Changes in Cropping Patterns
What is a cropping pattern?
The cropping pattern refers to the set and combination of crops that farmers opt for in a particular region, in their farm practices. The cropping pattern in India depends on certain factors such as-
- Geographical factors: Soil, landforms, precipitation, moisture, altitude, etc.
- Infrastructure factors: Irrigation, storage, transport, trade and marketing, post-harvest handling and processing, etc.
- Economic factors: Financial resource base, size and type of landholding, land ownership, household needs of food, fuel, fodder, fiber and finance, labor availability, etc.
- Socio-cultural factors: Food habits, tradition, festivals, etc.
- Technological factors: Improved varieties of seeds and plants, plant protection, mechanization, access to information, etc.
Cropping patterns in India
One of the characteristic features of agriculture in India is the multiplicity of cropping patterns, which is mainly due to the dependence on rainfall, and other socio-economic conditions of the farmers.
- Rainfed agriculture in India still accounts for over 65% of the total cropped area (over 92.8 million hectares). A large diversity of cropping systems exists under the rainfed and dryland areas. There’s an underlying practice of intercropping in India, which is mainly due to the greater risks involved in cultivating a larger area under a single crop.
- The prevailing socio-economic conditions which lead to multiplicity of cropping patterns in India include dependency of a large population on agriculture, high population pressure on land resources, small average landholding size (just 1.08 hectares in 2015-16).
The pattern of farm holdings in India-
- 56.15 million hectares marginal (less than 1 hectare)
- 17.92 million hectares small (between 1-2 hectares)
- 13.25 million semi-medium (between 2-4 hectares)
These account for 90 percent of the 97.15 million operational landholdings.
Consequences of prevalent land holding pattern in India
As 90 percent of the total operational landholding in India accounts for less than 4 hectares, with a substantial portion of landholding under 1 hectare, the crop production in India is considered a ‘subsistence’ rather than a ‘commercial’ activity.
A substantial number of farmers in India resort to subsistence farming, i.e. they grow crops in their farms to fulfill their own needs, without having any surplus for trade. And these farmers rotate a particular crop combination over a period of 3 to 4 years on different farm fields.
Different cropping systems in India
It is estimated that more than 250 double-cropping systems are followed in India. And 30 important cropping system has been identified-
rice-wheat, rice-rice, rice-gram, rice-mustard, rice-sorghum, rice-groundnut
pearl-millet-gram, pearl-millet-sorghum, pearl-millet-mustard
cotton-groundnut, cotton-gram, cotton-wheat, cotton-sorghum, cotton-safflower,
sorghum-sorghum, sorghum-groundnut, sorghum-gram, sorghum-wheat, sorghum-rice
Changes in cropping patterns
During the period, Indian farmers determined the cropping system mainly on the basis of the socio-cultural and economic factors of that time. And these systems followed by the farmers were developed after a long process of trial and error by their forefathers. Subsistence farming was highly prevalent during the pre-green revolution period and the farmers generally grew a combination of different crops, mainly because high-risk associated with growing only a single crop. The dependency on agriculture for livelihood was also very high during the period, and so was the population pressure. The production wasn’t very resilient and various parts of the country often suffered from the short supply. The government introduced many incentives, but the cropping pattern was too stubborn to change by these incentives.
During the Green Revolution period
1965 onwards, there was a major shift in the cropping patterns. This was fuelled by the New Agriculture Strategy (NAS), popularly known as the Green Revolution. Under the NAS, modern techniques of agriculture such as the High Yielding Varieties (HYV) of seeds, chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, modern irrigation techniques, newer methods of cultivation (the mechanized form), and agrochemicals were introduced in Indian agriculture. Hence, modern and scientific methods of agriculture were introduced in order to enhance the production and the farmer’s conditions, and to make India ‘self-sufficient’ in terms of food crops, and to make the commercialization of Indian agriculture possible.
Apart from technological initiatives, financial supports were also given to the farmers such as financial support to buy the inputs of farming and the introduction of MSP (Minimum Support Price) for many other crops, which had a major impact on farmers’ choice of crops in their cropping system, as the ‘wheat rice’ cropping system was extensively predominant in various regions.
The Green Revolution was initiated and succeeded due to the expertise and leadership of M.S. Swaminathan and Norman Borlaug, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
Finally, by the late 1980s, India was able to achieve self-sufficiency in food grains. So, the success of the Green Revolution and enhancement in production paved the way for commercial farming. Certain big farmers emerged and initiated commercial farming. And farming in India didn’t just remain a mere subsistence activity as the commercial dimension entered Indian agriculture.
The farmers used the traditional cropping patterns, but now new modern inputs were involved in farming such as using HYV seeds, chemical fertilizers, modern irrigation methods (some of which proved to be water-intensive and ultimately unsustainable), etc. However, during all this, the geographical dimensions of crop selection were undermined.
Ultimately, the modern inputs of farming had their repercussions. The extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides reduced the fertility of the soil. As rice requires a large amount of water, groundwater, through modern irrigation techniques, was used immensely. Its effects were seen as the groundwater level started declining. Hence, the government recognized that these farm practices, even though they increased farm production, were damaging the ecological balance and were unsustainable. So, the Government of India adopted the idea of sustainable agriculture by 1997.
Further changes in cropping patterns
After the commencement of the economic reforms of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization) in 1991, further changes and newer opportunities emerged in the farming sector. However, with these newer opportunities, emerged new challenges.
- The production of foodgrains didn’t keep pace with the growing population. And so the food security schemes pressurized the policymakers to balance between the production of food grains and the growing population.
- Globalization also brought in new opportunities, as the international markets were opened to Indian farmers. However, it was quite difficult for the farmers to compete in the global markets and the cheap farm produce. So, the need for mechanization and further modernization of farming was felt to make Indian farmers competent in the global market. Hence, India made huge investments in the agriculture sector, and ultimately, India accepted agriculture as an industry in 2000. The Indian government also gave a nod to corporate and contract farming.
- One of the major challenges was the unsustainability of these modern farming practices. So, sustainable farming practices became extremely important.
Current cropping pattern in India
The current system of cropping patterns in India is inclined towards water-intensive crops. This system is mainly due to various incentive schemes by the Government of India such as high subsidies on fertilizers, electricity, and water. And finally, the MSP (Minimum Support Price), which has become one of the major determiners of the prevalent cropping patterns in the country.
- According to the Asian Water Development Outlook of 2016, of the Asian Development Bank, around 89% of the groundwater extracted is used for irrigation. Crops like paddy and sugarcane consume more than 60% of irrigation water.
- There’s a decline in fertilizer response ratio which represents a major concern, the decline in the responsiveness of soil fertility to fertilizer application. So, there’s a need to use an optimal dose of fertilizers based on the health status of the soil. Moreover, there’s an urgent need to promote sustainable agriculture practices such as using neem coated urea, organic and water-soluble fertilizers, micronutrients, etc.
- Ultimately, there’s a serious need to move towards organic and natural farming techniques. One initiative towards this is the ZNBF (Zero Budget Natural Farming) which aims to eliminate chemical pesticides and to promote eco-friendly agronomic practices.
That’s all for the changes in cropping patterns in India, let us know your perception about the topic in the comment section.