The history of Indian agriculture dates back to 9000 BC with the early cultivation of plants, and domestication of crops and animals. Settled life soon followed with implements and techniques being developed for agriculture. Double monsoons led to two harvests being reaped in one year. Indian products soon reached the world and exotic crops were introduced to India. Some Plants and animals ,considered essential to their survival by the Indians, were started to be worshiped.
The middle ages saw irrigation channels reach a new level of sophistication in India and Indian crops affecting the economies of other regions of the world under Islamic patronage. Land and water management systems were developed with an aim of providing uniform growth. Despite some stagnation during the later modern era the independent Republic of India was able to develop a comprehensive agricultural program.
Today, India ranks second in the world in farm output. Agriculture and allied activities like forestry , plantation, horticulture etc. account for approximately 17% of the GDP, provides employment to over 60% of the total workforce and is the largest economic sector which plays a significant role in the overall socio-economic development of India.
India is the largest producer in the world of milk, cashew nuts, coconuts, tea, ginger, turmeric and black pepper. It also has the world's largest cattle population . It is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut and inland fish. It is the third largest producer of tobacco. India accounts for 10% of the world fruit production .
India's population is growing faster than its ability to produce food grains. The required level of investment for the development of marketing, storage and cold storage infrastructure is estimated to be huge. The government has implemented various schemes to raise investment in marketing infrastructure. Among these schemes are Construction of Rural godowns, Market Research and Information Network, and Development / Strengthening of Agricultural Marketing Infrastructure, Grading and Standardization.
The Indian Agricultural Research Institute, established in 1905, was responsible for the research leading to the "Indian Green Revolution" of the 1970s. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research is the apex body in agriculture and related fields, including research and education. The Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute develops new techniques for the design of agricultural experiments, analyses data in agriculture, and specializes in statistical techniques for animal and plant breeding.
"Operation Flood" the world's largest integrated dairy development program, attempted to establish linkages between rural milk producers and urban consumers by organizing farmer-owned and -managed dairy cooperative societies. It was a grand success.
Slow agricultural growth is a concern for policymakers as some two-thirds of India’s people depend on rural employment for a living. Current agricultural practices are neither economically nor environmentally sustainable and India's yields for many agricultural commodities are low. Poorly maintained irrigation systems and almost universal lack of good extension services are among the factors responsible. Farmers' access to markets is hampered by poor roads, inadequate market infrastructure, and excessive regulation. Illiteracy, general socio-economic backwardness, slow progress in implementing land reforms and inadequate or inefficient finance and marketing services for farm produce. The average size of land holdings is very small (less than 20,000 m²) and is subject to fragmentation, due to land ceiling acts and in some cases, family disputes. Such small holdings are often over-manned, resulting in disguised unemployment and low productivity of labour. Adoption of modern agricultural practices and use of technology is inadequate, hampered by ignorance of such practices, high costs and impracticality in the case of small land holdings. Irrigation facilities are inadequate which result in farmers still being dependent on rainfall, specifically the Monsoon season. A good monsoon results in a robust growth for the economy as a whole, while a poor monsoon leads to a sluggish growth. Following are the some other issues those need to be promptly addressed.
SOIL & WATER CONSERVATION
The problem of conserving soil and moisture is also of very great importance in the extensive regions of low and uncertain rainfall, forming parts of Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. These areas experience scanty, ill-distributed and highly erosive rains, undulating topography, high wind velocity and generally shallow soils. The period of heavy downpours from August to October is the period of the heaviest erosion in these regions.
Wind erosion also has been responsible for destroying the valuable top soil in many areas. Movement of sand dunes of desert in Rajasthan is one of the vital and outstanding problems facing the country today. An extreme example of sand movement from the coast is to be seen in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat where the once flourishing ports are now covered with advancing sand dunes.
In addition to the erosion of the cultivated fields, neglected pastures and wastelands, considerable roadside erosion also takes place owing to the defective highway engineering. Defective drainage and water-logging throw appreciable areas out of cultivation every year and indirectly increase the erosion hazards. In India, there is very little area free from the hazard of soil erosion. It is estimated that out of 305.9 million hectares of reported area, 145 million hectares is in need of conservation measures. Severe erosion occurs in the sub humid and per humid areas due to high rainfall and improper management of land and water.
Agricultural land in the major part of the country suffers from erosion. Apart from reducing the yields through the loss of nutrients, erosion destroys the soil resources itself every year. For example, in Maharashtra over 70 per cent of the cultivated land has been affected by erosion in varying degrees and 32 per cent of the land having been highly eroded is no longer cultivable. In the Sholapur district, nearly 17 per cent of the land of medium depth (more than 45 cm) has deteriorated into shallow soils (less than 45 cm) in 75 years from 1870 to 1945.
The denudation of forests and vegetation in the Shivalik Hills, the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats and other mountain ranges of the Deccan have resulted in floods and chos (rainy season torrents) which destroy good agricultural land . For instance, the chows in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab covered an area of 19,282 ha which increased to 32,022 ha in 1884, to 37,730 ha in 1897 and to about 60,000 ha in 1936.
