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Rural development Opportunities in India - Agriculture and allied sectors

M Mahadevappa

Advisor, JSS Rural Development Foundation, Ramanuja Road, Mysore 570 004

(Ex vice chancellor, UAS, Dharwad and Ex Chairman, ASRB, GOI, New Delhi)

In ancient times, whether man or animals, went always in search of food and water, and kept moving looking for better and better facilities over centuries till date. The present migration of rural people to urban areas is nothing different from that. What needs to be done in the present context to prevent migration is to ensure employment opportunities and economic stability in rural areas to both farm and non-farm sectors. I t is necessary to note at this point that, in India, 95% of the work force is in the un-organized sectors, and all that is concentrated in rural areas. The farming is becoming the last resort as a profession in the recent years as the farm production base is degenerating as listed below:

1.      Land-man ratio is declining. The rural population alone has increased from 280 m to 742 m in the last 50 years. Among 106 m farm holdings, around 56 m are marginal; 18 m are small and 13 m are medium groups. The per capita farm land was 0.46 ha in 1951 which has now come down to 0.15 ha.  

2.      Adding to the above, declining vegetative cover, land productivity, shrinking water resources, weakening development support, confusion with regard to WTO and advent of GM crops against raising aspiration of the rural folks have made the farmers feel “trapped in farming”

3.      Keeping the above in mind, and to focus future developments, and considering the facts that survival requires efficiency, the following factors are kept in mind. Natural and production centered resource management, institutionalizing development and creation of conducive economic planning.  

We need to address the issue urgently and on top priority basis if we have to make agriculture a truly rewarding and an attractive occupation to harness the synergies of youth in general and rural youth in particular. This will empower rural people to create urban facilities at home and check migration to cities. It means a drastic shift from family farming to surplus farming and on to Entrepreneurship Development in Agriculture. The following are some of the points relevant to the issue.

Some relevant statistics

Agriculture has been and will continue to be the lifeline of the Indian economy since agriculture supports 55% of population, contributing nearly 22% to the GDP and has a share of about 13% in the national exports.

Presently, India supports 16% of the world’s population on 4.2% of the world’s water resources and 2.3% of the global land. Around 51% of India’s geographical area is already under cultivation as compared to 11% of the world average. Further, rainfed drylands constitute 60% of the total net sown area. There is an unprecedented degradation/erosion of land (degraded- 107 mha, acidic- 25 mha and 17mha salt affected) and groundwater resource. The per capita availability of resources is about 4 to 6 times less as compared to the world average. Foreseeably, this will further decrease due to increasing demographic pressure and consequent land diversion for non-agricultural use.  

Unemployment rate measured on current daily status basis  


In million















Unemployment among youth in rural areas  


Males (%)

Females (%)








Annual growth rate of employment for the year 1999 to 2000




Rural employment


Agricultural employment


             The non-farm sector (food processing, trade, crafts, industry, services etc.) in small semi-urban township and village enterprises can absorb much farm labors. Hence, emphasis must be laid on agro-based industries in the actual area of primary production. 

Also, in the present scenario of increasing human and livestock populations, decreasing man to land ratio, degrading soil, water, climate and biodiversity resources, decreasing total factor productivity and recycling dangers of chemicals in animal/human chain, reorientation in agricultural research and development efforts is essential for enhancing and sustain productivity and profitability. As the sector is by itself self-employment orient, the thrust of policies to develop self-employment opportunities should be to: 

·        Encourage productivity improvement and waste utilization.

·        Encourage value addition to enhance monetary returns.

·        Establish better markets - From village level to major cities.

·        Encourage production and marketing of organic produce.   


            With about 150 million tones of horticultural produce, India is the second only to China. The horticulture sector employs 1.66 crore with 50% self-employed, 30% waged and 20% salaried. The sector is labour intensive (84.33 man days/acre or 34.18 mandays/Rs.1000 production for food grains).  As such growth of horticulture is the cornerstone for creating self-employment opportunities in agriculture.   


