India’s agricultural growth has been sufficient to move the country from severe food crises of the 1960s to aggregate food surpluses today. Most of the increase in agricultural output over the years has taken place under irrigated conditions. The opportunities for continued expansion of irrigated area are limited, however, so Indian planners increasingly are looking to rainfed, or unirrigated agriculture to help meet the rising demand for food projected over the next several decades. Rainfed areas are highly diverse, ranging from resource-rich areas with good agricultural potentially are highly productive and already have experienced widespread adoption of improved seeds. In drier, less favorable areas, on the other hand, productivity growth has lagged behind, and there is widespread poverty and degradation of natural resources. Even given that rainfed agriculture should receive greater emphasis in public investments, a key issue is how much investment should be allocated among different types of rainfed agriculture. This paper addresses a wide variety of issues related to rainfed agricultural development in India. It examines the historical record of agricultural productivity growth in different parts of the country under irrigated and rainfed conditions, and it reviews the management, poverty alleviation, risk management, and policy and institutional reform. It presents background information on all of these topics, offering some preliminary conclusions and recommending areas where further research is needed. The analysis of agricultural productivity growth is based on district level data covering the Indo-Gangetic plains and peninsular India from 1956 to 1990. Disaggregating the districts into a number of agroclimatic zones to examine predominantly irrigated and rainfed zones separately provides insights into the conditions that determined productivity growth.


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