In 1998, of the total land area of 297 million hectares (734 million acres), the net sown area was 169 million hectares (420 million acres), or about 57%. The irrigated area totaled 59 million hectares (145.8 million acres) in 1998. At least 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) were redistributed under land reform programs during 1951–79. Agriculture employs about 60% of India's population and contributes about 25% to GDP.
Agricultural production increased at an average annual rate of2.9% during the 1970s, 3.1% during the 1980s, and 3.8% during 1990–98, mainly as the result of the "green revolution," which has made India basically self-sufficient in grain output through the use of improved hybrid seeds, irrigation, and fertilizers. Cereal production averaged over 104 million tons per year from 1979 to 1981; in 1999, production totaled 230 million tons. Rice leads all crops and, except in the northwest, is generally grown wherever the conditions are suitable. In 1999,131.2 million tons of rice were produced on 44.8 million hectares (110.7 million acres). The combined acreage and production of other cereals, all to a large extent grown for human consumption, considerably exceed those of rice. These include jowar, a rich grain sorghum grown especially in the Deccan; wheat, grown in the northwest; and bajra, another grain sorghum grown in the drier areas of western India and the far south. A wheat crop of 70.8 million tons was harvested on 27.4 million hectares (67.7 million acres) in 1999. Vegetables, pulses, and oilseeds are the other main food crops. Oilseed production in 2000/01 included4.9 million tons of cottonseed and 3.73 million tons of rapeseed. Nonfood crops are mainly linseed, cotton, jute, and tobacco. The cotton crop in 2000 was 10.9 million bales (170 kg each) and was large enough to both supply the increasing demands of the domestic textile sector and provide export receipts. For centuries, India has been famous for its spices and today is one of the world's largest producers, consumers, and exporters of a wide range of spices. Of the 63 spices grown in the country, black pepper, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, and chilles are the most economically important. Since World War II (1939–45), India has been the world's largest producer of black pepper (19,641 tons exported in 2001). Pepper production is concentrated in the southern states of Kerlala (65%), Karnataka (20%), and Tamil Nadu (15%).
India was the world's second-leading producer (after Brazil) of sugarcane in 1999, with an output of 282.3 million tons. Tea, coffee, and rubber plantations contribute significantly to the economy, although they occupy less than 1% of the agricultural land (in hill areas generally unsuited to Indian indigenous agriculture), and are the largest agricultural enterprises in India. Tea, the most important plantation crop, is a large foreign exchange earner, with an export value of $367.2 million in 2001, based on exports of 177,603 tons. Production in 1999 was 749,000 tons, the highest in the world and 26% of global production. It is grown mostly in Assam and northern Bengal, but also in southern India. Coffee (265,000 tons in 1999) is produced in southern India, and rubber (550,000 tons in 1999) in Kerala. Leaf tobacco production totaled 702,000 tons in 1999.
Because of the ever-present danger of food shortages, the government tightly controls the grain trade, fixing minimum support and procurement prices and maintaining buffer stocks. The Food Corp. of India, a government enterprise, distributes 12 million tons of food grains annually and is increasing its storage capacity.