*Dr. Kaushik Shankar

India, as a major agrarian nation, has reached self sufficiency in many food grains and agro products. It has also become an exporter of key agro commodities including rice, wheat, millets, maize and other coarse grains. In 2020-21, the value of these exports stood at USD 41.25 billion. Despite COVID-19, agricultural and export activities continued in the country. According to USDA estimates, India stands second in rice production, third in wheat production and eighth in corn production in the world in 2020.


World production of rice was estimated to be 502 million tons, of which China produced 147 and India produced 120 million tons respectively. As of 2016, India’s yield was 2.2 tons/hectare with world average being 3 tons/hectare with China being around 6.5 tons/hectare. India’s planted acreage of rice in 2020/21 was 44 million hectares. Comparing the different yields –

Average yield (tons/hectare) Potential yield (tons)
2.2 120
3 132
6.5 286

India exported 17.7 million tons of rice in 2020/21 or about 15% of production


World production of wheat was estimated to be 773.6 million tons, of which China produced 136 and India produced 107.6 million tons respectively. China’s average yield is 5.7 tons/hectare while India’s average wheat yield is 3.1 tons/hectare with world average wheat yield being 4.5 tons/hectare. With an average of 29.8 million hectares planted for wheat, the following scenarios are possible –

Average yield (tons/hectare) Potential yield (tons)
3.1 107.6
4.5 134.1
5.7 169.9

India exported 2.3 million tons of wheat in 2020/21 or 2% of production.


India while being a major producer of corn, is only the eighth biggest producer in the world with 28.9 million tons production, contrasted with 368.5 million tons by the USA and 260 million tons by China. Global production of corn was estimated to be 1143.5 million tons, making India a small player in the corn market. Average global yield of corn was 5.1 tons/hectare, with the US being 9.4 tons/hectare and India being 4.2 tons/hectare. With a planted acreage of 9.2 million hectares, the following yields are possible –

Average yield (tons/hectare) Potential yield (tons)
4.2 28.9
5.1 46.9
9.4 86.5

India exported 2.8 million tons of corn in 2020/21 or about 10% of production.

The need to increase productivity

Industrial utilization of rice and wheat are minimal in India. Rice is utilized for starch, syrups and some quantities of rice protein. Rice flour is also an industrial ingredient that is used for noodles and other processed food products. Wheat is industrially processed for flour, gluten and starch. Any additional availability of rice or wheat presupposes India’s shift to value addition of these two cereals, in line with global trends.

Maize is utilized for feed, starch, and human consumption. India’s maize market has vacillated between self-sufficiency and imports to meet demand. In the US, 7% of maize is used for starch production (~25 million tons), whereas in India it is around 14% (~4.2 million tons). Hence, any increase in productivity and yield will lead to benefits for the starch and poultry feed sectors.

Initiatives to increase productivity

There have been initiatives by the government to achieve the purpose of doubling farmer incomes by 2022 of which a key component is doubling of agricultural exports. The comprehensive agricultural export policy, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance (2020), The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance (2020) and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance (2020) are key components of this strategy which work on commercial incentives for farmers to produce more.


In addition to industrial utilization, the export potential of these products will have a global ripple effect in enhancing food security, stabilizing prices while achieving the government’s aim of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2020.

*Project Manager, GIRACT