Wheat and rice production revisited

Towards the end of last month we had looked at states in India with the maximum land under wheat and rice cultivation (both on an absolute and a relative basis). We revisit that topic of rice and wheat cultivation here, except that now we look at production (in KG) and productivity (KG per hectare). The data at data.gov.in spans from 1998 to 2010, but data for all states is not available for 2009 and 2010, so assuming that production patterns don’t change drastically, I’ve used data from 2008 to look at the biggest producers of these commodities.

Four figures offered without further comment.

1. Top wheat growing states in India (as of 2008)


2. Productivity growth in major wheat growing states of India


3. Top rice growing states of India (as of 2008)


4. Productivity growth in major rice growing states of India


Growing wheat and rice in India

One of the most massive data sets on data.gov.in is district-wise data on the total area under cultivation and production of various crops for each season for each year from 1998 to 2010. In this post we will look at which states utilize the most amount of land growing each crop.

First, a note on the data. The data is district-wise and season-wise. The irritating thing is that the seasons are not mutually exclusive. The seasons in the data set are “Summer”, “Kharif”,  “Autumn”, “Winter”, “Rabi” and “Whole Year”. First of all, I don’t know what “Autumn” means in India – as far as I know India doesn’t have one such season. Granting some liberties, it is irritating that seasons overlap.

Here is how I’ve consolidated the data. For either crop, for each year, I took the total area under cultivation for each state for each season. Next, I looked at the maximum area under cultivation in a particular state at a particular point in time (any time in the 12 years of data I have). So the data I present in this post is the maximum area in a particular state that was under a particular crop at some point of time in the 1998-2010 time period.

So, who grows wheat in India? The graph here shows the states with the maximum area under wheat:

Source: data.gov.in
Source: data.gov.in


Notice that Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have had much more area under wheat than Punjab or Haryana. Also notice that only eight states in India have ever had more than 5000 square kilometers of land growing wheat. To put this in perspective let us look at rice:

Source: data.gov.in
Source: data.gov.in


Here I have put the cutoff (for entry to the graph) at 10000 square kilometer, and yet fourteen states make the cut. In terms of area under cultivation at least, we can say that we are a predominantly rice growing country. Again, in rice, notice that Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have more area under cultivation of rice than more “traditional” rice growing areas like Orissa or West Bengal.

Which state has the biggest proportion of its land area under wheat? And rice? The next two graphs show the proportion of land under wheat and under rice in each state (note again that these are maximum values over a decade).


There is much more information in this particular data set. We will revisit it in subsequent posts.



Rice to coffee to programming

I just finished reading Sanjeev Sanyal’s Land of Seven Rivers, a book on the history of India’s geography. In most places it turns into a book on history rather than a book of geography, but has lots of interesting fundaes (using that word since I’m unable to find a perfect synonym in English). It is basically a retelling of Indian history with a focus on how what we currently know as India came to be, and the various expansions and contractions in the country over the years.

This is not a review of the book (unless you consider the preceding paragraph as a review). The purpose of this post is about one interesting concept I found in the book. Sanyal mentions that the traditional name for Java (the Indonesian island which houses Djakarta, among others) is “yavadwipa”. Now, while online dictionaries that I just consulted say that “yava” is the Sanskrit word for “barley” or “barleycorn”, the only other time I’ve come across the word has been while performing my parents’ death ceremonies – where the priest chants something to the effect of “offer yava” and then asks you to take some rice in your hand and wash it off with a spoonful of water. It is possible, though, that “yava” simply means “grain” and can refer to any kind of grain, including rice and barley.

Earlier in the book, Sanyal mentions that while wheat and barley originated in the fertile crescent (in and around modern Iraq), where they were first cultivated, rice has an eastern origin. Rice, he mentions, was probably first cultivated in South East Asia and came to India from the east. Taking this in conjunction with the fact that the Sanskrit name for Java is yavadwipa, can we posit that it meant “island of rice”? It may not be that rice originated in Java, but it is fully possible that Ancient and Medieval India imported rice from Java, thanks to which the island got its name.

So over the years “yavadwipa” became simply “yava” which I posit that the Dutch wrote as “Java” (considering that in most of continental Europe J is pronounced as Y), which gives the island its current name. What makes this nomenclature more interesting is that Java is now a major producer of coffee, and if you go by Wikipedia, some Americans refer to all coffee as “java”. It is interesting how the same island which was known for a particular kind of food in the ancient and middle ages is now known for another name of food!

Maybe I should start a brand called “rice coffee”.

On Cooking

For a little over a month, I’ve been living alone. And since Gurgaon doesn’t offer terrific variety of options in terms of cuisine, I’ve been cooking. Actually, I’ve been having a combination of cuisines every day – breakfast is continental (cereal with milk), lunch is north indian (eat it at the office cafeteria) and dinner at home is south indian. This arrangement will last for a couple of weeks, after which my mother will be joining me here.

