Do we have more land for agriculture?

A question that capture attention of different economic agents and decision makers, in an agrarian country like India, is – “Do we have more land for agriculture?”. One would turn to ‘No’, as the time-series evidence on land use portray a stagnant land use in cultivation. Since 1980s, the net area sowed hovers just above 140 million hectares. Being fixed in supply, a not-so-fast increasing land, and an ever increasing population has brought the arable land available to a 0.15 hectare per person in 2011, from a 0.52 hectare during 1951. As more mouths are to be fed with smaller and smaller pieces of land, exploring possibilities to deal with this constraint would be of great value.



Incentives on input intensive technologies have raised in recent years, but the sustainability in food production system itself should be questioned. While management policies such as water and nutrient use efficiency measures may bring help to the other end, holistic development in achieving these ideals could come true only in long future. An obvious question is that – “Why not to ‘use’ the ‘useable’ land that are ‘not used’?”.

Technically, the term ‘culturable land’ includes fallows, culturable waste land and land under miscellaneous tree crops other than the land what is being used in agriculture in practice. The difference between ‘culturable’ and ‘cultivated’, as per definition, in India, is substantially high to the extent of 26 million hectares in recent past, which could be thought while devising effective land policies for agriculture. To be more precise, leaving the ‘Current Fallows’ and ‘Land under miscellaneous tree crops’, rest of the land can be planned for the agriculture. While decision to leave a land fallow for less than a year may not be considered, land left without cultivation for more than 5 years is difficult to put into agriculture as it require reclamation processed. In this front, the fallows kept out of agriculture for not less than 1 year but not beyond 5 years, technically known as ‘Fallow Lands other than Current Fallows’, could be an effective choice of purpose (Figure 2). Statistics show that this alone accounts for above 10 million hectares, promising potential scope to add back to agriculture.


While such figures inspire at glance on the issue of scarce land in agriculture, bringing back these lands to agriculture would demand innovative approaches. Egalitarian intellections directing ‘contractual’ distribution of the so called ‘useable but not used’ land to the landless, though might appear revolutionary, could not only revitalise agriculture engagements, but also help to distribute income more evenly across the social sections. Reorienting production policies in agriculture in consideration with these ‘excess lands’ might be of other choice. Research designs that explore production policies, institutional support and policy interventions are the need of the hour. To insist, we have more land for agriculture, and just need to find a way to till it.

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Balaji SJ is a scientist with the National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NIAP)