Diversity of Crops in India
Authors: Dr Ravindra Singh Shekhawat, Hanuman Singh and Neelam Shekhawat


Crop diversity is the variance in genetic and phenotypic characteristics of plants used in agriculture. Crops may vary in seed size, branching pattern, in height, flower color, fruiting time, or flavor. They may also vary in less obvious characteristics such as their response to heat, cold or drought, or their ability to resist specific diseases and pests. It is possible to discover variation in almost every conceivable trait, including nutritional qualities, preparation and cooking techniques, and of course how a crop tastes. And if a trait cannot be found in the crop itself, it can often be found in a wild relative of the crop; a plant that has similar species that have not been farmed or used in agriculture, but exist in the wild.

Diversity in a crop can also result from different growing conditions: a crop growing in nutrient poor soil is likely to be shorter than a crop growing in more fertile soil. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, diversity of a harvested plant can be the result of genetic differences: a crop may have genes conferring early maturity or disease resistance.

It is these heritable traits that are of special interest as they are passed on from generation to generation and collectively determine a crop’s overall characteristics and future potential. Through combining genes for different traits in desired combinations, plant breeders are able to develop new crop varieties to meet specific conditions. A new variety might, for example, be higher yielding, more disease resistant and have a longer shelf life than the varieties from which it was bred. The practical use of crop diversity goes back to early agricultural methods of crop rotation and fallow fields, planting and harvesting one type of crop on a plot of land one year, and using a different crop the next based on differences in a plant's nutrient needs. Both farmers and scientists must continually draw on the irreplaceable resource of genetic diversity to ensure productive harvests, as genetic variability provides farmers resilience to pests and diseases and allows scientists access to a more diverse genetic bank.

Diversification of harvests and maintaining wild biodiversity in crop relatives influence many aspects of human and global interaction, being important for environmental and species sustainability.


India is a country of about one billion people. More than 70 percent of India's population lives in rural areas where the main occupation is agriculture. Indian agriculture is characterized by small farm holdings. The average farm size is only 1.57 hectares. Around 93 percent of farmers have land holdings smaller than 4 ha and they cultivate nearly 55 percent of the arable land. On the other hand, only 1.6 of the farmers have operational land holdings above 10 ha and they utilize 17.4 percent of the total cultivated land.

Due to diverse agro-climatic conditions in the country, a large number of agricultural items are produced. Broadly, these can be classified into two groups - foodgrains crops and commercial crops. Due to the challenge of feeding our vast population and the experience of food shortages in the pre-independence era, 'self reliance' in foodgrains has been the cornerstone of our policies in the last 50 years. Around 66 percent of the total cultivated area is under foodgrain crops (cereals and pulses).

Concurrently, commercial agriculture developed for whatever reasons in the pre-independent phase also kept flourishing during the post independent period. Commercial agriculture not only catered to the domestic market but has also been one of the major earners of foreign exchange for the country.


With the advent of modern agricultural technology, especially during the period of the Green Revolution in the late sixties and early seventies, there is a continuous surge for diversified agriculture in terms of crops, primarily on economic considerations. The crop pattern changes, however, are the outcome of the interactive effect of many factors which can be broadly categorized into the following five groups:

  1. Resource related factors covering irrigation, rainfall and soil fertility.
  2. Technology related factors covering not only seed, fertilizer, and water technologies but also those related to marketing, storage and processing.
  3. Household related factors covering food and fodder self-sufficiency requirement as well as investment capacity.
  4. Price related factors covering output and input prices as well as trade policies and other economic policies that affect these prices either directly or indirectly.
  5. Institutional and infrastructure related factors covering farm size and tenancy arrangements, research, extension and marketing systems and government regulatory policies.


    1. Rice: West Bengal, Punjab, UP
    2. Wheat: UP, Punjab, Haryana
    3. Maize: Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka
    4. Bajra: Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP
    5. Jowar: Maharashtra, Karnataka, MP, AP
    6. Total coarse cereals: Maharashtra, Karnataka, UP
    7. Total pulses: MP, UP, Maharashtra
    8. Total food grains: UP, Punjab, West Bengal
    9. Groundnut: Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh
    10. Rapeseed and Mustard: Rajasthan, UP, Haryana
    11. Soyabean: Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan
    12. Sunflower: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra
    13. Total oil seeds: MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan
    14. Sugarcane: UP, Maharashtra, Karnataka
    15. Cotton: Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh
    16. Jute and Mesta: WB, Bihar, Assam
    17. Tea: Assam, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh
    18. Coffee: Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu
    19. Rubber: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka
    20. Silk: Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh. In India all 4 varieties of silk are available; Mulberry, tussar, eri and muga.
    21. Tobacco: Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka


Rice: It is grown over as much as 29 percent (43,70 million hectare) of the cropped area. India stands next only to China in the production of rice contributing 22.3% of the world production. West Bengal is the largest rice producing state contributing to more than 15.81% of the rice production of India. Next is Andhra Pradesh with 12.75% and Uttar Pradesh with 12.13%. However, yield per hectare is highest in Punjab and Karnataka (42.97% and 31.87% respectively).

Wheat: Wheat is the second important food grain of India, 13.79% of the gross cropped area is devoted to wheat. Over 35.5 percent of the country’s total wheat output comes from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab (20%), Haryana (12.68%). The crop shares about 21 percent for the area under food grains and accounts for about 34 percent of the total food grains production in the country.