In the Himalayan regions, landslides and landslips are very serious problems caused by improper land management. The recent landslide disaster in the winter of 1969 in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal is a reminder of the bad management of land resources and a portent of worse things to come.
The erosion problem along the mountain roads is assuming very serious proportions. The Border Road Organization is finding this problem so acute that a National Seminar was organized on the problems of controlling erosion and stabilizing slopes along the highways. A huge amount of money is spent every year for keeping these important lines of communication open.
Costly reservoirs constructed under the river-valley projects are being silted up at an alarming rate owing to the denudation of forest vegetation, the cultivation of steep slopes without adopting any conservation practices, landslides, torrents, etc. Morever, as the pressure on land increases there will be a tendency and a demand for opening up marginal and steep lands for cultivation. These lands will be in greater need for measure to conserve soil and water.
Owing to our present status as a developing country we are not yet faced with the problem of environmental pollution, though the pollution of soil, water and atmopsphere is round the corner as we increase the pace of our development and exploit theses resources.
Sediment load is certainly one of our greatest agricultural hazards, particularly in the case of rivers and canals. Since the sediment load from agricultural lands not only continue unabated, but also on the increase and the sources of sediment are multiplying because of the fast rate of our developmental activities.
In fact, if erosion is permitted to continue at its present rate, it is possible that all work will be the reclamation of soil rather than the conservation and management of soil and water.
India is rich in water resources, being endowed with a network of great rivers & vast alluvial basins to hold groundwater. Conditions, however, vary widely from region to region. Whereas there are some chronically drought affected areas, there are others which are frequently subject to damage by floods. On the whole, under the pressure of rapid population growth, the available resources of water are being developed & depleted at a fast rate & the situation seriously underlines the need for taking up integrated plans for water conservation & utilization for every agro-ecological area to meet the increasing demands of irrigation, water harvesting, human & livestock consumption, expanding industry, hydro-electric power generation, recreation, navigation & other uses.
WEATHER AND CROP
Growth and development are primarily governed by the environmental conditions of the soil & climate.The success or failure of farming is intimately related to the prevailing weather conditions.The modification of weather,except on a very limited scale, is yet in the realm of experimentation. It is, nevertheless, possible to optimise farm production by adjusting cropping patterns & agronomic practices to suit the climate of a locality.
weather assumes significance in nearly every phase of agricultural activity from the preparatory tillage to harvesting and storage.Even after the produce is stored, weather continues to affect the fortunes of the farmers, as the reports of good or bad weather elsewhere tend to upset the price trends.
As weather is the single major limiting factor in crop production successfull farming calls for appropriate decisions in the light of weather conditions in the matter of the time of sowing, transplanting, scheduling of irigation, timing of fertiliser application, using of pesticides,etc.
A sound knowledge of the climatic factors and an understanding of the complex processes of interaction between the climate and the biological processes of the Plants are essential to a scientific approach to farming, based on planned cropping patterns and improved land and water management practices.
India is a land of many climates and varieties of soils affording scope for much diversity in agriculture. The geographic location and the physical features largely determine the climate of the country.
The lofty Himalayas run along its entire length in the north. To the south of this barrier are the alluvial plains watered by great rivers. In the farther south ,there lies the plateau of peninsular India skirted by narrow coastal strips, the Arabian Sea to the west, the Bay of Bengal to the east and the Indian Ocean to the south.
The pattern of rainfall all over India reflects the climatic variations in the different parts of the country. IT varies from per-humid in north-east India to arid in Rajasthan. A belt of arid or semi-arid climates extends from the north to the south, dividing the humid climates of the west coast & the central & eastern parts of the country, where the annual rainfall is generally less than 1,000 mm. This belt is the dry farming tract of India where new crops to augment food production can be introduced.
Rainfall is the most important of the climatic factors. The areas of very heavy rainfall exist on the windward side of the Western Ghats, the Khasi Hills & the Himalayas. These are the source regions for many of the major river systems of the country, particularly the Himalayan ranges. The north-western parts of India are the driest, Rajasthan receiving less than 500 mm of rain annually (table 1). A large part of the country receives, on an average, rainfall less than 1000 mm per annum. Moreover, the average annual rainfall of 1050 mm is the highest in any part of the world. The irrigation in the semi-arid or arid belt is not sufficient & the water balance is precarious. The agricultural potential of these dry tracts can be increased in the near future only by adopting a suitable package of practices aimed at the optimum utilisation of available moisture potential through improved soil and water management.
South-west monsoon:With the exception of Jammu & Kashmir in the extreme north & in Tamil Nadu in the south, 80-90 percent of the rainfall over the country occurs mostly during the south-west monsoon season. The success of agriculture in India, therefore, depends primarily on the timely onset, the proper amount & the distribution of rains in a season. The dates of the onset of the monsoon in different parts of the country & the intensity & the distribution of rain display large variations in time & space & from one year to another. Normally, the south-west monsoon reaches the Kerala coast by the end of May, advances along the Konkan coast in early June & extends over the entire country by the end of July. The rains continue up to the end of September, when the south-west monsoon recedes. In November & December, the north-east monsoon is the main contributor to the amount of rainfall over the south-eastern portion of the Peninsula.
