total population at 70 percent (72.2 percent in 2001 census) and using an estimate of agricultural employment of 749 persons per 1000 persons employed from 61st Round of National Sample Survey (2004-05) the share of agricultural employment in total employment is estimated at 52.43 percent. This means that the average value added per employee in the non-agricultural sector is about 6.4 times higher than the value added per employee in the agricultural sector. This order of magnitude widens income inequality between agricultural and non-agricultural sectors and suggests the need for policy changes to achieve the goal of inclusive growth.

In rural areas there has been a slow shift in employment from agriculture and allied activities to other activities. It may be seen data that in 2004-05 about two-thirds of rural males and six out of every rural woman depended on agriculture. While the percentage of male workers depending on agriculture fell from 80 in 1977-78 to 66 in 2004-05, the percentage of women depending on agriculture showed a small decrease from 88 to 83.

According to Tendulkar Committee report (2009)) rural poverty fell from 50.1 percent in 1993-94 to 41.8 percent in 2004-05; the corresponding change in urban poverty is from 31.8 percent to 25.7 percent. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Programme , which began in the first year of the 11th Plan is expected to reduce the percentage of people below the poverty line in rural areas.

Agricultural Resource Base 



             The rapid increase in population and slow shift of labour from agriculture to non-agriculture is evident in the dominance of marginal farms. In 2002-03 nearly 70 percent of the operational holdings were marginal holdings with size less than one hectare; another 16 percent were small holdings with size between 1-2 hect. (National Sample Survey Report, 2003-2004).The small sizes prevent farmers from adopting improved agricultural technologies and create barriers for accessing credit and adopting improved agricultural practices.

India is facing serious environmental stress in her natural resource stocks. Land desertification and land degradation affect the quality of land, the major capital input in farming. A study of Ajai et al. (2009) provides information on land desertification and land degradation in India that out of total geographical area of 328.73 million hect, 81.45 million hect (24.8 per cent) lands is degraded.



A study by Narasimhan and Gaur reveals that during 1995-96 to 2006-07, on an average, the contributions of surface and groundwater to net irrigated area were 32 percent and 60 percent respectively. There has been a fall in ground water table due to rapid expansion of tube wells. There is deterioration in water quality. Biological contamination of surface water sources due to poor sanitation and waste disposal resulted in incidence of water-borne diseases throughout the country. Chemical pollution of groundwater, with arsenic, fluoride, iron, nitrate and salinity as the major contaminants is directly connected with falling water tables and extraction of water from deeper levels.
There has been a severe erosion of the financial status of the irrigation systems. At present irrigation revenues cover barely 15 percent of working expenses and only five percent of total costs and losses. As for agricultural pumpsets, zero marginal pricing of electricity and use of energy inefficient pumpsets in most states discourage energy conservation and overuse of water resulting in depletion of water and deterioration of the water quality.


Policies for Sustainable Agricultural Development:-

1.Capital Formation in Agricultural Sector

             After stagnation, gross capital formation as percent of agricultural GDP has been rising from 2004-05. The share of public investment in the gross capital formation has also picked up from 2003-04.
We need an expenditure switch from subsidies to investments which augment the quantities and qualities of natural resource stocks. The necessary additional resources for capital formation can be generated via (i) phasing out environmentally perverse subsidies such as high subsidies for urea, under pricing of irrigation water and very low/zero pricing of electricity for farm pump sets; (ii) reducing leakages, and targeting subsidies in the public distribution system to people below poverty line; (iii) rationalization of irrigation charges and agricultural electricity tariffs; and (iv) introduction of user charges/payment for ecosystem services. The policy reforms involve a package of technological, institutional and incentive based reforms.

2. Technology

              India has developed the institutional capacity for using remote sensing data for natural resources management. The National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS) facilitates optimum utilization of the country’s natural resources through a proper and systematic inventory of the resource availability. Some important applications of remote sensing technologies in the agricultural sector are preparation of hydro-morphological maps showing areas suitable for targeting points for locating drinking wells ; mapping of wastelands into different categories; integrated surveys for combating drought; biodiversity characterization; disaster management support system; assessment of snow-melt run-off; forest cover mapping; potential fishing zone forecasts; coastal zone mapping and crop area and production forecasts.
                The green revolution helped India in achieving self-sufficiency in food. But the green revolution is environmentally unsustainable. We need an ecologically sustainable green revolution. We need more research on appropriate technologies for coarse cereals, pulses and horticultural crops, especially in arid and semi-arid areas. The National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture stresses the need for devising strategies to make Indian agriculture more resilient to climate change. The Mission has to identify and develop new varieties of crops and especially thermal resistant crops and alternative cropping patterns capable of withstanding extremes of weather, long dry spells, flooding and variable moisture availability.

