India’s agriculture is diverse in every way you can measure it. Rice is the world’s largest commodity product and India is the world’s second largest rice producer close behind China, but way ahead of the next producers. Yet aside from rice, India is a leading world producer of buffalo milk, cow milk, wheat, sugar cane, mangoes, cotton, bananas, and potatoes. Fifty-three percent of the Indian labor force is involved with agriculture. By comparison, only nineteen percent of the labor force is involved with industry and twenty-eight percent with services.
Green Revolution For Some
Since independence from Britain in 1947, India has become self-sufficient at producing its own food, although it took until the mid 1970s to accomplish. India’s green revolution began in the late 1960s after several years of severe drought. The original focus was on wheat, which is grown in the Northern states of Punjab, Hryana and Uttar Pradesh where water is plentiful from mountain runoff and the climate is temperate. India’s Green Revolution brought higher yielding, disease resistant wheat varieties together with better farming methods. Traditional small plot farming was displaced in a few areas in favor of much larger farming efforts that yielded much higher productivity.
From it’s large agricultural production, India exports between eight and eleven percent of its agricultural production, but there is a tremendous opportunity for it to export far more. Just under thirty percent of India’s population lives below the official United Nations poverty level, and the reason for this is substantially low agricultural productivity. Even with the advances of the Green Revolution a very large number of Indian farmers live in rural places with poor roads, poor electrical service and still farm on small plots. The lack of refrigeration, transportation, water availability and investment for small farmers continue to hold back their productivity. Even on the most productive farms, there remain large opportunities for improving agricultural productivity.
India’s dilemma is, how to develop agriculture, industry, education and military all at the same time. With a huge population these decisions about a development path forward always involve tradeoffs. In order to attain food self-sufficiency the most favorable regions have gotten the most development attention, leaving other areas to languish –at least thus far.
In the traditional agricultural cycle, the tradeoff is between productive land and military capacity available to protect that land. For thousands of years, land that was suitable for growing crops was farmed poorly and new land was needed for expansion as older soils were left to replenish their nutrients. A tribal society always need to protect their productive land from both animal and human intruders. Land and military were the two pieces of a cycle that bounced between land that was producing too little to support the tribe and the ability to establish new land for planting. India has to deal with similar problems.
Military To Protect Land
India needs a modern military to patrol the oceans from East Africa to Southeast Asia, and to control both it’s northern boarders and internal state unrest. All of these demands are tied in one way or another to India’s agricultural lands. The most prominent land disputes occurring in India happen along the Northern boarders where tribal claims fall into disputes over water availability.
In Kashmir, the most Northeastern region, there is a fifty year old dispute with Pakistan. Ostensibly the dispute is between the Muslim and Hindi peoples of this territory, but four out of five of Pakistan’s rivers begin in the highlands of Kashmir. The dispute is really around control of these rivers’ headwaters and the possibility that they could be cutoff or redirected for agricultural use in India, thus devastating Pakistan’s tribal farmers. It takes military presence to maintain the status quo in Kashmir and even with the military, it’s not a happy situation for Kashmir residents.
The combination of agricultural development needs and military resource needs is at the center of India’s agricultural cycle. India has the world’s fourth largest military forces, with a combined strength of over 4.7 million personnel. India has the world’s second largest population with over one billion, two hundred and twenty million people, so less than five percent of Indians are in the military and the Indian military completely consists of volunteer personnel. The primary stated purpose of the Indian military is to assert the territorial integrity of India, which means its land.
A lot more productivity can be arranged from all of India’s agriculture, small holding and large, but the financial support has to be split between agriculture and other government expenditures, with military expenses representing 2.5% of India’s gross domestic product and ranking India as the world’s eighth largest military spender. The tradeoff between military expenses to protect the integrity of territory, or land, versus agricultural support to improve productivity is a continuous cyclical struggle. Since 1991, when India significantly opened up to global markets, this tradeoff has produced a lot of agricultural productivity growth, and is likely to continue.
Currently the military is investing in new naval ships and submarines to extend the reach of India’s protection in surrounding oceans. The military is also investing in global positioning satellite technology to aide in their coverage of the waters from Africa to Southeast Asia. All branches of the military are involved with joint tactical operations with other countries’ militaries. The Indian military is also directly involved with India’s farmers by supporting water supply in various flood zones and drought districts. But water supply issues are not the only touch point between military and agriculture within India.
There are twenty-nine states, six union territories and one national territory in India. Some of these states are very productive and others are not. Many of the states have social cultures that speak different languages, practice different religions and would prefer to separate from the existing state structure. The military is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the existing state system unless the national legislature changes it. There are times when military reserves are used to maintain the peace.
In order to relieve poverty, which afflicts over thirty percent for the population and is higher in rural areas, agricultural improvement is an ongoing challenge. Current agricultural methods are economically and environmentally unsustainable, so change is an absolute necessity driving the agricultural cycle. More and more land has to be brought to sustainable, productive agricultural use. A third of all food that is grown in India rots due to inefficient supply chains. Irrigation facilities are not available in many places, and India’s agricultural subsidies actually hamper better agricultural investment. Small land holdings and ignorance of modern agricultural methods are far too common. Poor roads and poor electrical service, as mentioned early are also significant problems working against agricultural progress.
India’s agricultural cycle involves integrating more completely into global commodity markets and reinvesting tax revenues from increased export sales into further land improvements for modernized agriculture. There would be opportunity for outside companies to invest in India’s agricultural improvement, but currently India’s laws prohibit foreign investment in the retail sector, which is where most of that opportunity exists.