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.



Wheat Prices in India

The ministry that has taken the greatest enthusiasm in disseminating data via the data.gov.in data portal launched by the government of India is the Ministry of Agriculture, which has so far released over 1700 different data sets. Once you download the data you will find that the data is extremely extensive.

I happened to download data on wheat prices in the last four years and the level of detail is amazing. For each agricultural market in the country, for each kind of wheat, it gives the minimum, maximum and modal traded price of wheat for every day. Over the four years, the data set has over 6 lakh data points.

I wanted to look at how the wholesale price of wheat has varied in the last four years. Rather than get into the nittygritties of different varieties of wheat and different markets, I simply took the median traded price of wheat for each day and plotted them. While there might be different varieties whose prices vary from each other, the median is enough to give us a level.


Notice the seasonality in the price of wheat. Given that wheat is primarily a Rabi crop, you would expect the new harvest to hit the markets sometime around March-April (Baisakhi is the primary Rabi harvest festival). However, if you look at the price trends, you notice that the price peaks each year around December, and the price drops starting in January. It continues to drop until March-April after which it starts rising again.

The data shows that there was a steep increase in the price of wheat towards the end of 2009. 2011, however, didn’t behave similarly, with a sharp drop in the price of wheat towards the end of the year. The latter, however, has been more than compensated by the sharp increase in the price of wheat through the course of 2012.

There is a lot more you can play around with the data. You can expect some more agricultural analysis on this blog in the coming weeks or months.

In Perpetual Transition

This post has nothing to do with Ravi Karthik’s blog. It has everything to do with Bangalore’s roads. I can’t recall a single instance in time in the last 15 years when all roads in Bangalore have been in “normal state”. Maybe ever since the KR Market flyover started, there has been one part of the city or the other that has been dug up. And the digging is only increasing. Earlier it would be a handful of places in the city that were dug up. Now, it is tough to find two points over 5 km apart such that you don’t have to take a diversion of some sort to travel between them.

The optimistic among us think that things will become better as soon as these projects get completed. However, what we forget is that there is a small but powerful section of society that survives on the city being in transition. Road-builders, bridge-builders, road-diggers, road-fillers, and all these sundry people make their living based on the premise that the city will be in perpetual transition. And given how critical income from such activities is for their survival, they resort to lobbying and paying “rents” to relevant people in the government to ensure their cash flows continue.

The problem here is one of a small concentrated set of big winners, and a large uncoordinated distributed set of small losers. And the small set of winners can successfully get together and lobby and have things their way, because the other set is too disjointed to do anything about it.

The other (and in my opinion, the bigger) problem is that thanks to lobbying, the government has a natural disposition to spend more than to spend less. And all the spending comes from taxpayer money. So you have the road projects in Bangalore that you think you don’t need. You have the free TVs and Mixies and whatnot in Tamil Nadu. And you have rice and wheat given to the (supposed) poor at rock-bottom prices. And where does the money for all this come from? Your taxes!

I hope sooner rather than later people realize that the only solution to corruption is less government. The problem, however, is that the government has no incentive to reduce its own size Рfor in that case the kickbacks and  rents that it (to be precise, people who are part of government) can potentially extract come down. You might institute acts like FRBM (fiscal responsibility and budget management, which seeks to put a cap on government spending) but with such a cap in space, what is the guarantee that the government will actually spend that limited money on what is necessary, and not what gives rents for its officers and employees?

Political parties may have different ideologies, and may appear to fight about every little thing. But this is one thing they agree on – that the size of the government be large – that way they all get to (in turns) have a share of the (rental) pie. This equilibrium is stable and I don’t know how we can snap out of this. And till then, our taxes will continue to flow out. And the cities will be in perpetual transition.

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.