            Animal Husbandry provides job opportunities to about 20 million persons, not including persons employed in sale, re-processing and transport of animal products at secondary market level. In comparison to land, livestock are more than proportionately controlled by the poor. It also insulates against the vagaries of weather like drought, and ensures some livelihood particularly when crops are lost. 


            Development of appropriate perennial vegetation based technologies for rehabilitation of 107 million ha waste lands has the potential to enhance productivity, create additional employment avenues and also provide resilience to 142 m ha arable land through soil and water conservation and sequestering carbon level in soil.  A three fold increase in the rate of afforestation, from about 1.23 million ha per year is required, to increase forest cover from the present 23.03% (75.70 m ha) to the national goal of one-third forest/tree cover by 2012.  Every two hectares of additional area under plantation of forest crop can generate year-round employment for one person.  As such there is scope to upscale employment generation from the present level of 246 to 850 million man days per year.

Medicinal plants

Medicinal plants occupy a prime position in utilizing the traditional knowledge. There is enormous scope to exploit use of medicinal species both for domestic use and export. Here is some relevant information:

1.      At present, India produces about 16,000-18,000 tons of essential oils out of total 80,000 tons world production.

2.      This accounts for about 20-25% of world’s total productions. India’s production of major essential oils.

3.      India is the largest producer of mint (Mentha arvensis) and Basil (Ocimum basilicum) out of about 42 species grown.

4.      About 90% of India’s requirement of essential oils is met from indigenous production and the rest from import.

5.      Of the 18000 native species found in India, 1500 species contain aromas. 

Watershed development

            The soil and water conservation resources developed for maintaining watersheds have the potential to reduce run off from 42 to 14% and soil loss from 11 to 2 t/ha.  The watershed management technology is generating 215 man days/ha/annum during implementation phase and 20 person days/ha/annum sustainably in post implementation phase.

Natural Resources

Inefficient and indiscriminate use of fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation water and energy have deteriorated the soil and ground water resources.  Water management in coastal areas and in a number of other water logged areas, have all the potential to at least double the productivity and increase cropping intensity by 100% plus.

The efficient use of ground water is possible through: recharging of the ground water through in-situ / ex-situ rain water conservation, adopting precision irrigation techniques, matching water application with critical growth stage and promotion of resource conservation technologies such as zero tillage, furrow irrigated raised bed planting, direct seeded rice and laser leveling etc.  Zero tillage saves on water by 20-25%, labour and fossil fuel by 30%.

For efficient use of applied nutrient, there is wide potential to upgrade efficiency and soil quality through promotion of green manuring, judicious recycling of residues into the soil, converting waste into wealth through proper composting/vermicompost, biological N fixation and large scale popularization of the use of bio-fertilizers including phosphate, sulphur and potassium solubilizing microbes.

            Currently, only 29% of the total precipitation is conserved, that too is not optimally utilized. With the existing practices, water use efficiency seldom exceeds 40%. Available estimates indicate that by 10% increase in water use efficiency, country can gain more than 50 million tons of food grains from the existing irrigated area.


            Low use efficiency of energy is a matter of serious concern, more specifically fossil energy. Such low resource use efficiency not only increases the cost of production but leads to severe environmental consequences. It also burdens the valuable foreign exchange reserves since most of the raw materials are imported.  

Agromet Services 

            The concerns of rising temperature and decreasing ozone needs to be addressed by linking weather forecasting, land use change, breeding varieties which can adjust to such changes, agronomic manipulations, CO2 sequestration, substitution of fossil fuels with bio-fuels, moderating methane production from agricultural fields and weather based fore-warning of incidence of pests and diseases.  Effective agromet service to the farmers will act as an engine for boosting productivity and facilitating enhanced employment.

