The state of Agriculture in India

Shankar Venkataraman
8 min readJan 12, 2021

I thought for a very long time now, almost a year that I should share my unbiased views of agriculture in India. My limited exposure is the fruit and vegetable sector. I met around 500 farmers in the last five years in various meetings and tried to understand their life and requirements to continue farming. I also spent time in meetings and phone calls with more than two thousand customers who are looking for organic food in Bangalore.

My agenda is very simple. Farmers should do well in their careers because without them there is no food. The average age of farmer is well above 55. Many of them are leaving their jobs. Their work also is related to soil management. With poor soil management, we will lose soil to erosion and other abuses. Without soil, there is no food.

What is happening in India in Agriculture? Most farmers own ancestral land. Land prices have gone up quite high for anyone poor like a farmer to be able to buy new land. I do not mean to say all farmers are poor. Many farmers have other businesses too that make money and have become rich through their business skills. Many farmers do farming by looking at what their neighbors do. They do not have extensive knowledge and education about what is right for their land. They want to know and are willing to learn. But what they are taught (you can go check Agri university web pages) is to use some step A => step B => step C formula with chemical fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides. So the vast majority of products in India are grown with chemicals. The chemical agriculture system is in place since the so-called green revolution in the 1960s(entry of hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides from the west) in India.

What is the effect of this chemicals based growing system? It's simple. A farmer can squeeze more yield from plants because you spoon-feed the nutrients and that too only the three major ones NPK and a few minor ones. Also, a farmer can spray and kill anything that attacks the crop. All insects and diseases attack the crop are because of poor soil health and crop health. Nature is sending insects and diseases to eliminate weak crops. This is the natural selection process of evolution that keeps only healthy specimens alive. But farmers fight nature with chemicals. Poor soil health is because the soil is not managed well at all. No education or technology or method is in place for a farmer to deeply understand what he needs to do with the soil and plants. So they are taught a “reductionist” approach of doing whatever they want to do to manage soil and plants. Soil slowly declines in nutrition and health year after year. Nowadays it's guaranteed that consumers get 20–50 percent of the nutrients they need from their food instead of well above 100%. By Nutrients, I mean all the vitamins, above 90 plus minerals, cancer, and other disease-fighting compounds such as antioxidants and phytonutrients. This leads to various health issues which gradually develop over time. Doctors and pharmacies are waiting to help them out. It's so easy. Take the pill and continue. This is the true state of farming today in India.

Somehow the focus is only on the “chemical residues” in food. This is another reductionist approach. Nobody is discussing nutrients in food. They go by some generic truths and not go deeper into data-based decisions.

At our farms, I am doing a bunch of things in my capacity to measure the nutrients in the foods we grow. It's not very complicated at all. I will update you further on this in great detail in subsequent blogs.

What is happening in the Organic/Natural farming sector? I am a farmer in India for the last 5 years and another 8 years in California before that. Please forgive me if you feel I am wrong. There is a lot of hype about organic food. But there is no hype about the health of the soil where the food is grown. People who do not know anything about organic food or farming can write about it by reading from books, many people sell organic food noticing that there is money to be made, and even educate the masses about the goodness of organic food. But they will not touch the soil at all with their hands and don’t plan on doing it. Those who touch soil on a daily basis and work in the sun and work closely with the crops are too busy doing that and trying to survive. There are also promoters of chemically grown food who say that organic/natural farming is a religion and not scalable and sustainable at all. There is no higher ignorance than this. The worldwide organic Industry is growing beyond 200 billion dollars in sales a year by 2024. How is that for scaling?

It's super easy to work with chemicals by mixing them into the water to grow some vegetables and even fruits(hydroponics). It's expensive to set up a factory for this water-based production system and it's a shortcut for growing a few foods. This seems to be popular these days. I have written in other blogs about this and why this method should be avoided.

