[Solved] What are the major factors responsible for making rice-wheat system a success? In spite of this success how has this system become bane in India? (UPSC GS-3 mains 2020)

The rice-wheat system in India, sown in winter after the paddy crop, is one of the oldest cropping systems in the world. Experts who worked on this system in the third Five Year Plan realized that there were several advantages of wheat over rice.

  • The plans for two consecutive years gave good yields only where both the crops did well. But with the present area under wheat and rice combined about 120 million hectares, experts feel that such cropping pattern might become bane with respect to pest control.
  • In spite of success India’s agriculture has constantly faced serious problem. The major factor for success in rice – wheat system was the traditional innovations related to seeds and fertilisers, irrigation and water management , farming practices like crop rotation , weeding and others . Cultures are farmer centred and evolve as per that of climate.
  • The success of rice-wheat system in India resulted from its adoption as a slightly modified technology introduced by the British rulers.
  • After independence, the government intensified the efforts to expand the area under rice-wheat system since this cropping pattern generated substantially higher per capita GDP compared to other alternative cropping patterns (Mouly et al., 1996; Swaminathan, 1998).
  • Based on the records of major states in India, Thompson (1984) reported that by 1980s, wheat has been most widely cultivated crop (covering 33% of cropland area) supported by irrigation in south and west India.

Major factors responsible for making rice-wheat system success

  • Minimum Support Price
    The biggest reason was the government support given to farmers in terms of minimum price. Farmers would not have to worry about low prices as they had an assured income. This prompted them to develop rice and wheat crops.
  • Fertilizer and irrigation availability
    Rice and wheat system was successful due to timely availability of fertilizers and irrigation. This allowed increase in areas under these crops. The output per acre also grew as a result of this phenomenon.
  • Hybrid variety of seeds
    Research in agriculture gave birth to new variety of seeds that were climate tolerant as well as drought resistant. Increasing output and lower growing days were also obtained through subsequent research in these crops.
  • Increased production and productivity that characterized the “Green Revolution Period” have resulted from a combination of factors, the key ones being the expansion of irrigated area, the introduction of high-yielding dwarf rice and wheat varieties and the increased use of inputs including fertilizers and crop protection chemicals.
  • Other supporting elements included expansion and strengthening of research and extension services and overall agricultural support policies. The net irrigated area increased from 2,466 million ha, in 1960-61 to 47.78 million ha, in 1990-91.
  • During the same period, the irrigated wheat area rose from 4.23 to 19.55 and irrigated rice area from 12.56 to 19.13 million ha, respectively
  •  From 1960-61 to 1990-91, the consumption of inorganic fertilizers increased from 0.29 to 12.55 million tons and a large part of these were consumed in the rice-wheat cropping system.
  • As a result many, rice-wheat farmers use high doses of fertilizers, up to 4-500 kg nutrients/ha/annum

Other major factors are responsible for making the rice-wheat system a success include the usage and optimization of different techniques like

  • Surface seeding, the zero-till system
  • Reduced-till system and bed-planting technology
  • Adoption of new technologies on cropping pattern
  • Intervention of crop diversification under the aegis of AICRP-Integrated Farming Systems (AICRP-IFS)
  • Effective use of agricultural machinery to increase productivity and production of farm output
  • Inducement of new crop varieties having specific traits to improve yield and nutritional quality ensuring tolerance and resistance to various biotic and abiotic stresses
  • Adopting improved methods of irrigation and irrigation technologies; usage of optimal dose based on soil health status
  • promotion of neem coated urea
  • Biofortification to improve the nutritional quality of food crops, promotion of organic fertilizers and water-soluble fertilizers; and varied institutional reforms

Side effects of rice-wheat system

  • Mono-cropping
    Excessive focus on rice and wheat crops converted Indian agriculture system into monocrop where a single variety occupied large areas of land. This affected the land fertility.
  • Decrease in cash crops
    The growing of cash crops almost vanished from certain areas of the country such as Haryana and Punjab. This also affected raw material availability for industries.
  • Decrease in groundwater levels
    Rice and wheat are water guzzler crops. Water requirement for getting a kilogram of grains is too high. This has put pressure on ground water levels of the region.


  •  Many advances in modern plant breeding have been possible because of the wide range of genetic resources provided by the land races.
  • This very success now threatens the source of genetic diversity on which further progress depends.
  •  Farmers find it less rewarding to maintain land races developed by their ancestors. The widespread use of modern varieties raises question about the stability of production and threatens the endemic breakout of diseases or pest attacks.

Disease and pest problems

  • Disease and pest problems are now more serious than ever before. These problems are a result of continuous croppiug of selecled crops, e.g. rice and wheat: the carry-over of some pest and disease complexes between the two cereals poses both short and long-term problems.
  • Phlaris minor a grassy weed which has reached a serious proportion in the high productivity area is promoted by the rice-wheat system.
  • It has declined the underground water table since a lot of groundwater is extracted for irrigation.
  • It consumes the maximum percentage of irrigation water considering any other cropping pattern.
  • The underground water quality gets deteriorated due to excessive use of the fertilizers and insecticides.
  • This system has its payoffs having institutional implications because of which farmers don’t want to change their cropping pattern and welcome crop diversification.
  • This system requires strong weed management, as weed pressure is evident in it.
  • It gives environment conducive to the outbreak of the diseases and insect-pests attack.
  • Soil physical quality undergoes degradation.
  • These crops produce a huge surplus of residues where, for farmers, burning remains the easiest option to unload it.
  • There are constraints related to nutrient sufficiencies and crop response.

Today, India is the tenth largest producer in the world of rice and wheat. These are rain-fed crops whose success has resulted in accumulation of water tables at very high levels. In plain areas, it is often more than twenty feet deep. This is a story of success. When we have normal rain fall, farmers get excess water to grow these two crops which are grown on about 55 percent area of land used for agriculture. Thus, rice and wheat growth was a story of success for India. But now it is necessary to put this behind and work towards diversification of crops.

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