Farming Systems

            Reorientation from cropping system mode to farming system multi-enterprise agriculture (crops, trees, livestock including fisheries etc.) focused on internalization of synergies by multiple use of inputs and recycling is expected to expand livelihood basket and year round employment. Use of biocontrol agents in controlling crop pests have emerged as an important eco-safe alternative for the management of insect pests and diseases. There are numerous biocontrol agents, which can be produced successfully at the village level by a few elite farmers or unemployed Graduates in the village. Following is a list of few bio control agents for whom mass rearing methods have been standardized

-            Coccinellids, chrysopids etc.

-            A variety of parasitoids namely Trichogramma.

-            Entomopathogens namely Bt products, NPVs and Fungal Pathogens.

-            Plant disease antagonists namely Trichoderma and Pseudomonas etc.

            Macrobials such as parasitoids and predators are ideally suited for production by micro-enterprises at village or district level on account of low shelf life - just four days. Moreover these products do not require registration.

Thrust Areas 

The critical inputs may be produced at the village level in form of cottage industry by the rural youth and resource poor farm women. The such inputs include production of local strains of Bt, Trichoderma, Trichocards, Neem Seed Karnel Extract and NPV from the field collected diseased Helicoverpa and Spodoptera larvae. A village institute like IPM self-help group may be formed to commercialize these activities on the pattern of Khadigram Udyog.  The planting of neem trees in large number, collection of its seeds and further formulation of NSKE and pongamia soap solution will increase the income for unemployed youth and farm women in the villages. 

            Bee keeping is an important input in Agriculture. Its promotion in various fields and horticultural crops mainly towards pollination of crops and honey, can be promoted successfully by the unemployed rural youth. 

Seed-village Concept

            Adoption of Seed-village concept for production of seeds of field, horticulture and forestry crops, silkworm, fish, and multiplication of planting material in vegetatively propagated crops like mulberry, potato, supply of quality germplasm and semen in animals, and value enhancement in seed using techniques like seed treatment are the promising areas. Further, storage, cleaning and grading facilities, seed testing, seed transportation etc. would add to the job opportunities.

            Adoption of this concept in Mysore district in a cluster of five villages since 2000 has clearly demonstrated that it is possible for the elite farmers around the villages can produce quality seed supplied on time at a reasonable cost avoiding selling at a low price as grain as well as buying seeds from public / private companies at a higher price that too with a risk of buying low grade or spurious seeds. Each seed producer was able to earn a reasonable profit and set as an entrepreneurer as a future source of seed.

            Owing to the increasing and fast advancement in science and skills (hybrid technology, GM technology, market intelligence etc.) within India and other countries, constant updation of the same through, ICT, GIS is essential.

Hybrid and GM Technology

Hybrid technology has a high potential to increase productivity, resistance to various biotic and abiotic stresses and quality in a number of field and horticultural crops, animals and fish. Since conventional breeding methods have certain limitations, biotechnological tools will have to be employed for facilitating transfer of desirable genes across species and genus.

Waste and By-product Utilization

            An estimate of agricultural by-products from all crops, livestock and fisheries sector indicates these to be about 700 million tonnes annually. It is estimated that only 25% of this by-product is presently utilized. So far, the efforts have been to use only a fraction of the total biomass produced. Scientific processing of biomass creates additional employment and leads to cleaner and sustainable environment.

            For example, after recovering sugar, the molasses is used for distillation and the spentwash the secondary byproduct is used as fuel. Lantana is being used for manufacturing low cost furniture. Several very useful products have been obtained from these ‘wastes’. Following are some of them:

Raw Materials


Cotton stock

Manufacture of particle boards

Cotton gin waste

Generate biogas, high quality manure

Safflower petals

Natural dyes and herbal healthcare products

Mustard seed coat

Edible dye and insect repellant compounds

Jute and cotton wastes, banana stem, pineapple leaves

High quality paper and stationeries

Linseed and several other fibre crop residues

Textile grade fibers and high quality cellulose powder

Essential Oil of fresh fruit peels

Cosmetics, toiletries and used to supplements animal feed.

