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FAO in India

India at a glance

With a population of 1.27 billion India is the world's second most populous country. It is the seventh largest country in the world with an area of 3.288 million sq kms. It has a long coastline of over 7,500 kms. India is a diverse country where over 22 major languages and 415 dialects are spoken. With the highest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas to its North, the Thar desert to its West, the Gangetic delta to its East and the Deccan Plateau in the South, the country is home to vast agro-ecological diversity. India is the world's largest producer of milk, pulses and jute, and ranks as the second largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnut, vegetables, fruit and cotton. It is also one of the leading producers of spices, fish, poultry, livestock and plantation crops. Worth $ 2.1 trillion, India is the world's third largest economy after the US and China.

India's climate varies from humid and dry tropical in the south to temperate alpine in the northern reaches and has a great diversity of ecosystems. Four out of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots and 15 WWF global 200 eco-regions fall fully or partly within India. Having only 2.4 percent of the world's land area, India harbours around eight percent of all recorded species, including over 45,000 plant and 91,000 animal species.

The country's economy is poised to grow further. According to the ADB, India's GDP is expected to accelerate to 7.8 percent in 2015 on improved performance in both industry and services. By 2016 it is expected to rise further to 8.2 percent as inflation falls.

But beyond this bright picture are some grey areas. The government's initial estimates for 2014-15 show that while economic growth accelerated to 7.4 percent, agriculture growth slipped to 1.1 percent largely because of erratic rains that damaged the ready-to-reap winter crop. Presently food grain production has contracted by 3.2 percent as compared to 2013-14. Agriculture shrank to just 18 percent of the GDP in 2013-14; and further shrinking is projected given agriculture's lower growth rate compared to other sectors. Over 60 percent of India's total land is under agriculture and nearly 23 percent covered by forests.

Though India is no longer an "agricultural economy", some 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood. A slump in agriculture has a dampening effect on the overall economy as demand for goods and services fall. Just like a bad harvest casts gloom, a good harvest is key to spreading cheer in India's financial markets. In 2013-14, total food grain production was estimated at 265 million tonnes (MT). India's annual milk production is 130 MT, and it is the largest producer of pulses in the world at 19 MT, as well as their biggest importer - 3.5 MT.

Yet, nearly a quarter of Indians do not get sufficient food to meet their daily nutritional needs. Some 48 percent of children under the age of five are stunted, 20 percent wasted and 43 percent are underweight. Seven out of every 10 children age 6-59 months are anaemic. More than half of women (55 percent) and almost one-quarter of men (24 percent) are anaemic. States with high incidence of poverty include Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

Results of the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 released in July 2015 show some 30 percent of rural households are landless, and a major part of their income comes from manual, casual labour. It further states that over a quarter of India's rural population lives below the poverty line with a per capita income as low as 816 rupees ($13). Over 62 percent (roughly 107 million) of rural households qualify as "deprived". Of these over 90 percent do not have a regular salaried job. Of the roughly 180 million rural households nearly 23 million live in one-room mud or thatched houses. Roughly two decades of rapid overall economic growth has not proportionately benefited the rural economy.

Rural poverty also has strong caste dimensions which manifest themselves in inherent social discrimination in public policy and programs.A slew of government programmes to boost agriculture and rural employment, such as the MGNREGA or the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, though helping in mitigating poverty have only met with partial success. Agriculture still remains largely rain fed (60%) and vulnerable to the vagaries of the monsoon. And so are the fates of millions of Indian farmers.

Among several other programmes, the new five-year Rs 50,000 crore scheme called Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna (Prime minister's Agriculture Irrigation Plan) to improve irrigation infrastructure may go a long way to mitigate Indian agriculture's total dependence on rains. There is also growing concern on soil health while efforts are on to make agriculture more sustainable.