Maize productivity and use of crop protection products in India

Importance of maize cultivation in India

India is one of the top 10 maize producers in the world; it contributes around 2-3% of the total maize produced globally and is one of the top-5 maize exporters in the world contributing almost 14% of the total maize exported to different countries around the world. South-East Asia is the biggest market for Indian maize with almost 80% of the exported Indian maize going to Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Figure 1: Key export destination for Indian maize

After rice and wheat, maize is the third most important field crop in India. Maize has three growing seasons in India, namely Kharif, Rabi and Spring. Kharif is the most important season covering around 80% of the total area of maize in India. It also produces around 70% of the total Indian maize. Rabi is the second most important season that covers around 15% of total area of maize. The yield for maize crop varies by region where climatic conditions are different, e.g. Rabi maize produced in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar has higher yield than what Kharif farmers get elsewhere.  

The total cultivated area of maize in India is over 9.0 million ha (2013-14), with most of the Indian states growing it. Ten states in India represent around 80% of the total area of maize grown. Karnataka (15%) is the largest state for maize cultivation followed by Rajasthan (13%) and Madhya Pradesh (10%). 

Table 1: Planting season and time of sowing

Irrigated vs un-irrigated maize

Maize in India is cultivated across various ecosystems – It is estimated that almost 75% of the total area of maize grown in India is not irrigated. This is because of the poor quality of irrigation infrastructure and the unpredictable intensity of the monsoon to provide sufficient reserves. If we compare the top ten maize acreage states of India, only Uttar Pradesh irrigates more than 50% of its total maize area.  For the remaining top ten states, the incidence of irrigation is below 35%, except Andhra Pradesh where 38% of the maize area is irrigated. In states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh which have 13% and 10% of the total Indian maize area respectively, the level of irrigation stands at 3% and 10% only. 

Figure 2: Percentage of irrigated area

Usage of Indian maize

Maize is being used in different sectors and activities in India. The biggest user of maize in India is the poultry industry with 47% of the share followed by direct consumption at 20%. Other usages include cattle feed (14%) and starch (14%) followed by the food and beverage industry with a 7% share.

Figure 3: Maize usage in India

Land holding pattern for Indian maize farmers

The maize land holding is divided among different farm sizes. The majority of maize farming (60%) is done by marginal farmers who have an acreage of less than 1 hectare.

In general, individual land holding in India is significantly smaller than the major agri-based countries and this holds true in case of maize farming as well. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are states known for small land holdings, and these two states have 20% and 11% of the total number of maize land holdings in India respectively. The majority of these farmers are marginal farmers.

Figure 4: Land holding pattern

Figure 5: Number of maize land holdings

Low maize yields

Maize farming in India is important because it has a high export potential and a large population of marginal farmers are dependent on it. Maize is also important for India as it is a component of the national food security programme.

Currently, Indian growers produce close to 24.2 million tonnes of maize per year from close to 9.0 million hectares of land. India’s yield of maize is approximately 3 tonnes per hectare which put India at 91st place out of 168 maize growing countries. Countries like USA, Argentina, Ukraine, China, Brazil and South Africa all have average yield of more than 5 tons per hectare.

Figure 6: Number of maize land holdings

Source: Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmer Welfare (Government of India)

Looking at the current scenario, India has a lot of catching up to do; it has to increase its efforts to be close to the global average of around 5 tons and then build on from there. It is important for India to increase yields as large areas of the total available arable land and a high number of its population are dedicated to maize cultivation.  Improvement in yield will help to improve the social and economic situation for the marginal farmers and bring in an increase in foreign reserves levels for India.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

Causes of low maize yields in India

In India, the yield is almost half of the overall global average. The reasons for this include:

  • Climate: Agriculture in India is mainly dependent on the monsoon, and only 30% of the total land under maize cultivation is irrigated which affects the yield;
  • Small land holding: The majority of the land is held by marginal farmers with limited resources available, which means the use of modern technology and farm management tools are limited;
  • GMO seeds: There are strict regulations for GMO maize seeds, which are a key factor for higher yields in countries like USA and China;
  • Crop protection: There is generally a limited usage and awareness of crop protection technology.

Yield loss due to biotic stresses in India

The maize plant is subjected to critical weed infestations, insects and diseases which significantly reduce overall yield. It is estimated that maize yield is reduced by around 25% because of the impact of biotic stresses. Some of the common diseases and pests affecting maize are: Pink borer (Sesamia inference), Shoot fly (Atherigona sp.), Stem Borer (Chilo partellus), Termites (Odontotermes obesus), American bollworm, Chaffer beetle, Turcicum leaf blight (Exserohilum turcicum), and Common rust (Puccinia sorghi). The maize crop is also affected by many species of narrow and broad leaf weeds.

Crop protection scenario for maize in India

The use of crop protection products in India is lower when compared to major agri-based countries. The per capita consumption of pesticides in India is estimated at 0.6 kg/ha compared to 7 kg/ha in USA and 13 kg/ha in China. It is estimated that only 35-40% of the total Indian farmland has crop protection products applied to it. Out of the total crop protection products available, farmers in India use Insecticide (60%) the most, followed by fungicide (18%), herbicide (16%), bio pesticide (3%) and other (3%).   

The situation is no different in maize. Farmers in India face loses due to inefficient weed management and the limited use of use of crop protection products. Low awareness of pesticides and the lack of weed control at key stages are the main reasons for lower yields. The total crop protection market for maize revolves around herbicide usage; the total CP market in value terms is estimated to have around 58% share of herbicide, 35% of insecticide and 7% of fungicide.

Following table provides details of key actives used by Indian corn growers:

Future Outlook

As the drought cycle in the sub-continent is becoming frequent and the variation in rainfall is increasing across regions, the crop protection market for maize in India is estimated to grow. Infrastructure development and improvement in awareness levels of the farmer will boost the crop protection usage and will affect the overall yield of maize in a positive manner.

 

Author:

Manish Upreti

Kleffmann Group