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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

History of Agriculture in India

History of agriculture in India dates back to the Indus Valley civilization era and even before that in some parts of southern India. The agriculture sector is one of the most important industries in the Indian economy, which means it is also a huge employer. Approximately 60 percent of the Indian population works in the agriculture industry, contributing about 18.8 percent (2020-2021) to the Indian’s GDP. This share decreases gradually with each year, with development in other areas of the country’s economy.

Indian agriculture began by 9000 BC in North-West India with the early cultivation of the plants, and domestication of crops and animals. Indian sub-continent agriculture was the larger producer of wheat and other grain. People settled life soon, followed by the implements and techniques being developed for agriculture. Double monsoons led to two harvests being reaped in one year. Indian products soon reached the world via existing trading networks and foreign crops were introduced to India. Plants and animals were considered essential to their survival by the Indians, and they worshiped and venerated them. The middle age saw irrigation channels reach a new level of sophistication in India and Indian crops affecting the economies of other regions of the world. 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 programme.

Early History:

During 8000-4000 BC, planning crops, storing grains in granaries, and rearing of sheep and goat was visible in North-East India and spread to North-West India and South Asia. The North-West region appears to be the corridor for the entry of these. By the 5th millennium BC, the Indus cotton industry was well developed, and spinning and fabrication continued to be practised. Mango and muskmelon are native to the Indian subcontinent. The farmers of Indus Valley (Pakistan and North-West India) grew peas, sesame, and dates. Sugarcane was originally from tropical South East-Asia and New Guinea. Wild rice cultivation appeared in Belan and Ganges Valley regions of Northern India as early as 4530 and 5440 BC respectively. Rice was cultivated in the Indus Valley as well. Rice cultivation spread from India into South-East Asia.

Indus Valley Civilization:

In the Indus Valley civilization, irrigation was developed around 4500 BC, sophisticated irrigation and water storage systems were developed in 3000 BC and canal irrigation in 2600 BC, and the animal drawn plough in 2500 BC. During 2800 BC, they started growing millets and pulses.

Iron Age:

In India (1500 BC-200 AD) jute was cultivated to make ropes and cordage. Some useful animals and trees like Peepal (Sacred Fig) and Banyan were worshiped. Ayurveda was developed, and fruit trees were grown in the mountain area.

Middle Age:

During 200-1200 AD, the diffusion of Indian and Persian irrigation technology gave rise to an irrigation system which brought about economic growth and growth of material culture. Rice production continued to dominate in Gujarat and wheat dominated North and Central India.

Mughal Era:

During the Mughal era (1526-1757) Indian agricultural production increased. Wheat, rice, barley, cotton, indigo, and opium were grown. Maize and tobacco were introduced from America. Indian agriculture was advanced as compared to Europe at that time.

British Era:

In the British era (1757-1947), due to extensive irrigation by canal networks in Punjab, Narmada Valley, and Andhra Pradesh became centres of agrarian reforms. The British gave preference to the crops which were needed for Manchester Industries. Few Indian commercial crops like cotton, indigo, opium, wheat, and rice market was developed. The second half of the 19th century saw some increase in land under cultivation and agricultural production expanded at the rate of 1 percent per year by the later 19th century. From 1891-1946, the annual growth rate of all crops output was 0.4 percent and food-grain output was practically stagnant. Non-food crops were doing better than food crops as those crops were given more attention to get more profits.

Independent India:

Since independence, India has become one of the largest producers of wheat, edible oils, potato, spices, tea, fishing, fruits and vegetables in the world. Various Institutions like Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Agricultural Universities, National Dairy Department Board, and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development promoted agriculture. The Grow more Food Campaign (1940s) and the Integrated Production Programme (1950s) focused on food and cash crops supply respectively. The Five- Year Plan of India, land reclamation, land development, mechanization, electrification, use of chemicals, and development of the agriculture orient followed under government supervision initiated from 1960s onwards included the Green Revolution in India (1960s), Yellow Revolution (oilseeds 1986-1990), Operation Food (dairy 1970-1996) and Blue Revolution (fishing 1973-2002) etc. Newer innovations of agro-processing and biotechnology played an important role in agriculture.

Due to growth and prosperity, a strong middle class emerged as the main consumer of fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, and meat. The per capita consumption of cereals declined from 192 to 152 kilograms from 1977 to 1999 while the consumption of fruits increased by 553 percent, vegetables by 167 percent, dairy products by 105 percent, and non-vegetarian products by 85 percent in India’s rural area alone. Urban areas experienced a similar increase.

There were about 45 million agricultural labourers in 1999-2000. These labourers recorded the highest poverty in India from 1993-2000. The Green Revolution introduced high yielding varieties of crops which also increased the usage of fertilizers and pesticides which resulted in serious problems of pollution. There has been a shift to organic agriculture particularly for exported commodities. During 2003-2004, agriculture accounted for 22 percent of India’s GDP and employed 58 percent of the country's workforce. India is the world’s largest producer of milk, fruits, cashew nuts, coconuts, ginger, turmeric, banana, sapota, pulses, and black pepper. India is the second largest producer of groundnut, wheat, vegetables, sugar, and fish in the world. India is also the third largest producer of tobacco and rice, the fourth largest producer of coarse grains, fifth largest producer of eggs, and the seventh largest producer of meat.

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