It’s not very easy to grow nutrition-rich organic food with soil. But it's the only way to work with nature. It's the correct way to feed people. Once a few steps are taken to build soil through organic methods, farmers will never go back to any other methods. The problem is the starting trouble with organic food. The farmers live from crop to crop. A land that is abused with chemicals will not respond quickly to organic farming methods. The farmers thus have a hill to climb in order to switch to organic farming. So it's starting trouble for many farmers. Also, it's not easy to locate a buyer for organic food. Many buyers give an incentive for growing organic food such as 20% more than the market price of chemically grown food. There is no basis for comparing chemically grown food with organic food and price organic foods like this. But it's done this way by some geniuses. Organic food is a completely different category.

I read reports by Venture capitalists about the food sector in India. It was a very interesting read. Once again these experts have no farmers in their panel of editors and writers who are creating these reports. As long as the market decides the price of food grown by organic farmers, organic farming is at great risk. Food must be priced based on the cost of production, soil fertility of the farm and should ensure good treatment of farmworkers. Alas, that is not what is happening. The market decides the price. The organic food promoters which are big companies decide the price. So the farmer is under constant pressure to squeeze everything at his disposal and compete with other farmers for Kilograms per acre per crop and not nutrition per acre per crop. The land and soil which is the foundation of all of us are thus destroyed because every decision made by the farmer is for yield. Even educated farmers I know reduce inputs so that they can manage the financial numbers and survive that year in organic farming. Soil fertility is not the focus area but financial survival becomes the focus. Short-term mindset rules. Land quality and soil fertility decline and hence food nutritional quality decline with time as there is no financial lever to influence these farmers to grow nutrient-dense food.

I sincerely feel that food and agriculture need deep-dive into the truths. From the customer side, very few are focused on nourishing their body and mind with food. They do not have time to look at it more deeply as they have work to do daily to run their families and their office jobs and other interests. I also see the trend of so-called “influencers” getting hired by corporate interests to sell products. For some payment, these influencers put up a show and push the product. This is quite a sad trend. Instead of farmers promoting what they grow and how rich their soil is and how they grow the food on social media, influencers who do not do any farming at all are doing the work of influencing customer decisions with enticing offers, etc. Customers want food to be delivered to them conveniently and want to quickly believe anyone with the label “organic”. Customers do not have time to go meet the farmer and this is understandable. But in a situation where you cannot trust the food delivered to you as organic or nutrient-rich, you have no choice but to visit as many farmers as possible. Even better is to actually learn the growing methods and have a deeper relationship with the land where your food is grown. It's not practical for all the consumers to grow their own food but some do try. So many people have tried and have asked for my help to consult on setting up their farm. I wish I had time for that.

Please do not believe what you see about food and Agriculture on Facebook and Instagram. Visit the farms to find out the truth about your food.

It takes several lakhs to buy and setup one-acre of farmland to become productive. It takes two workers minimum per acre to grow vegetables there at the cost of 5 lakhs per acre. You have to pay them 2.5 lakhs each for a year and have to give them a place to live and food to eat. It takes a few lakhs per acre to keep the soil healthy and nutrient-rich and protect it from the very hot sun and very hard rain. Deep knowledge is needed to build soil fertility and maintain it. If you make mistakes in soil management then you get punished. I know many farmers who have given up organic farming after trying. After doing tremendous efforts, you want to sell the food and you will get anywhere from 15 rs kg to 50 rs kg for your crop based on “market price” which has no connection to the economic equation of your farm and the expenses of farming. All the weather and insect and crop disease risks are for the farmer to keep. All the crops with cosmetic issues (surface scratches or marks) are for the farmers to keep. Selling crops is not easy at all for farmers. It's very hard to do farming unless there is an intensive and deep desire to do it. The farmers just drop off quietly and get out of business. There are no posts on Instagram that mention that they closed their farming operations.

If you want to learn more and want to pursue organic farming in India, please write to or WhatsApp to +91 9113688239. I would like to build a small farming academy with a 5-day residential training program for 100 sincere students at a time. I hope to launch this farming school by end of 2021. There is enough knowledge to gain in farming for five lifetimes. There is so much to learn.

-Shankar @bhoomifarmers



Shankar Venkataraman

Farmer, author, farming teacher, public speaker. Areas of Agriculture and technology in Agriculture.