India is on its way to becoming an industrialized nation, but hunger and poverty are widespread. The subcontinent will have to promote sustainable agriculture in order to feed its growing population.



New Delhi

Official languages

Hindi and English


3,287,590 km²


Approximately 1.3 billion

Population growth


Rural population

67% of the total population

Gross domestic product

About USD 2 trillion

Share of agriculture in GDP


Severity of hunger according to the Global Hunger Index


Share of the population suffering from malnutrition


Human Development Index

Index: 0.609 / Rank: 130 of 188

Proportion of the population living on less than USD 1.25 a day


An emerging economy of extremes

India is on track to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2025. Its 1.3 billion inhabitants have an average age of 23, highlighting the potentially dynamic nature of Indian society. India's service, information technology, industrial and research sectors are at the forefront of global competition. The country's progressive industrialization is reflected in the high-rise buildings of the economic centers of Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore. Economic reforms in the early 1990s made this development possible. But meanwhile, people are living in poverty in the country's overpopulated slums. The winners from globalization are the very rich upper class and a growing middle class. But the hopeless slum dwellers, debt-wracked farmers and members of the lower castes are not benefiting from the country's 7.6 percent GDP growth rate. In no other country are so there so many poor and starving people as in India.


Diverse agriculture for a secure food supply

In order to feed India's growing population in sufficient quantity and quality, farmers will have to produce enough grain, but also legumes. Meanwhile, the increasing number of high earners in the cities are consuming more fruit, vegetables, milk and, recently, meat. Meat has traditionally played a secondary role in Indian's diverse cuisine. Vegetarian curry, made from okra or cauliflower, and spicy dal, made of lentils or chick peas, are eaten with bread, cereals and rice.


India has the largest herd of cattle in the world, but many small farmers are struggling to survive.


The security of India's food supply and the changing dietary habits require a productive, diversified and sustainable agricultural sector which is capable of withstanding the increasingly frequent storms. India is a global agricultural powerhouse: the subcontinent is the world's largest producer of milk, legumes and spices, with the largest amount of land under cultivation for wheat, rice and cotton. And the largest cattle herd in the world can be found in India. However, agricultural revenues are unevenly distributed. The many small farmers are struggling to survive, as the fruits of their labor are often insufficient to provide an adequate and balanced diet for their own families.


Productivity has its price

Modernizing agriculture has far-reaching consequences, as the history of India shows. After achieving independence from British colonial rule, the country was dependent on international food aid until the Green Revolution. Starting in 1966, the government enacted subsidies and guaranteed prices in order to allow the agricultural sector to switch to modern production methods. With better seed and the use of mineral fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation, there was enormous improvement in crop yields. In the years which followed, India produced enough grain for its own needs and even had enough for exports, allowing it to avoid the frequently inevitable famines. 


NINE SEEDS FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY India has now overtaken Brazil as the world's leading exporter of beef. This is curious, given that vegetarian culture has a long tradition in India. Many believe that it is illegal to slaughter or eat cattle in India. But India is not home to Hindus alone, but also many Muslims, who not only eat beef, but also slaughter cattle in accordance with their religious requirements (halal). As a result, exports from India are of interest to the Arab market. Moreover, ideas of what constitutes a "holy cow" differ in India from region to region. The animals are simply driven into states where slaughter is permitted or tolerated.

The flipside of intensification: crop diversity is decreasing, the appearance of pests requires greater use of pesticides, and soil fertility has deteriorated in many cases. Fertilizer, pesticides and good seed promise higher crop yields, but also cost more money. If crops fail because of floods, droughts or hurricanes, many farmers are left unable to pay their debts.


Modernizing the small-farm economy

In its Vision 2020, the Indian government describes how the agricultural sector will meet the growing demand for food According to the paper, the government will try to invest in rural infrastructure, target areas to expand irrigation and promote education and employment opportunities for poor cities and the rural population. Landless and illiterate Indians in particular are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Agricultural advisors will introduce optimized methods of cultivation, harvesting and storage in order to allow small farmers to make an even greater contribution to a secure food supply.


Back to overview