I’ve often received queries as to how I can find so much time to cook. Others say that time can be managed, but how I can find the enthu to cook. A fwe others advise me to not bother with this and to employ a cook. The reason I don’t take the last bit of advice is because I’m usually fussy about what I eat. And then, one month of Gurgaon meant that I was bored of North Indian food, and needed something else for dinner (and how many cooks can you find in Gurgaon who can cook something else?). There is one really good South Indian restaurant here, but I can’t keep going there everyday, can I?

What I do in order to get the time and enthu to cook is to employ concepts such as economies of scale and law of conservation of willpower. I’ve talked about the former two posts back, when I gave a possible reason for only South India having a well-defined breakfast cuisine. The latter can be found in a NY Times article written in april which I’ve linked to several times from here, and now don’t have the enthu to find the link.

The basic unit of South Indian cooking is rice. It is extremely easy to make, and requires you to spend not more than a sum total of five minutes in the kitchen. Hence, it can be easily prepared in the evening following a long and tiring day at work. the next most important item, curd, can be purchased off the shelf. I have pickles which I’d ordered from Sri Vidyabharathi Home Products in SringerI (blogged about it but too lazy to put link). However, rice, curd and pickles doesn’t make a complete meal. You also need sambar or rasam to go with that. And making that is a non-trivial process.

This is where economies of scale comes in. The amount of effort to make five litres of Sambar is only marginally greater than the amount of time taken to make 1 litre (you need to cut more vegetables). My fridge works quite well, and Sambar or Rasam, when stored the right way, can last for about two weeks. So you know what is to be done (actually my grad student friends in the US tell me that this is what they’ve been practicing for ages). Whenever you get the enthu to cook (we’ll come to this in a bit), you make enough to last a week. Only thing is that you shouldn’t have qualms about eating stuff that has been inside a fridge (if you are a strict observer of the maDi-mYlge-musare-enjil practices, you may not be willing to do this).

Speaking of enthu, this is where the law of conservation of willpower comes in. Cooking is a fairly mechanical process, and there isn’t any scope for creativity, especially if you are making “vanilla” products such as rice, rasam, sambar and curry. Hence, for someone like me who is more idea-oriented and not  execution-oriented, it can consume a lot of willpower. One attempt at cooking can be quite exhausting. So you better make sure you don’t spend all the energy that you get from eating in cooking the next meal.

My policy so far has been that I shouldn’t do any kind of major cooking more than once a day. By major cooking, I talk about processes that take more than 10 minutes of kitchen time (this excludes making rice, heating stuff, etc.) .I broke that rule today, and have ended up totally tired. However, as long as  I follow that rule, I know that sometime or the ohter i’m going to feel enthu and go into the kitchen. This wya, I dont’ end up spending too much will power when im in the kitchen. And I get to eat good food every day.

Why Breakfast is an integral part of South Indian cuisine and not in North Indian

I suppose the more perceptive of you would have noticed this – that breakfast forms an integral part of South Indian cuisine, while it is totally absent (apart from parathas) in the North. The more inquisitive of you would have asked yourselves this question, and would have perhaps asked some friends and relatives and acquaintances also. The luckier among you would have found some answers. I think I belong to this category, too. And I hereby share my theory with you.

The fundamental concept here is that South Indian food is predominantly rice-based while North Indian food is roti-based. Yes, you have the accompaniments – sambar and dry curry in the south, and dal and sabji in the north. But let us focus on the staple component here. Let us think back a few generations, when large joint families were the norm. Division of labour meant that most women would spend most of their time cooking.

Now, those of you who have cooked, or even observed someone cooking, would have noticed that the process of cooking rice is “scalable”. On the part of the cook, cooking 10 kilos of rice takes only marginally greater effort compared to cooking 1 kilo of rice. On the other hand, rotis are non-scalable. There are minor economies of scale in terms of time taken to get the stove going, but the amount of effort involved in cooking is directly proportional to the number of rotis to be made. Roti-making is thus non-scalable. Also, observe that roti-making is high-involvement. It requires the undivided attention of a cook. On the other hand, you can just set rice to boil, and go sing a song while it gets cooked.

So the funda here is that given the non-scalable process of making rotis, whenever there were large families involved, North Indian women would have to spend a large part of their time making rotis. The long and tedious process meant that women had little time left over after cooking lunch and dinner. Contrast this with the rice-eating South, where due to the scalable process, women had a lot more free time compared to their Northern counterparts.

Another thing we need to remember here is that rice is more easily digestible than wheat, and hence doesn’t “last as long”. Hence, the rice-eater will need to eat at more regular intervals as compared to the wheat-eater. The wheat-eater can easily survive on two meals a day, but this is not the case for the rice-eater. There is the need for that one extra meal.

So, people, this is why breakfast, which is an integral part of South Indian cuisine, is practically absent in the North. There was demand – rice-eating south indians couldn’t survive on two meals a day. There was also the requirement for variety, for one couldn’t eat the same thing thrice a day. And there was supply – the free time the South Indian woman had, thanks to the scalable process she adopted for making lunch and dinner. This explains why South Indians evolved such an excellent breakfast cuisine, while people in the North eat bread.