Dynamics of Agricultural Growth and Nutrition Security in India

Authors: Shiv Kumar 1, Shiv Datt2 and Vikram Singh3
1 Principal Scientist, 2 Senior Scientist and 3Scientist IPTM Unit, ICAR, New Delhi

The agriculture sector in India and in many other countries faced several tough challenges for a couple of years after implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on agriculture in 1995, primarily due to sharp fall in prices of agricultural commodities. The last nine years (2004-05 to 2012-13) have witnesses impressive revival of agriculture growth rate even though growth rate of non-agriculture sector decelerated in recent years. Besides growth per se the quality of growth has also seen considerable improvement and there has been progress relating to inclusiveness, regional equity, and nutrition security. Though these achievements are highly significant and unique in many respects, there is no appreciation or realization about these in the country. Many of us seem to be obsessed with achievement of 'green revolution' and not willing to acknowledge the recent accomplishments as there are not so conspicuous like concentration or revolution around one or two crops, or concentrated in a particular geographic region. Second, high food inflation has overshadowed progress on the production front. Proper understanding of the decline and improvement in performance of agriculture since the mid-1990s is very important for shaping the future of Indian agriculture. Studies have shown that under nutrition and hunger have risen in India during 1993-94 to 2004-05 (Deaton and Dreze 2009). It is pertinent to examine how different patterns of agricultural growth have affected consumers. We have tried to understand the effect of varying growth rate in agriculture on consumers by using nutrition level as the indicator.

The country achieved close to 5 per cent average annual rate of growth in agriculture during the 8th Plan (1992-93 to 1996-97) and fixed a target of 4.5% growth for the 9th Plan (1997-2002). Against this target, the actual growth rate turned out to be 2.48 per cent during the 9th as well as the 10th Plan. The target growth rate was fixed at 4% for 11th Plan and the same has been kept for the 12th Plan. Unlike the previous two Five Year Plans, the 11th Plan recorded an average growth of 4.06 percent in the agricultural GDP. The growth rate during 2012-13, which is the first year of the 12th Plan, has been 1.4% and the advance estimate for 2013-14, which is the second year of 12th Plan, puts the growth rate at 4.6%. The growth rates reveal that after growing at 2.5 per cent for 10 years, during the 9th and 10th Plans, agriculture growth in the subsequent period has accelerated to 3.5 per cent level.

Performance of Various Crops

The food grain production in India increased from 190 to 206 million tonne(mt) between 1995-97 and 2003-05 registering an increase of 16 mt in 8 years. In the next 8 years, the food grain production increased by more than 50 mt and reached 257 mt by 2011-13. Rice, wheat and maize witnessed a record increase in their production after 2003-05. Maize production in the country was below 10 mt till 1995-96 and crossed level of 21 mt in year 2010-11. Thus maize production in the country doubled in 15 years. Pulse production in India stagnated around 13 mt for 15 years from 1990-91 to 2005-06. It showed record growth in year 2010-11 with output climbing up by 25 % in one year, from 14.6 mt to 18 mt. Soybean and cotton have shown miraculous growth with doubling of output in about 8 years. India now produces 13.4 mt of soybean and 34.6 million bales of cotton as against the production of 7.3 mt of soybean and 15.1 million bales of cotton in 2003-05. Indian agriculture made another very noteworthy achievement by raising output of sugarcane. Sugarcane production in India reached close to 300 million tonne in year 1999-2000 and faced decline thereafter, cane production recovered in year 2006-07 in a big way. Current level of sugarcane output is 350 mt and India is having large surplus of sugar.

India produced 114 mt of fruits and vegetables in the mid 1990's. In next 8 years production increased to 143 mt. Between 2003-05 and 2011-13, production of fruits and vegetables increased to 235 mt. Both vegetable as well fruit production increased by more than 60 % in 8 years after 2003-05 which is much higher than the growth in the previous period. These growth rates have taken fruit production to 77 mt and vegetable production to 158 mt during 2011-13. The growth rates in output of horticultural crops during the decade 1994-95 to 2003-04 and 2003-04 to 2012-13 reveal grand success of the horticulture in the second decade. Growth rate in fruits as well as vegetables accelerated from 2.64% during 1994-95 and 2003-04 to 6.26% during 2003-04 to 2012-13. Among vegetables, onion production recoded 13% annual growth while potato production increased by 8.9% per year. Among various fruits, highest growth is observed in banana, 7.57% (Chand, 2014).

