Types of Indian Agricultural System – UPSC Notes – Indian Geography

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s population. Read here to know more about Indian Agricultural System.

India has one of the largest plain areas of the world—the Indo-Gangetic plain which is immensely fertile.

India has varieties of climatic conditions and soil types.

These physical variations along with factors like availability of irrigation, use of machinery, modern agricultural inputs like High Yielding Varieties (HYV) of seeds, insecticides, and pesticides have played their important roles in the evolution of different farming practices in the Indian agriculture sector.

Types of farming in India

i) Subsistence farming

The majority of farmers in India practice subsistence farming—farming for their consumption. The entire production is largely consumed by the farmers and their families and they do not have any surplus to sell in the market.

In this type of farming, landholdings are small and fragmented; cultivation techniques are primitive and simple. There is a total absence of modern equipment like tractors and farm inputs like chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides. In this farming, farmers mostly cultivate cereals along with oilseeds, pulses, vegetables, and sugarcane.

Subsistence farming is further classified into:

  • Intensive
  • Primitive

Primitive subsistence agriculture is practiced on patches of land with the help of primitive tools like simple digging tools and community or family labour. This type of farming is monsoon-dependent along with the fertility of the soil and other environmental conditions. Examples of such types are shifting agriculture and nomadic herding.

Shifting agriculture is practiced in thickly forested regions like the Amazon basin, tropical Africa, parts of southeast Asia, and northeast India. These areas receive heavy rainfall hence the vegetation regenerates quickly. A patch of land is cleared by felling trees and burning them. The ashes are then mixed with the soil and crops like maize, yam, potatoes, and cassava are grown. The land is abandoned once fertility is reduced.

Nomadic herding is practiced in the semi-arid and arid regions of Sahara, Central Asia, and some parts of India like Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir. Herdsmen move from place to place with their animals for fodder and water, along defined routes, and such movement arises due to seasonal changes. Animals like sheep, camel, yak, and goats are most commonly reared.

Intensive subsistence agriculture is done on small lands with simple tools and more labour. The produce is enough for local consumption and to be sold outside. The sunny climate and fertile soil for most of the year permit the cultivation of more than one crop annually on the same plot. Rice, wheat, maize, pulses, and oilseeds are generally cultivated.

ii) Intensive and Extensive farming

The basic difference between these two types of farming is the amount of production per unit of land. In comparison with temperate areas of the USA, Canada, India do not practice extensive cultivation.

When a large patch of land is used for cultivation then we call it extensive farming. Here, total production may be high due to the larger area but per unit area production is low.

Intensive Farming records high production per unit of land. An example of intensive cultivation is in Kerala where the availability of land for cultivation is very limited.

iii) Commercial farming

It is just the opposite of subsistence farming as most of the produce is sold in the market for earning money. In this system, farmers use inputs like irrigation, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, High Yielding Varieties of seeds, etc.

Some of the major commercial crops grown in different parts of India are cotton, jute, sugarcane, groundnut, etc.

Rice farming in Haryana is mainly for commercial purposes as people of this area are predominantly wheat eaters. However, in East and North-Eastern states of India, rice cultivation would be largely of subsistence type.

iv) Plantation Farming

In this type, a single cash crop is grown for sale in national and international markets. This type of agriculture involves the growing and processing of a single cash crop purely meant for sale.

Tea, coffee, rubber, banana, and spices are all examples of plantation crops. Most of these crops were introduced in India by the Britishers in the 19th Century.

v) Mixed Farming:

When both raising crops and rearing animals are carried on simultaneously, it is called mixed farming. Farmers engaged in mixed farming have economical advantages as well.

All classifications are based on the nature and purpose of farming, hence they may overlap in some cases. For example, Banana is a plantation type of farming but can also be classified as commercial farming.

