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Design of cropping systems to achieve nutritional goals in dry farming

R.P. Singh and C.K. Ramanathan Chetty

All-India Coordinated Research Project for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad, India

The nutritional goals
Cropping systems for drylands and their production potential
Total nutrients supplied through cropping systems
Nutritive value of the proteins of some foodstuffs



During the past three decades India has made rapid strides with regard to food-grain production, from about 50 million tonnes in 1950/51 to 132 million tonnes in 1980/81. The increase in irrigated area, from 27 million hectares to 60 million hectares, on the one hand, and introduction and development of high yielding varieties and hybrids of cereals, on the other, contributed to this increase. However, the production of pulses and oilseeds remained almost static during this period. Despite the fact that rainfed lands in India contribute to more than 90 per cent of the total production of pulses and oilseeds, the dryland farmers inhabiting these lands, continue to be on the low plane of calorie and protein nutrition.

Research results from the Dryland Agricultural Research Project (All-India Coordinated Research Project for Dry/and Agriculture) show that through intercrop and double crop systems, production of pulses and oilseeds can be increased without unduly sacrificing the yields of cereals and millets. Cropping systems are now available that can meet the nutritional goals {about 10,000 calories per day for an average Indian family of five members) in dry farming areas.

Among the cereal based intercropping systems, maize + soybean supplies the highest calories and other nutrients on a per hectare basis. However, the sorghum + pigeon-pea (2:1 row ratio) system is more stab/e over the seasons and environments and, hence, preferable. Among sequential cropping systems. the sorghum-chick-pea system holds promise of providing better nutritional standards. From the point of view of biological value and protein efficiency ratio, the rice-chick-pea sequence cropping system holds the greatest promise.


Drylands in India contribute about 75 per cent of the cultivated acreage. Even after the full irrigation potential of the county is achieved in due course, more than 50 per cent of the acreage will continue to be rain-fed. Rain-fed lands will, therefore, remain the major source for the supply of millets, pulses, and oilseeds to the growing population. Currently, these lands contribute to 80 per cent of the total production of millets and more than 90 per cent of total production of pulses and oilseeds in the country

In India, as in many Asian and African countries, the nutritional problem is one of undernutrition rather than malnutrition. It is inadequate food intake, coupled with the predominance of cereals/millets in the diet, that lead to undernutrition. Several reasons are given for the inadequate consumption of food by several population subgroups in India. Of these, lack of purchasing power, low per capita food production and availability, and large deficits in production of pulses and oilseeds that are rich sources of calories, proteins and fats, are important. Milk and meat, known for their high calorie, protein and fat contents, besides being costly, are in short supply.

Increasing and stabilizing the production of cereals/millets on the one hand, and introducing more pulses and oilseeds in the cropping systems, on the other, will go a long way towards meeting the nutritional goals of dry farming. Concerted research efforts in the last decade 11970-1980), by multidisciplinary teams engaged in dry farming research at 23 regional research stations in the country, have led to the evolution of cropping systems that hold promise, not only for high productivity, but for meeting the nutritional goals of the dry regions as well.

The nutritional goals

Nutritional goals are better appreciated on a family basis than a regional one. A farmer's family, consisting of an adult male, an adult female, an adolescent boy or a girl and two children, require a daily average of 10,600 calories, 340 9 protein, 5.0 9 calcium, and 110 mg iron. On a body-weight basis children require twice as much protein, calcium, and iron as do adults.

TABLE 1 Nutritional Requirement per Day of an Average Farmer's Family

Household member No. of members ACUa Calories Protein (g) Calcium (g) Iron (mg)
Adult male 1 1.0 2,800 55 1.0 25
Adult female 1 0.9 2,300 45 1 0 25
Adolescent (boy/girl) 1 1.0 2 500 80 1 0 20
Children 2 1 4 3,000 160 2 0 40
Total 5 4.3 10,600 340 5.0 110

a. Actual Consumption Unit.

