When people think of India’s economy, many think of its exploding service and technology sectors. Yet for decades, agriculture has played a major role in India’s socioeconomic growth. Farming contributes nearly 18% to India’s GDP, and about 70% of the country’s rural households depend on agriculture and its related industries for a living.
India has made tremendous progress in agriculture since gaining independence, in terms of output, yields, and total cultivated land. In the decades since then, the country’s focused pursuit of agricultural self-sufficiency has created a high-growth agriculture sector fueled by global demand for high-value food and non-food products. Today, India is the:
Like most of the world, India has also experienced a digital transformation. Twenty years ago, only 10% of the population had any kind of telecommunication access. Now, close to 80% of households have access to a cell phone. The mobile revolution has transformed the lives of rural households, many of whom still rely on outdated farming techniques, by connecting them to research, technology, and expertise on modern farming practices.
Despite these advances, India has fallen behind some developed (and even some developing) countries in agricultural productivity and balanced nutrient usage. Although the Indian economy has diversified and grown, agriculture's contribution to GDP has steadily declined. Several factors account for this reduced output, including a heavy reliance on rainwater for irrigation, mostly small-farm land holdings, and broad soil infertility. Overcoming these challenges can propel India’s agricultural transformation forward.
India is home to about 17% of the world’s population but only has access to 4% of the usable water resources. Since irrigation is inadequate throughout most of the country, agriculture is highly dependent on weather patterns. Monsoon season provides much of the water Indian crops need each year. But this dependence on natural rainfall causes major fluctuations in the production of food grains and other crops from year to year. A year of heavy rainfall will result in high cereal grain yields, but it may be followed by a year of shortages resulting from a lack of rain. Such variation creates instability in crop production that can lead to price and income fluctuations.
Small land holdings
Ownership of agricultural land in India is characterized by small and fragmented land holdings. A few large parcels of land are owned by a relatively small group of farmers, landlords, and money-lenders, while the vast majority of farmers own very little land. In some densely populated and highly cultivated states, the average size of land holdings is less than one hectare. These small farms may be subdivided even further, making them economically unviable.
The increased demand for high value crops both domestically and globally has reduced soil fertility throughout India. For decades, farmers have been able to grow high yield crops all year with an over application of some of the major macronutrients, depleting the soil of its already limited reserves of micronutrients, such as boron (B). Boron deficiency is linked to smaller yields of key crops, including most of the cash and horticulture crops, and is said to affect about one-third of the country’s cultivated soils, especially in the eastern and northeastern states (Indian Journal of Agronomy, 2014). Chemical bulk fertilizers are heavily driven by the subsidy mechanism and farmers are often rely on bulk fertilizer to nourish their crops but neglect to apply manure and micronutrients.
Boron improves production
To improve output and ensure food security long into the future, India will need to increase food grain, fruits and vegetable production, while also improving yields for important crops such as pulses, sugarcane, and cotton.
Boron supplementation is a simple and cost effective approach that can help to reduce the impact of boron deficiency caused by weather events and soil depletion, and optimize production on even the smallest land holdings. By making B a regular part of the fertilizer schedule for high-demand crops, farmers across India can make boron available to their plants all season long, regardless of soil type or growing conditions.
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