             The total monetary value of the agro-byproducts could be equal or even greater than the value of the main produce. In the livestock sector the waste material comes from the dung skins, horns, hides, bones, and other body parts from the abattoirs, byproducts of milk processing etc. The agricultural wastes, particularly from livestock and fish industry pose several environmental problems that could also impact local ecology. Therefore, the proper management of these wastes and their subsequent disposal is essential.

            The Central Institute of Fisheries Technology is developing technologies of converting such wastes into useful products such as chitin and chitosan. Both these products have high export value due to their wide applications in medicine and pharmaceuticals. It is estimated that about Rs.400 crores can be raised annually as resource of income by using 1 lakh tonne of prawn shell waste.   

There is a great scope for domestic and export trade by improving the post-harvest distribution and processing facilities of these highly perishable commodities. New trends in food and bioprocess technologies and specific skill sets needed by graduates must be understood to successfully compete for current as well as future food and bioprocess engineering jobs. Technologies and infrastructure, which promote primary processing, value-addition and product diversification in and around the villages, need to be developed and popularized.

Market Strategy

            Farming is increasingly felt as less remunerative on account of various risks of production, prices and marketing. There is a need to bring in efficiency and equity, improving quality and rising competitiveness. These could be in the form of introducing market reforms, intervention schemes to cover some new crops, reducing marketing margins, facilitating mandated functions of regulated markets, and ensuring grading and standardization at producer and subsequent levels. Improving cold storage, short period storage during transit of commodities and cool chain facilities are critical for insulating the farmer against risks and for the success of diversification.

          In view of the small and scattered farm holdings and resource constraints of majority of our farmers, strengthening co-operatives, self-help groups, farmers markets, and contract farming assume significance.  The present level of mechanization estimated to be about 25%, needs to go up to 40% by 2020. The mechanization would need to be region, crop and stakeholder specific. There are several areas of agriculture, horticulture, livestock and fisheries sectors that have not received the same level of mechanization attention as has been provided to the food grain sector.

Partnership Approach 

            There are a number of laboratories under ICAR, CSIR, ICMR, State Agricultural Universities, General Universities and private sector industry/NGOs that are working on food processing but have very little functional linkage. It is high time to realize and harness the mutual strengths of various stakeholders in a partnership mode to develop the processing sector. Public-public and public-private linkages, bi or multilateral, must be established and supported.           

            The Indian farmer has demonstrated in fair measure that given the right technology and guidance, he can deliver. However, the rapid pace of information technology generation certainly calls for augmentation of extension efforts. In this endeavour, concept of establishing agri-clinics and ICT’s in the rural areas needs to be encouraged.


Agro-tourism is a recent development that provides newer means of income generation in the rural areas, as a subsidiary industry to farming. The urban visitors enjoy a unique experience in the countryside.  Agro-tourism promotes learning and inculcates interest in heritage and enjoy 'real' India. This will definitely provide to children, an education which is not available in a classroom. Hence, the agro-tourism is a potential self-employment generating venture and needs to be promoted.

Human Resource

            We will have to build indigenous capacity to develop our human resources. In this endeavour, course curricula will call for revision to enhance relevance and practical utility of education through diverse subjects to serve the cause of employment and country’s economic development.  The focus of change in agricultural education should be to build inculcate entrepreneurship and professionalism.            

            In order to promote entrepreneurship it is necessary that our institutions should 
extend guidance/counseling to potential entrepreneurs on how to develop idea, organize 
resources, understand basic economic principles of supply and demand, factors which
 influence price, common risks and problems likely to be encountered in agri-business 
marketing strategies, Information on market analysis, industry trends, sources of finance, 
consumers needs etc. Extending relevant information to farming entrepreneurs on production, 
marketing, management and other related issues must receive our priority attention 
especially with regard to resources for small-scale ventures.