India is the largest producer of tractors in the world. Timely government intervention in policy and technology development allowed for inflow of foreign technology through collaboration. This gave a tremendous boost to the industry, which today produces 29% of the world’s tractors. Yet only 40% of Indian farms are mechanized. Farm power is instrumental in increasing food production and crop productivity, bringing precision in placement of inputs and reducing input losses.
95% of all farms in the United States and Western Europe are mechanized. Agriculture employs only 3.9% of Western Europe’s total population and 2% of the US population. Though agriculture is a small contributor to their GDP, the sector is profitable and viable.
In contrast, over 55% of India’s population is engaged in agriculture and, as previously mentioned, large numbers of India’s farms are under-mechanized. The sector employs a majority of the country’s population yet contributes only 14% of GDP. This makes agriculture less remunerative and increases incidences of poverty among farmers.
The world average farm power is 4KW/Ha. Punjab is the only state in India that has over 3KW/Ha utilization. As seen in the map below, a majority of Indian states are acutely underpowered.
Increasing Food Productivity
There is a strong need to increase food grain production in India to 320 million metric tonnes (Mn MT) by 2020. However, food grain productivity in the country has grown at an average rate of 2% since the 1990s. India’s crop yields being lower than the world average are a result of relatively lower farm power available on Indian farms. For instance, mechanized ploughs, one type of farm power, are 200 to 300% more powerful than indigenous ploughs. They improve crop productivity and enable farmers to grow multiple crops.
Keeping other factors constant, 84% of change in food productivity is explained by change in farm power. This also explains why Punjab is the highest food grain yielding state in India. The graph below indicates the relationship between availability of farm power and food grain productivity.
In the last forty years the average size of land holdings has reduced by half. Consequently, the number of land holdings in the marginal category has swelled by 56 million and for the small category the number has increased by 11 million. Coupled with the unaffordability of mechanization tools, it looks as if we are trending towards even more under-mechanized farms.
Currently, farm power is insufficient to meet the demands for increase in food grain production. The sector could be more profitable and viable with improved mechanization and appropriate government support. In a subsequent post, we will analyse current government initiatives and suggest what can be further done to impact crop productivity and food grain production through mechanization.