         India is emerging a leader in applications of biotechnology to agriculture, medicine and environment. Application of this technology to agriculture may result in improving yield, nutritional improvement, increasing shelf life of fruits and vegetables by delayed ripening, conferring resistance to insects, pests and viruses, tolerance to abiotic stresses (drought, salt, water-logging) and herbicide tolerance. There are also concerns about transplanting genetically modified seeds developed abroad in Indian soil.

               Reclamation of salt affected lands, bioremediation of contaminated sites and conversion of waste lands to productive uses via agro forestry/corporate management/community based self-governing organizations can increase the cultivated area and create livelihood opportunities for the poor. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme offers scope for cleaning of rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands.

3. Policy Changes:

We need policies for crop diversification, generation of non-farm opportunities in rural areas and development of agro based industries. Other policy changes needed are (i) implementation of nutrition based subsidy scheme with fertilizer prices linked to minimum support prices (ii) creation of Water Regulatory Authority for allocation and rational pricing of irrigation water as recommended by the Thirteenth Finance Commission (iii) metering of electricity for pump sets and phasing out electricity subsidies (iv) development of payment for ecosystem services e.g., between forest dwellers and farmers and local bodies in near-by regions for increases in the quantity and quality of water supplied (v) targeting agricultural subsidies and concessional agricultural credit only to small and marginal farmers using unique identification cards.

India’s growth potential and export potential in horticultural products are very high. At present only about 0.5 percent of the value of horticultural products is exported. Accelerating India’s agricultural growth exploiting opportunities provided by globalization is feasible (Kalirajan, Mythili and Sankar, 2001).

India along with other mega biodiversity countries is taking efforts for incorporation of country of origin, prior informed consent and access benefit sharing provisions of the Convention on Biodiversity in patent registrations abroad. This would incentivize the guardians of traditional knowledge and biological resources for adoption of sustainable management practices.

Concluding Remarks
            The suitable policies should be adopted which signal farmers about the social costs of different natural resources and ecosystem services and incentivize them to adopt productivity enhancing farming methods and practices, crop diversification and post-harvest technologies for reducing wastes and better price realization. Subsidies must be targeted to achieve equity and environmental sustainability.

            Sustainable management of agriculture, forests, fisheries and ecosystem services is necessary for achieving the goals of intra generational equity and inter generational equity. As the dependence of the poor on the natural resource base is relatively higher than for the non-poor, sustainable management of natural resources helps in poverty eradication. The poor also benefits more from greater access to clean water, non-timber forest products and other eco-system services.  

For sustainability of agriculture, it is essential to achieve optimal production with minimal external inputs and enhanced use of non-farm resources, maintain productivity, reduce the level of production risk, protect the potential of natural resources, prevent degradation of soil and water quality, and satisfy human needs. Besides it   should give adequate economic returns and have minimal adverse environmental impact. 


  1. Ajai, A. S., Arya, P. S., Dhinwa, S. K. Pathan and K.G.Raj (2009), Desertification/Land Degradation Status Mapping of India, Current Science, Vol. 97, No. 10.
  2. Bansapal, P.C. (2002), Economic Problems in Indian Agriculture, CBS Publishers and Distributer, New Delhi-110002.
  3. Arrow, K.J., P.Dasgupta, L H. Goulder, K.J. Mumford and K. Oleson (2010), Sustainability and the Measurement of Wealth, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 16599
  4. Chaudhuri, S. and S.K.Ray (2008), An Integrated Summary of NSS 61st Round (July2004-2005) on “Employment and Unemployment Situation in India”, Sarvekshana, 94th Issue, Vol. XXVIII No 3 & 4 December.
  5. Dasgupta, P. (1993), Poverty and Environmental Resource Base, in An Enquiry into Well-Being and Destitution, Oxford University Press UK. Reprinted in U.Sankar (ed) Environmental Economics, Readers in Economics, Oxford University Press, 2001. Paperback: eighth impression 2008.
  6. Government of India (Planning Commission) (2007), Eleventh Five Year Plan, New Delhi.
  7. Kalirajan, K.P., G.Mythili and U.Sankar (2001), Accelerating Growth through Globalization of Indian Agriculture, Macmillan India, New Delhi.
  8. Millennium Economic Assessment (2005), Ecosystems and Human Well-Being Synthesis, Island press, Washington DC.
  9. Sankar, U. (2007), The Economics of India’s Space Programme, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

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