Though India has arable land area of 159.7 million hectares (394.6 million acres) is the second largest in the world, after the United States, but its production is lacking behind from other countries. Some major problems associated with agriculture may be as follows:
Problem # 1. Instability:
Agriculture in India is largely depending on monsoon. As a result, production of food-grains fluctuates year after year. A year of abundant output of cereals is often followed by a year of acute shortage.
This, in its turn, leads to price income and employment fluctuations. However, for the thirteen year, in successive a normal monsoon has been observed.
Problem # 2. Cropping Pattern:
The crops that are grown in India are divided into two broad categories: food crops and non-food crops. While the former comprises food-grains, sugarcane and other beverages, the latter includes different kinds of fibres and oilseeds.
In recent years there has occurred a fall in agricultural production mainly due to fall in the output of non-food articles. Moreover, rabi production has become as important as kharif production in the late 1990s. In 1999-2000, for example, of the total grain production of 209 Mn. tones, rabi accounted for 104 Mn. tones. This indicates a structural change in agricultural production.
Problem # 3. Land Ownership:
Although the ownership of agricultural land in India is fairly widely distributed, there is some degree of concentration of land holding. Inequality in land distribution is also due to the fact that there are frequent changes in land ownership in India. It is believed that large parcels of land in India are owned by a- relatively small section of the rich farmers, landlords and money-lenders, while the vast majority of farmers own very little amount of land, or no land at all.
Moreover, most holdings are small and uneconomic. So, the advantages of large-scale farming cannot be derived and cost per unit with ‘uneconomic’ holdings is high, output per hectare is hectare is low. As a result, peasants cannot generate sufficient marketable surplus. So, they are not only poor but are often in debt.
Problem # 4. Sub-Division and Fragmentation of Holding:
Due to the growth of population and breakdown of the joint family system, there has occurred continuous sub-division of agricultural land into smaller and smaller plots. At times small farmers are forced to sell a portion of their land to repay their debt. This creates further sub-division of land.
Sub-division, in its turn, leads to fragmentation of holdings. When the size of holdings become smaller and smaller, cultivation becomes uneconomic. As a result, a major portion of land is not brought under the plough.
Such sub-division and fragmentation make the efficient use of land virtually impossible and add to the difficulties of increasing capital equipment on the farm. All these factors account for the low productivity of Indian agriculture.
Problem # 5. Land Tenure:
The land tenure system of India is also far from perfect. In the pre-independence period, most tenants suffered from insecurity of tenancy. They could be evicted any time. However, various steps have been taken after Independence to provide security of tenancy.
Problem # 6. Conditions of Agricultural Labourers:
The conditions of most agricultural labourers in India are far from satisfactory. There is also the problem of surplus labour or disguised unemployment. This pushes the wage rates below the subsistence levels.
Problem # 7. Other Problems:
There are various other problems of Indian agriculture.
These are related to:
(i) The systems and techniques of farming,
(ii) The marketing of agricultural products and
(iii) The indebtedness of the farmers.
These problems may now be discussed separately:
(i) The Systems and Techniques of Farming:
(a) Neglect of crop rotation: Successful conduct of agricultural operations depends upon a proper rotation of crops. If cereals are grown on a plot of land its fertility is reduced to some extent. This can be restored if other crops such as pulses are grown on the same plot on a rotational basis. Most farmers in India are illiterate and do not understand this important point. Since they are not aware of the need for crop rotation, they use the same type of crop and, consequently, the land loses its fertility considerably.
(b) Inadequate use of manures and fertilisers: Inadequate use of manures like cow-dung or vegetable refuge and chemical fertilisers makes Indian agriculture much less productive than Japanese or Chinese agriculture.
(c) The use of poor-quality seeds: In India, not much use has been made of improved varieties of seeds. The main cereals (rice, millets and pulses) are still grown chiefly with unimproved seeds.
(d) Inadequate water supply: Farmers also suffer due to lack of irrigation facilities. Moreover, ordinary varieties of seed can be replaced by better varieties if there is an assured supply of water. The need for the construction of minor irrigation works of a local nature is both urgent and pressing. In fact, the total water potential in the country is more than adequate to irrigate the whole areas under cultivation. However, the present problem is one of discovering cheap and easy methods of utilising these vast supplies of water.
(e) Inadequate use of efficient farm equipment: The method of cultivation in most areas of India are still primitive. Most farmers continue to use native plough and other accessories. However, the problem is not one of shortage of modern machinery. The real problem is that the units of cultivation are too small to permit the use of such machinery.
(ii) Agricultural Marketing: One of the major causes of low income of the Indian farmers is the difficulty in marketing their crops. Due to the small size and scattered nature of agricultural holdings, the productivity per acre is low. Consequently, the collection of these surpluses for the purpose of marketing presents a serious problem.
Agricultural marketing problems arose due to the lack of communications, i.e., connecting the producing centres with the urban areas which are the main centres of consumption. The difficulty of communication prevents the farmer from marketing his own produce. So, he has to rely on a number of middlemen (intermediaries) for the disposal of “his crops at cheap prices.
(iii) Agricultural Credit: The typical Indian farmer is almost always in debt. The farmer is a perennial debtor. Once the farmer falls, into debt due to crop failure or low prices of crops or malpractices of moneylenders he can never come out of it. In fact, a large part of the liabilities of farmers is ‘ancestral debt’. Thus, along with his landed property, he passes on his debt to his successors.
There are four main causes of rural indebtedness:
(a) Low earning power of the borrower
(b) Use of loan for unproductive purposes
(c) The excessively high rate of interest charged by the moneylenders
(d) The manipulation of accounts by the lenders
(iv) Agricultural Prices:
In order to increase food production, it is necessary to ensure that prices of Food-grains set by the Government from time to time give sufficient incentive to farmers so that they can earn reasonable incomes. In India, bumper crop leads to fall in revenue of farmers.
Need for price stabilisation:
In view of the rising and fluctuating trends in agricultural prices, there is need for stabilisation of prices of agricultural commodities. Price fluctuation in any direction may spell disaster since both rising and falling prices have had harmful consequences.
The Agricultural Prices Commission (now it is called Agricultural Cost and Price Commission) takes up a number of aspects of price policy, such as minimum support prices (MSP), procurement prices (PP), issue prices of food-grains (IPF).
In recent years while the well-to-do farmers have benefitted from the hikes in support prices, small and marginal farmers, faced with difficulties in the matter of credit and obtaining the right type of inputs, have been in trouble. Paradoxically two years of an upswing in agriculture (1999-2000) have led to a sharp fall in prices and added to the distress of farmers in most parts of the country. At the same time, an unprecedented pile-up of procured food-grains held by State agencies totaling over 50 million tonnes has added to the burdens on the budget.
Given the low off-take in the public distribution system (PDS), accumulation of food-stocks is resulting in a large burden of food subsidy. The low off-take in PDS is due to the fact that market prices are lower and supplies are plentiful. The Government has also not been able to utilise any large volume of surplus stocks in food-for-Work programmes in drought areas.
Truly speaking, if agriculture is to be a viable long-term economic base for the farming community, it is important to recognise that the farmers’ interests are better served by a more efficient system of production, rather than high prices.