TypeProminent RegionBenefitsChallenges
Subsistence FarmingNorth-Eastern States, hilly regionsSustains livelihoods by providing food and income for local families.Limited access to modern technology hampers productivity and income growth. For instance, in hilly regions like Meghalaya, despite its rich agro-biodiversity, low agricultural mechanization affects efficiency.
Intensive FarmingPunjab, HaryanaHigh crop yields meet the food demands of a growing population. Contributes to 18% of India’s agricultural GDP (2019).Overuse of resources like water and chemicals leads to soil degradation and health concerns. The Green Revolution in Punjab resulted in soil salinity and waterlogging issues, impacting long-term sustainability.
Commercial FarmingWestern India, MaharashtraGenerates income for farmers and contributes to economic growth. Maharashtra’s sugarcane cultivation supports a major industry.Soil degradation due to monoculture and excessive chemical use threatens long-term fertility. In Vidarbha, cotton farming led to high pesticide use and farmer suicides due to debt.
Organic FarmingUttarakhand, SikkimProduces environmentally friendly and premium quality products. India is among the world’s top organic producers (2019).Lower yields compared to conventional farming challenge meeting rising food demands. For example, organic paddy yield is lower than conventional in Sikkim due to pest pressures.
Dryland FarmingRajasthan, GujaratSuited for arid regions, conserves water resources and prevents soil erosion.Vulnerable to climate change impacts, with droughts affecting production. For instance, Rajasthan faced a major drought in 2003, causing crop losses and distress migration.
Plantation FarmingKerala, KarnatakaMajor foreign exchange earnings through the export of cash crops like tea and coffee.Monoculture risks, such as susceptibility to diseases and market price fluctuations. For instance, coffee rust severely affected plantations in Karnataka in 2012-13.
Mixed FarmingAndhra Pradesh, Tamil NaduRisk diversification ensures stability against crop failures. Integration of livestock and aquaculture improves nutrient cycling.Complex management of different crops and livestock requires diverse skills. For example, integrated farming systems in Tamil Nadu require expertise in both agriculture and animal husbandry.
Dairy FarmingPunjab, Uttar PradeshProvides livelihoods for the rural population, contributes to nutrition. India is the world’s largest milk producer (2020).Animal health concerns and dependency on external inputs like fodder can impact profitability. Punjab faces issues of depleting groundwater affecting dairying sustainability.
Poultry FarmingMaharashtra, TelanganaSupplies of affordable protein generate employment. India ranks among the top poultry producers.Disease outbreaks like avian influenza pose significant economic risks. For instance, the bird flu outbreak in Maharashtra in 2006 resulted in massive culling and economic losses.
SericultureKarnataka, West BengalValuable silk production provides employment in rural areas.Seasonal labour demands and susceptibility of silkworms to diseases. Karnataka experienced a significant reduction in cocoon production due to disease outbreaks in recent years.
Nomadic FarmingArid and semi-arid regionsPreserves traditional pastoral lifestyles, and contributes to food security.Vulnerable to changing ecosystems, conflicts with settled communities, and land disputes. The nomadic tribes of Rajasthan face challenges in accessing grazing lands and water sources due to urbanization and land-use changes.
Shifting AgricultureNorth-Eastern States, tribal regionsMaintains biodiversity in forests, and supports tribal communities.Soil degradation and deforestation risks due to short fallow periods. In Nagaland, shifting cultivation led to deforestation, impacting wildlife habitats and water catchment areas.

Features of Indian Agriculture

Subsistence Agriculture: Most parts of India have subsistence agriculture which has been practiced in India for several hundreds of years and still prevails.

The pressure of population on Agriculture: Despite the increase in urbanization and industrialization, about 70% of the population is still directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture.

Mechanization in agriculture: Even after more than forty years of the Green Revolution and revolution in agricultural machinery and equipment, complete mechanization is still not achieved.

Monsoon dependency: Despite the large-scale expansion, only about one-third of the total cropped area is irrigated today. As a consequence, two-thirds of cropped areas are still dependent upon the monsoon.

Variety of crops: Since India has both tropical and temperate climates, crops of both climates are found in India. There are very few countries in the world that have variety comparable to that of India. You would realize that when we would discuss the different types of crops in detail.

The predominance of food crops: The production of food crops is the priority of the farmers almost everywhere in the country.

Seasonal patterns: India has three distinct agricultural/cropping seasonsKharif, rabi, and Zaid. In India, there are specific crops grown in these three seasons. For example, rice is a Kharif crop whereas wheat is a rabi crop.

Challenges for Indian Agriculture

The challenges faced by Indian agriculture can be broadly grouped into two categories- the long-standing problems and the emerging issues from the prevailing agricultural practices, system, changing climate, and economy.

Stagnation in Production of Major Crops: Production of some of the major staple food crops like rice and wheat has been stagnating for quite some time. This is a situation that is worrying our agricultural scientists, planners, and policymakers as it creates a huge gap between the demand of the ever-growing population and the production.

High cost of Farm Inputs: Farm inputs include fertilizer, insecticide, pesticides, HYV seeds, farm labour cost, etc. Such an increase puts low and medium-land-holding farmers at a disadvantage.

