Agricultural productivity depends on several factors. These include the availability and quality of agricultural inputs such as land, water, seeds and fertilizers, access to agricultural credit and crop insurance, assurance of remunerative prices for agricultural produce, and storage and marketing infrastructure, among others.
As of 2009-10, more than half of the total workforce (53%) of the country, were employed in agriculture. The share of population dependent on agriculture for its livelihood consists of landowners, tenant farmers who cultivate a piece of land, and agricultural labourers who are employed on these farms. Agricultural output has been volatile over the past 10 years, with annual growth ranging from 8.6% in 2010-11, to -0.2% in 2014-15 and 0.8% in 2015-16.
The country’s requirement for food grains in order to provide for its population is estimated to be 300 million tonnes by 2025.The estimate of food grains production in 2015-16 is 252 million. This implies that the crop output needs to grow at an annual average of 2%, which is close to the current growth trend.
Despite high levels of production, agricultural yield in India is lower than other large producing countries. Agricultural yield is the quantity of a crop produced on one unit of land. Agricultural yield of food grains has increased by more than four times since 1950-51, and was 2,070 kg/hectare in 2014-15.
Besides providing for the livelihood of farmers and labourers, the agricultural sector also addresses food security for the nation. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations defines food security as a situation where all people have, at all times, physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets the dietary needs and food preferences for a healthy and active life. Despite high levels of production in the country, 15% of the population continues to be under-nourished, as per 2014 estimates.
India enacted the National Food Security Act in 2013. The 2013 Act aims to provide food and nutritional security to people by ensuring access to adequate amount of quality food at affordable prices. Under the 2013 Act, persons belonging to certain categories are provided with food grains (wheat, rice and coarse cereals) at subsidised prices. As of 2015, 68% of the population, i.e. 81 crore persons (of which 77% are in rural areas and 23% in urban areas) are covered under the Act.
Over the past few decades, with increasing per capita income and access to a variety of food groups, the consumption pattern of food in the country has been changing. Dependence on cereals for nutrition has decreased and the consumption of protein has increased. Sources of protein include pulses, meat, seafood, and eggs, among others. According to report by the Finance Ministry, incentivising the production of pulses in the country, poor levels of nutrition suggest that increasing the consumption of proteins should be the policy priority for the government. The report estimates that the cost of pulses as a source of protein is lower than other sources. Under the current domestic scenario, India is facing a shortage of pulses which is being managed by increasing imports. Thus, the struggle to find a balance between economic growth and ensuring food security continues.