Performance of Livestock and Fishery Produce

All livestock and fishery products showed higher growth after 2003-04 compared to 1994-95 to 2003-04 (Table 1). Milk production growth accelerated after 2003-04, from 3.78% per annum to 4.72% per annum. Growth production of egg accelerated from 5.69 to 6.2 percent. After 2003-04, growth rate in marine as well inland fishery witnessed acceleration. Output of marine fish increased by less than 1 per cent a year during the 10 years period before 2003-04. The growth rate picked up to 2 percent in the recent decade. Inland fish experienced more than 5.5% annual increase during 1995-96 to 2003-04 which further increased to close to 6 percent.

Table 1: Trend growth rate in production of livestock and fish (%/year)


1994-95 to 2003-04

2003-04 to 2011-12







Marine fish



Inland fish



Total fish




India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The per capita real net domestic product has grown by almost 6 percent per annum between 2004-05 and 2012-13. Poverty rate has declined sharply in the last two decades. The per capita production of total food has increased from less than 350 Kg per person during the early 1970s to more than 500 kg in recent years (Chand and Jumrani 2013). Strangely, the growth story of India is not reflected in improvement in food and nutritional security in the country. Some studies report that three-quarters of India's population consumes less than the minimum required calorie (2400 kcal in rural areas and 2100 kcal in urban areas), about 40 percent of the children under age of 5 years are underweight and child mortality is also high. Under nutrition level in India remains higher than for most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, even though those countries are currently much poorer than India (Deaton and Dreze 2009).

The predominant indicator of nutrition status is dietary energy intake and a person consuming less than the prescribed norm of calories is classified as undernourished and termed as hungry. The norms according to ICMR-NIN are 2400 KCL for average rural person and 2100 LCK for average urban resident. Based on these norms, the incidence of under nutrition in the country is quite high-73 percent- and the undernourished population is rising (Table 2). This raises serious question that why in India under nourish is not falling when per capita food production has risen by more than 1 percent for several years.

Table 2: Number and incidence of undernutrition in India (1993-94, 2004-05 and 2011-12)


Million persons

Per cent population










The reasons for this disconnect in nutrition and growth in food production are due to dietary diversification in India (Table 3). Indian consumers show decline in per capita intake of cereals, during the last two decades, which are the major source of dietary energy. This decline seems to be by preference.

Table 3: Changes in household consumption pattern based on NSSO data

Food group

Per capita food production

Per capita food consumption

















































Non-veg (eggs, meat, fish)







Consumption pattern of Indian consumers reveal declining preference for direct consumption of cereals as food. Except for the bottom 5 per cent population, all other expenditure / income classes show decline in per capita cereal intake. This trend is observed both in rural as well as urban population. A serious consequence of this change is decline in per capita calorie intake which rules below the minimum recommended level. It is also important to mention that decline in per capita cereal consumption in the country is not due to availability constraint. On the contrary, India has remained net exporter of cereals during the last two decades. In recent years, cereal export has risen substantially. These trends show that consumers are reducing cereal intake by choice. Its implication for nutrition security is how to check decline intake of basic nutrient like energy and protein resulting from consumers' preference away from cereals. Though consumer preference towards fruits and vegetables is rising, horticultural products do not contain much energy and protein. Thus, the only way to ensure adequate nutrition consistent with preference of Indian consumers is to increase in intake of livestock products like dairy products, eggs and meat. This will require attention and focus on supply side factors to raise livestock output at a faster rate. Another attractive benefit of increase in nutrition through livestock products is smooth supply. Unlike crops, livestock production in India does not show year-to-year fluctuation. This is another factor in favour of higher role of livestock in nutrition through consumption smoothening.

The discussion draws conclusion that growth in food production is not reflected in improvement in nutrition measured by dietary energy intake. The reason is dietary diversification away from cereals. The only way to ensure adequate nutrition consistent with preference of Indian consumers in increase in intake of livestock products like dairy products, eggs and meat. This has important implications for strategy of agricultural production followed in the country.


1. Chand, Ramesh and J Jumrani (2013). Food Security and Undernourishment in India: Assessment of Alternative Norms and the Income effect, India Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 68, No.1, Jan-March, pp.39-53.
2. Deaton, A and Jean Dreze (2009). Food and Nutrition in India: facts and Interpretations, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLIV, No.7:pp 42-64.

About Author / Additional Info:
The authors are working on IPR issues on Agriculture and Agricultural Policy