Soil Exhaustion: Green revolution has played a positive role in reducing hunger in India but has negative consequences also. One of which is Soil exhaustion which means the loss of nutrients in the soil from farming the same crop over and over again.

Groundwater depletion: The second negative consequence of the green revolution is the depletion of fresh groundwater. Most of the irrigation in dry areas of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh was carried out by excessive use of groundwater. Today, the fresh groundwater situation in these states is alarming.

Global Climatic Change: It has been predicted that climate change’s impact on Indian agriculture would be immense. It is predicted that due to climate change, the temperature would increase, leading to an increase in sea level, more intense cyclones, unpredictable rainfall, etc. These changes would adversely affect the production of rice and wheat. Specifically, a rise in temperature in winter would affect the production of wheat in north India. Production of rice would be affected in coastal areas of India due to the ingress of saline water and an increase in the frequency of cyclones.

Impact of Globalisation: All developing countries have been affected by globalization. The most evident effect is the reduction in farmers’ income and the threat to the viability of cultivation in India. This is due to the rising input costs and falling output prices. This reflects the combination of reduced subsidy and protection to farmers. Trade liberalization exposes these farmers to competition from highly subsidized production in the developed world.

Providing Food Security: Before the introduction of the green revolution in India, we were not self-sufficient in terms of our food grain production. But the last few decades agriculture is not growing with the increasing population and to ensure food security factors like accessibility, affordability as well nutritional value of the food available should be catered to.

Farmers Suicides: The farmer suicides appear concentrated in regions of high commercialization of Indian agriculture and very high peasant debt. Cash crop farmers seemed far more vulnerable than those growing food crops. Commercialization of the countryside along with a massive decline in investment in agriculture was the beginning of the decline. Privatization of many resources has also compounded the problems.

Indian Agriculture: Important Facts

The Economic Survey of India 2020-21 report stated that in FY20:

  • The total food grain production in the country was recorded at 296.65 million tonnes (up by 11.44 million tonnes compared with 285.21 million tonnes in FY19).
  • The government has set a target to buy 42.74 million tonnes from the central pool in FY21; this is 10% more than the quantity purchased in FY20.
  • For FY22, the government has set a record target for farmers to raise food grain production by 2% with 307.31 million tonnes of food grains.
  • In FY21, production was recorded at 303.34 million tonnes against a target of 301 million tonnes.
  • Gross Value Added (GVA) by agriculture, forestry, and fishing was estimated at Rs. 19.48 lakh crore in FY20.
  • The share of agriculture and allied sectors in GVA of India at current prices stood at 17.8% in FY20.
  • Consumer spending in India will return to growth in 2021 post the pandemic-led contraction, expanding by as much as 6.6%.


To produce high quality and quantity produce in farming, it is essential to implement specific agricultural practices. These practices encompass the particular steps taken by farmers to grow crops. They vary depending on the type of agriculture pursued, whether it is for subsistence (self-consumption) or commercial (market sale) purposes. The steps in agricultural practices comprise soil preparation, sowing, manuring, irrigation, weeding, harvesting, and storage. However, India faces major challenges in agricultural practices.

FAQs on Types of Indian Agricultural System

Which type of farming is famous in India?

India is known for a diverse range of farming practices. However, some of the most famous types of farming in India include subsistence farming, intensive farming, and commercial farming. These methods cater to various needs and geographical conditions across the country.

Which state has the richest farmers in India?

The wealth and prosperity of farmers can vary greatly across different states in India. States like Punjab, Haryana, and Maharashtra are often recognized for having relatively prosperous farmers due to factors such as advanced agricultural practices, irrigation facilities, and high crop yields.

Which farming is very profitable?

Commercial farming is often considered one of the most profitable types of farming. This method involves large-scale cultivation of crops or raising livestock primarily for sale in the market, rather than for personal consumption. Commercial farming can yield significant profits if managed efficiently and if there is a high demand for the produced goods.

What are the 5 types of farming in India?

In India, various types of farming are practiced to cater to different needs and conditions. The five prominent types of farming in India include:

  • Subsistence farming: Small-scale farming primarily for self-sufficiency.
  • Intensive farming: High-input farming aimed at maximizing yields on limited land.
  • Commercial farming: Large-scale farming for profit-making purposes.
  • Organic farming: Cultivation without the use of synthetic chemicals, promoting environmental sustainability.
  • Mixed farming: Integration of different agricultural activities such as crop cultivation and animal husbandry for risk diversification and sustainability.

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