Monsoon depressions: The activity of the south-west monsoon is not uniform in time & space during the whole season. The intensity & distribution of rainfall are controlled by a series of tropical depressions or low-pressure systems which originate near the head of the Bay of Bengal & travel across the country in a west-north-westerly direction. Heavy rainfall occurs mainly to the south of the tracks of these depressions. Three or four depressions form in a month during the monsoon. When in some years they are scarce, the rainfall will be confined to the Western Ghats & the mountain ranges of Assam & the foothills of the Himalayas, with the interior parts of the country not getting their usual share. And there is drought in these areas.Even when the depressions are of normal frequency & intensity, their tracks determine the distribution of rainfall over northern & central India. When they follow a north-westerly track across the plains of the Ganga, there will be floods in northern India & drought in the Peninsula. The reverse is true when they take a westerly track across central India when the northern states are affected by drought, The conditions in the states, where the tracks of depressions terminate, e.g. in Gujarat & Rajasthan, tend to be erratic. When a depression reaches these states, they get abundant rains; otherwise, they are subject to a prolonged drought. The monsoon depressions can be said to be the single factor that controls the distribution of rainfall over the whole of India. These, in turn, affect both irrigation & agriculture.
Breaks in the monsoon: The activity of the monsoon is brought to a halt for a week or two almost all over the country, occasionally during the monsoon. These are called 'breaks' in the monsoon & may occur in any of the monsoon months. The more prolonged breaks are likely during the mid-monsoon month, i.e. August. When a long break occurs during July at the beginning of the cropping season, its effect on the growing crops is quite harmful. The break in the monsoon is generally heralded by the shift of the monsoon trough from the plains of northern India to the hills. Simultaneously, a few low-pressure waves move westwards from the southern part of the Bay of Bengal across the southern part of the Peninsula. Consequently rains are confined to the hills & the sub mountain districts of the eastern Himalayas & to the extreme south of the Peninsula. Owing to very heavy rains in the catchments of the Brahmaputra & its tributaries & in the catchments of some of the rivers of northern Bengal & Bihar, floods in these rivers are possible during the 'breaks' season. For the rest of the country , it is a rainless period & may occasionally lead to disastrous consequences owing to crop failures over wide areas.
Cropping activities go on all the year-round in India, provided water is available for crops. In northern India, there are two distinct seasons, kharif (July to October), and rabi (October to March). Crops grown between March and June are known as zaid. In some parts of the country, there are no such distinct seasons, but there they have their own classification of seasons. The village revenue officials keep plot-wise record of crops grown in each season. These are annually compiled district-wise, state-wise and on all-India basis. From these records one could calculate the relative abundance of a crops or a group of crops in a region. These crops are grown sole or mixed (mixed-cropping), or in a definite sequence (rotational cropping). The land may be occupied by one crop during one season (mono-cropping), or by two crops (double-cropping) which may be grown in a year in sequence. Of late, the trend is even more than two crops (multiple-cropping) in a year. These intensive cropping may be done either in sequence or even there may be relay-cropping-one crop under sown in a standing crop. With wide-rowed slow growing cropping patterns, companion crops may be grown. There are various ways of utilizing the land intensively. It is proposed to give a synoptic view of cropping patterns prevalent in the country. Before dealing with the cropping patterns, a brief description of the factors that determine the cropping systems of an individual locality or region are briefly presented here.
Farm management refers to the existing pattern of the resource use & crop mix and supervision. An intelligent farm manager may go a little further & look after the farm machinery to keep it going. Farm management, is however, much more than that. Here we are not just concerned with the distribution of labor & irrigation water for day-to-day operations. The emphasis is on the decision-making function of evaluating & choosing between alternative strategies. A major concern is about adjustments which are more suitable & profitable & about exploring new situations & opportunities for maximization of income & satisfying other goals of a farmer. It is the approach under which the opportunity costs of the various resources are evaluated & adjustments in resource use & enterprise mix are made to secure higher levels of farm income. In the context of the recent technological breakthrough, management today should be viewed as a process within a rapidly moving frame of reference.
Government policies should change the economic environment to help the interests of the farmers to converge on the national goals. Studies on farm management to determine the responsiveness of the farmers to different levels of prices become extremely relevant in inducing the farmers to produce the quantities of different agricultural products & services needed by society. A rational pricing policy for water is needed. Canal water, for e.g. is charged for without any direct relation to the quantity supplied. As a result, there is no incentive to the farmer to allocate water in the most economical manner. Farm management helps to identify such uneconomic practices & the most limiting factors. Irrigation or power (the bullock versus the tractor) may be a more important restriction than the limits imposed by land. In areas where water rather than land is the principal limiting factor & the marginal value productivity of irrigation water is very high, it should be most carefully used rather than over irrigating a few hectares of crops needing high water consumption. Good farm management can lead to a highly productive use of farm resources and imbibe the technological revolution in agriculture.