Agriculture and Population

Agriculture holds a primary position in the society and economy of India. It currently accounts for one third of the gross domestic product and is the livelihood of two thirds of the population. Forty-five percent of the country's landmass is devoted to crops.

Since independence in 1947, food production has increased greatly in India. Food-grain production rose from 50.8 million tons in 1950 to 176.3 million tons in 1990, an increase of 246%. However, the national population rose dramatically as well, from 361 million in 1951 846 million in 1991, a 134% increase, and food was imported in mass quantities through the 1960's. India achieved self-sufficiency in its increase in food production, and gains in per capita food supply have been significant: cereal availability increased 41%, edible oil availability increased by 69%, and sugar availability increased by 166%. However, availability of pulses (legumes) decreased by 35%, which is a major concern in India, as many Indians are vegetarians for whom legumes, mainly lentils, are the main source of protein.

The main factor in the major advancement of Indian agriculture was the Green Revolution. Starting in 1965, introduction high-yield seeds, increased fertilizer use, and irrigation were begun to be implemented together in a program known as the Green Revolution. Supported in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, the program increased high-yield production from 1.9 million hectares in 1960 to 63.9 million hectares in 1990. The program was indeed quite successful at substantially increasing production of food grains. However, the Green Revolution was only implemented in areas with access to assured water supplies, in northern and northwestern states such as Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh on the western Indo-Gangetic Plain, while southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu typically did not meet the criteria and thus were not assisted by the program.

Population growth has been largely centered in those areas where agricultural growth was located, which begs the question: is India's dramatic population growth due to increased agriculture? Is incessant increase of food supply necessary to feed the population of India? It is arguable that proper distribution, not further production increases, is what is needed to fully feed the Indian population.

What is certain, however, is that India is in the middle of a demographic transition. High disease rates, epidemics, and famines kept death rates high at the beginning of this century. In the 1910s, birth and death rates were roughly equal at about 48 births and 48 deaths annually per 1,000 population. Birth-control and education programs, combined with reduced infant mortality, have brought birth rates down to a mere 28 per 1,000 population in the 1990s. But improved medicine, especially in the form of mass inoculations, has made great strides in decreasing deaths: the death rate fell to 10 per 1,000 population. India's rate of population growth, while it has slowed somewhat since peaking in the 1960's, is still very high at just under 2% per year. The Indian population, currently at 1 billion, is projected to increase to 1.5 billion around 2035, and to eventually stabilize at 1.7 billion by 2060.

The rapid growth is considered a grave problem for the country, and family planning programs are being implemented to try to help slow this growth. Birth control, family planning, and sterilization are provided to help slow this growth. But many Indian families consider it very important to have two male sons to support their parents in old age, thus many of the current efforts are slow to gain results. Still, India's fertility rate is falling, and advances continue to be made.



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