Land acquisition: India has enough land for agriculture

Feb 26, 2015

- By Vivek Kaul

Vivek Kaul
One of my friends asked an interesting question in response to yesterday's piece-if we keep taking away land from agriculture in the name of development, won't we end up in a situation where we will not produce enough food and will have to import it.

As countries have rapidly urbanized in the past, land has been taken away from agriculture. Take the case of the British industry. As Amartya Sen told The Telegraph newspaper in a 2007 interview: "Prohibiting the use of agricultural land for industries is ultimately self-defeating...The locations of great industry, be it Manchester or Lancashire, these were all on heavily fertile land. Industry has always competed against agriculture because the shared land was convenient for industry for trade and transportation." This has often led to a situation where as land has been taken away from agriculture less food has been produced, leading to countries having to import food in order to feed its citizens.

As Lester R Brown points out in Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures: "As a country industrialises and modernises, cropland is used for industrial and residential development. As automobile ownership spreads, the construction of roads, highways, and parking lots... takes valuable land away from agriculture."

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This phenomenon was observed in Japan as well. As Brown puts it: "Japan was essentially self-sufficient in grain when its grain harvested area peaked in 1955. Since then, the grainland area has shrunk by half...With grain consumption climbing and production falling, grain imports soared... A similar analysis for South Korea and Taiwan shows a pattern almost identical with that of Japan."

With the Bhartiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) trying to make land acquisition easier by trying to push through the The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, is there a danger of India getting into a similar situation like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have in the past?

First and foremost it needs to be pointed out that India has a large amount of arable land. As Akhilesh Tilotia writes in The Making of India: "India's arable area as a proportion of its land area is at 48 per cent(159 million ha/329 million ha) which places India as the country with the highest arable area in the world."

Hence, even if some amount of this land is taken away from agriculture for urbanization as well as industrialization, it won't create much of a problem, as it has in other countries like Japan and South Korea in the past.

As Tilotia points out: "Even if the most optimistic scenarios of India's urbanization were to play out over the next decade, or so, the total urban land area will be less than 6 per cent of its land mass, compared to the 48 per cent that is currently under agriculture." Given this, in the years to come an adequate amount of land will continue to remain dedicated to agriculture.

Further, despite a little under half of the land area of the country being dedicated to agriculture, India lags behind in the rest of the world when it comes to agricultural productivity.

India has more arable land than China. This, despite the fact its total area is only around one-third of that of China. Nevertheless, China produces more rice and wheat than India does. As a report in The Wall Street Journal points out: "India is the second largest producer of rice and wheat after China, with China producing about 40% more rice and wheat than India. India is also the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world after China, but China's fruit production is three times India's production."

A report in the Mint newspaper using 2013 data from the Food and Agricultural Organization points out: "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 tonnes per hectare and 3.6 tonnes per hectare, respectively."

The situation is not any different when it comes to wheat. "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)," the report points out.

A major reason for low productivity is the decrease in the average size of a farm over the decades. The State of the Indian Agricultural Report for 2012-2013 points out that: "As per Agriculture Census 2010-11, small and marginal holdings of less than 2 hectare account for 85 per cent of the total operational holdings and 44 per cent of the total operated area. The average size of holdings for all operational classes (small & marginal, medium and large) have declined over the years and for all classes put together it has come down to 1.16 hectare in 2010-11 from 2.82 hectare in 1970-71."

What this clearly highlights is the low productivity of Indian agriculture. As Tilotia points out: "In spite of such large land resources being devoted to agriculture, India still does not top the charts in overall production, which reflects poorly on its yield performance. India has significant potential for increasing its yield."

Multi-cropping among Indian farmers has gone up over the years but it still lags China on this front. "In 2013, India produced 500 million tonnes of food stuff for its population of 1.2 billion people, or around 400 kg per person...The half-a-billion tons of production comprised almost equally of food grains and horticulture(fruits and vegetables)...Sharp increase in production over the last decade(4.7% per year volume growth) handsomely beat population growth([around] 1.2 per cent per year)," writes Tilotia.

Nevertheless, a lot of improvement is still needed on the agricultural productivity front. And that remains the biggest challenge for Indian agriculture in the time to come.

Vivek Kaul is the Editor of the Diary and The Vivek Kaul Letter. Vivek is a writer who has worked at senior positions with the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) and The Economic Times, in the past. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. The latest book in the trilogy Easy Money: The Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever and How It Is Set to Destroy the Global Financial System was published in March 2015. The books were bestsellers on Amazon. His writing has also appeared in The Times of India, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Business World, Business Today, India Today, Business Standard, Forbes India, Deccan Chronicle, The Asian Age, Mutual Fund Insight, Wealth Insight, Swarajya, Bangalore Mirror among others.

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3 Responses to "Land acquisition: India has enough land for agriculture"


Feb 27, 2015

If a project is urgent and land has to be acquired ,then why the delay in paying the compensation.It should be on the day the agreement is signed.the author talks glibly of macro issues forgetting that it is not his land that is being acquired .The number of people whose lands have been acquired but not compensated even after longtime is legion.And that is what Medha Patkars ahve been fighting about.Decide a fair compensation and pay it immediately and you will find resistance from farmers drop .Only the political activists will be making a noise

Like (2)


Feb 26, 2015

The main issue is not whether the agricultural land can be used for industry. Single crop land or lands fed by rains can be converted into industrial land. The manner of acquisition of such land is the key point. In the name of "industrial corridors" which evidently promotes industrial parks for various sectors, the lands are acquired not only for infrastructure but also for commercial services. Unlike other nations, Indian farmer is not well conversed to spend his compensation on any meaningful way which would sustain him for the rest of his life. India, the land has emotive quotient also

Like (3)


Feb 26, 2015

There is nothing wrong in acquiring land for the purpose of development; but the desperation to pass the bill is something to debate for. The modified version is even more dangerous. It is not about paying 2 times or 4 times of the market price; it is about taking away employment from the farmer. Yes I understand, the rehabilitation is promised but would it actually happen effectively? Unlikely.

India is a country which would do a lot better if it changes its crop patterns. Sugarcane and other commercial crops have been pillars of many political carriers in India. Can we change that first? before we talk about roads,ports and bridges?

Food,shelter and clothing comes first before anything else. And how about this? Removal of "5 year" clause... it would allow to retain land permanently? Insane inflation in real estate prices following announcement of a big project is another issue.

As far as arability is concerned, it may deplete fast thanks to indiscriminate use of Urea. (urea is another commodity that supports political carriers).

As said earlier, acquiring land is not a problem but pushing it hard is definitely a problem. All policies talk about macro-picture. Country A vs Country B. Such comparisons often favour big players, big industries and big farmers.

Government has not yet been successful in providing coal to existing power plants. What has stopped it? Before we develop something more; we need to make sure that existing capacities are being utilised effectively.

If land acquisition is so important; PM must answer how urgent aforesaid issues are. If they are less important;then land acquisition should go through in its present form.

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