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Farmer tour - Get to Indian Farmer
Get to know the Indian Farmer
Rice Fields India is a predominantly agricultural economy. More than half her population works on land. As the farmer sows his land and his farm hands sing to his rhythm, the author leads you along the rice fields and ripening wheat farms introducing you to the Indian farmer. If it is Diwali celebrations you are watching or Pongal celebrations that you are partaking in, take care to look behind the rituals that mark the festival. There is actually the joy of a good harvest that is propelling the agricultural community to celebrate. Indeed, the lives of the Indian people have been so closely linked to the swings of agricultural activity that much of the traditions, beliefs and celebrations that are still actively pursued in today's urban centers have their origins in rituals surrounding agricultural practices. For centuries, agriculture has been the mainstay of the economy.

In fact, the magnitude of agriculture and related activities has dwarfed all other economic activity in India. When India attained independence, agriculture accounted for more than half the national income and provided employment to about 76% of the work force. Since then, because of the rapid growth of other sectors, its relative importance has declined but it still accounts for nearly one-third the national income today and employs about 65% of the population.

Travelers to India have recorded the abundance of the countryside, the industry of the peasants and the interest of the State in investing in irrigation canals. The reputation of Indian spices was known to the ancient world. India has a long history of producing and exporting spices. It was the spice trail that led Europeans to trade with the subcontinent. Today, the major spices India exports are pepper, capsicum, seed spices like coriander, fenugreek fennel, vanilla and saffron, chili, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cassia.

Indian Cotton Who has not heard of or worn the famous Indian cotton? To digress, do take some time off to buy yourself some good cotton shirts and skirts. Cotton is indigenous to India. Did you know that in Babylon and Greece cotton yarn was called sindhu and sindhon because it hailed from a country called Sindhu? (India was called Sindu in ancient times). Cotton grows very well in the drier parts of the black cotton soil of the Deccan Plateau, Gujarat, Maharastra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Physically vast and exhibiting significant geographical, climatic and soil-type diversities, the one common feature of Indian agriculture is its dependence on the most unpredictable of nature's elements: the rains!

The desert terrain of the Thar region in the west manages an uncertain rainfall of 4 to 5 inches a year. On the other hand some areas (like Cherrapunji in Assam) can enjoy an average of about 450 inches of rains a year. Consequently flood and drought conditions often occur simultaneously in different regions of the country.

Equally, India defies generalization with respect to its soil type. Different parts of the country have widely varying soil profiles; the alluvial, black, red and lateritic. In addition to these categories, many other types of soils such as hill soils and desert soils are found in some special regions of the country. Naturally the crops they grow also differ. Agriculture in India is carried out over 163 million hectares, three fourths of which grow food grain. Food grains also account for 63% of the agricultural output of the country. Within the category of food grains, cereals are grown in over 80% of the area. The period after the 'Green-Revolution' of the mid-sixties has seen an increase in the area devoted to food grains largely on account of the emphasis on wheat production.

Wheat Crop The most important crop in India is, however, rice which is grown on more than a third of the total area under food grains. Wheat is the second most important crop of India and in some ways constitutes the success story of the agricultural development program of the country. At the time of independence it was grown on about 10% of the area under food grains but in the post green revolution period this increased rapidly so that wheat now accounts for over 20% of this area. Most of this increase in area has occurred in the northern states of India. Other food grains that are of lesser importance are sorghum, pearl millet and maize.

Over the years farmers have been giving increasing importance to non-food crops too. Over the past 25 years, the area under non-food grains has increased by nearly 50%. This means more sugarcane to bite into and more oil from various kinds of oilseeds like sesame sunflower and Soya bean not to mention groundnut. Since Indian agriculture is dependent on the monsoons, the growing seasons are decided in relation to them. Almost all rainfall that India receives is during the span of three months that follow summer.

So there is either the autumn crop called kharif or the winter crop called Rabi. The kharif crop predominantly uses the moisture from the monsoon showers, farmers perk up. They get their land ready and await monsoons to sow their kharif crop. The time is around June-early July. By the end of the monsoons these crops are ready for harvest. This is the time when many festivals are celebrated throughout the country. If one offers thanks giving to Mother Earth, the other festival celebrates the prosperity and prays for continued seasons of good luck. The kharif crops include rice, millets, maize, groundnuts, jute and cotton. Some pulses are also grown this season.

Indian Farmer The Rabi crop on the other hand is usually possible in irrigated conditions, sown in November and harvested in April-May. The New Year is celebrated in most parts of India in mid April. It begins with freshly harvested grain. The major crops are wheat, gram and oil seeds like mustard and rapeseed. In well-irrigated crops another brief season has been introduced where early-maturing crops are grown. Green gram and black gram are some favorites. Irrigation being paramount, the best loved kings and emperors have been those who took a keen interest in the construction of irrigation canals and tanks and shielded their subjects from the vagaries of nature.

Would you be surprised to know that the Vedas (ancient scriptures) contain references to methods of lifting water in leather skins! The Mauryan rule (3rd-1st century B.C.) did much to construct canals and ensure fair distribution of water. Much later (14th century A.D.) Firoz Shah Tughlak of the Tughlak dynasty and subsequently Akbar (17th century A.D.), laid great emphasis on the construction of canals. Today in India more than 1000 major and minor irrigation works have been carried out.

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