Millets: Millets like Jowar, bajra, maize and ragi are important cereal crops of India, They are primarily crops of the dry parts of the Deccan. Gujarat, and rajasthan, These Kharif crops are grown where there is not enough rain to grow rice. They are produced in the order ragi, jowar and bajra, as the rainfall goes on decreasing from the semi-humid to semi-arid regions.

Jowar: Jowar ranks third in area among food grains. The leading jowar producing states are Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It is both Kharif and Rabi crop and about 8.51 million hectares (5%) are devoted to this crop in India. Half of jowar grow in Maharashtra (51.11%)

Bajra: Bajra is generally grown on poor light sandy soils of western Rajasthan (35.94%), Northern Gujarat (13.93%), Uttar Pradesh (16.28%), Haryana (8.85%), and Maharashtra (13.41%). In the south, it is cultivated on shallow black and red and upland gravelly soils. It occupies 9.48 million hectares (about 5.0% of cropped area of the country).

Maize: Maize was introduced in India from America in the beginning of the 17th century. It is an important food crop now in the Great Plains and in the hilly and submontane tracts of the North. Green maize provides sweet and succulent fodder. Maize is an important millet crop and has an area of production next only to jowar and bajra. It occupies 7.7% of the cropped area of the country. Its highest concentration occurs in Andhra Pradesh (21.1%, Karnataka (18.56%), Bihar (9.25%), Rajasthan (7.48%) and Madhya Pradesh (8.5%) of all India production.

Ragi is an important millet, particularly in south Karnataka where millions use it as staple food. It is raise on the red, light black and sandy loams of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and the well-drained alluvial loams of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat.

Barley is an important cereal crop in many parts of northern India. It is also used for melting in the manufacture of beer and whisky. It is rabi crop in the Great Plains and valleys of the western Himalyas. Uttar Pradesh and Rajashtan together lead in the total area and total production of barley in the country.

Pulses: In our predominantly starchy vegetarian diet pulses form a very important part as they provide us vegetable protein. Being leguminous crops, pulses fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil and hence are usually rotated with other crops to maintain or restore soil fertility. Pulses are seasonal crops in India. India tops the world in pulses production.


Crop diversification in the country is taking the form of increased areas under commercial crops including vegetables and fruits since independence. However, this has gained momentum in the last decade favouring increased area under vegetables and fruits and also to some extent on commercial crops like sugar cane, cotton and oilseeds crops specially soybean. The major problems and constraints in crop diversification are primarily due to the following reasons with varied degrees of influence:

  1. Over 117 m/ha (63 percent) of the cropped area in the country is completely dependent on rainfall.
  2. Sub-optimal and over-use of resources like land and water resources, causing a negative impact on the environment and sustainability of agriculture.
  3. Inadequate supply of seeds and plants of improved cultivars.
  4. Fragmentation of land holding less favouring modernization and mechanization of agriculture.
  5. Poor basic infrastructure like rural roads, power, transport, communications etc.
  6. Inadequate post-harvest technologies and inadequate infrastructure for post-harvest handling of perishable horticultural produce.
  7. Very weak agro-based industry.
  8. Weak research - extension - farmer linkages.
  9. Inadequately trained human resources together with persistent and large scale illiteracy amongst farmers.
  10. Host of diseases and pests affecting most crop plants.
  11. Poor database for horticultural crops.
  12. Decreased investments in the agricultural sector over the years.


  • India, being a vast country of continental dimensions, presents wide variations in agro climatic conditions. Such variations have led to the evolution of regional niches for various crops. Historically, regions were often associated with the crops in which they specialize for various agronomic, climatic, hydro-geological, and even, historical reasons. But, in the aftermath of technological changes encompassing bio-chemical and irrigation technologies, the agronomic niches are undergoing significant changes. In the face of these new changes including the achievement of food self-sufficiency, the area shift that tended towards cereals in the immediate aftermath of the Green Revolution, has started moving in the opposite direction, i.e., from cereals to non-cereals.
  • Although reverse area shifts actually took place in the mid-1970's as a part of the process of commercialization, they became more pronounced since the mid 1980's as a response partly to emerging supply deficit in edible oils and partly to the changing comparative advantage of crops. Since the recent trend in inter-crop area shifts has it origin in the price and trade policy changes of the 1980's, they indicate the increasing market influence on area allocation.
  • The area under commercial crops has almost doubled in the last three decades. Among the food grain crops, the area under superior cereals, i.e., rice and wheat, is increasing; while that of coarse cereals (millets) is on decline. The area share of jute and allied fibres has also gone down substantially. Like any other economy, the share of agriculture in the GDP is also declining in India. Increase in income from the agriculture sector, further growth of non-crop sub-sectors within agriculture; faster growth of non-food grain crops; and faster growth of superior cereals among the food grains are all happening, but the pace of such change is far too slow.
  • An accelerated pace of diversification to create positive import of higher income, higher employment and conservation and efficient use of natural resources emphasizes the need for efficient policies, especially in technological development, selective economic reforms and institutional change.
  • A strategy of crucial importance is growth enhancing non-farm activities. This calls for investment in rural infrastructure and skill upgradation and it also implies a careful examination and adjustment of macro-policies, which influence the relative profitability of different activities and in turn determine the nature and pace of diversification.
In order to ensure social equity, policies on structural adjustment and reforms must pay special attention to the band of marginal and small farmers and agricultural labourers. The direct benefits from diversification should reach these sections of the farmers.

About Author / Additional Info:
I am currently working as Scientist, Division of Forecasting and Agriculture System modeling at ICAR-IASRI, New Delhi