India’s agricultural yield suffers from low productivity

India uses the most land to grow rice and wheat. At Chinese levels of productivity, we could nearly double our output

For a country that consumes such large quantities of rice and wheat, and leads the world in how much land it devotes to these crops, India produces far lower quantities of these grains than it could. India’s yield rates for rice and wheat —tonnes produced per hectare—is drastically lower than even Brics counterparts. If India’s yield rates for the two crops were at China’s levels, we could almost double our yields or halve the land used for the purpose.

Currently, India produces 106.19 million tonnes of rice a year from 44 million hectares of land. That’s a yield rate of 2.4 tonnes per hectare, placing India at 27th place out of 47 countries. China and Brazil have yield rates of 4.7 t/ha and 3.6 t/ha, respectively. As the graph shows, if Indian agricultural productivity was at these rates, we could produce 205.52 million tonnes and 160.01 million tonnes of rice, respectively.

While there is no data for Russia, OECD-FAO data shows that South Africa has lower rice yield rates than India. However, that’s not news to be proud of. Egypt leads the world in rice yields—at Egypt’s yield rate, India could almost triple its rice output.

As far as wheat is concerned, India has a higher yield rate than for rice, but it still lags a large part of the world. With 93.51 million tonnes of wheat from 29.65 million hectares, India’s yield rate of 3.15 tonnes per hectare places it 19th out of 41 countries. Here, we do better than Brazil’s yield rate of 2.73 tonnes per hectare, but lag behind South Africa (3.4 t/ha) and China (4.9 t/ha). If India’s wheat productivity was at these countries’ levels, it would be producing 101.22 million tonnes and 147.53 million tonnes of wheat, respectively.

Of course, if we were to produce wheat at the rate at which New Zealand does, the highest in the world, then we could produce 2.5 times what we currently do.

The flip side of this coin is that, if India increases its yield rates, it could drastically reduce the amount of land needed to produce the current quantity. For example, if India’s yield rate in rice was at Chinese levels, we could halve the amount of land devoted to rice cultivation—freeing up that land for other purposes. For wheat, at Chinese levels of productivity, India’s land use would come down by 36% to produce the same quantity we currently do.

This is not to say that Indian agricultural productivity in wheat and rice has not improved over the years. Yield rates in wheat have grown at a compounded annual growth rate of 1.8% from 1983 to 2013 and in rice by 1.71% over the same period. These aren’t particularly slow growth rates. The improvement in yield rates for rice would place it at number 13 in the world while that in wheat would peg it at 14th rank.

But, given the dividends on offer, there is no reason why India’s yield rates can’t grow even faster.

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