Cropping systems for drylands and their production potential

Cereal-based Systems

Sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet are the major millets grown in dry regions. In regions of Telengana, Marathwada, Vidarbha, the Malwa plateau and parts of Gujarat - areas of more than 800 mm rainfall - the intercrop system of sorghum + pigeon-pea (2:1) has shown promise, with a production potential of 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes per hectare (t/ha) of sorghum grains and 0.6 to 0.8 t/ha of pigeon-pea grains (table 2), against a sole crop of either sorghum (2.5 t/ha) or pigeon-pea (0.8 t/ha). In the black soil regions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh where the rainfall is more than 1,000 mm/annum, the double crop system with sorghum, followed by chick-peas, has been found to do exceedingly well. The system is capable of giving around 3.0 to 3.5 t/ha of total productivity, in terms of grains.

TABLE 2. Sorghum-based Cropping Systems for Drylands and Their Production Potential in a Normal Season

Cropping system Region(s) Yield (t/ha)
of sorghum
Yield (t/ha) of
Grain Edible
Grain Edible
Intercrop system
Sorghum + pigeon-pea(2:1) Telengana, Marathwada,
Vidharbha, Malwa plateau,
and parts of Gujarat, where
rainfall > 800 mm
2.0- 2.0- 06- 0.5-
2.2 2.2 0.8 0.6
Sorghum (sole)   2.5 2.5 0.8 0.8
Double crop system
Sorghum - chick-pea Black soils of Andhra
Pradesh, Karnataka,
Maharashtra, and Madhya
Pradesh, where rainfall
> 1,000 mm
2.0 2.0 10 10
2.5 2.5 (whole) (whole)
0.8 (dhal)

TABLE 3. Pearl Millet-based Cropping Systems for Drylands and Their Production Potential in a Normal Season

Cropping system Region(s) Yield (t/ha)
of pearl millet
Yield (t/ha) of
green gram/chick-pea/pigeon-pea
Grain Edible portion Grain Edible portion
Intercrop system
Pearl millet + pigeon-pea Parts of Telengana;
Karnataka, Maharashtra,
Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh,
Rajasthan, Haryana,
and S Tamilnadu
1.2- 1.0- 0.6- 0.5
1.5 1.3 0.8 0.6
Pearl millet + green gram Jodhpur 1.2- 1.0 0.4- 0.3
1.5 1.3 0.6 0.5
Pearl millet (sole)   2.0 1.7    
Double crop system          
Pearl millet -
Varanasi 1.5- 1.3 0.8- 0.8
1.6 1.4 1.0 1.0 (whole)
or 0.6-
0.8 (dhal)
Pearl millet -
Jodhpur, Hissar 2.0- 1.7- 0.8- 0.2
2.2 1.9 1.0 0.3

In parts of Telengana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and south Tamilnadu, which have relatively light soils, the pearl millet + pigeon-pea intercrop system has given a yield potential of 1.2 to 1.5 t/ha of pearl millet grains, and 0.6 to 0.8 t/ha of pigeon-pea grains, against a sole crop of pearl millet (2.0 t/ha). In the Jodhpur and Hissar regions, which have sierozem soils, with an annual rainfall of 350 to 400 mm, the pearl millet + green gram intercrop system has proved to be best from the point of view of total productivity per unit area.

In seasons of higher rainfall (> 500 mm) with an extended rainy season, the double crop system of pearl millet (BJ-104) followed by mustard (T. 59) can pay rich dividends in areas like Jodhpur and Hissar. The system is capable of giving a total productivity of about 3 t/ha, of which one-third is contributed by mustard, an oilseed crop (table 3).

Yet another intercrop system, having finger millet as the principal crop and soybean as the companion crop, is emerging as a potentially useful system in the Bangalore and Ranchi regions (table 4).

TABLE 4. Finger Millet-based Cropping Systems for Drylands and Their Production Potential in a Normal Season

Cropping system


Grain yield (t/ha) of finger millet

Grain yield (t/ha) of soybean

Intercrop system      
Finger millet + Bangalore 1.0- 0.2
soybean Ranchi 2.0 0.3
Finger millet (sole)   2.5  

TABLE 5. Maize-based Cropping Systems for Drylands and Their Production Potential in a Normal Season

Cropping system Region Yield (t/ha)
of maize
Yield (t/ha)
of companion/second crop
Grain Edible portion Grain Edible portion
Intercrop system
Maize + pigeon-
pea (1:1)
Bangalore, Akola, Udaipur,
Varanasi, Jammu, and
2.0- 2.0- 0.4- 0.3
2.5 2.5 0.5 0.4
Maize + soybean Bangalore, Akola, Indore,
and Dehra Dun
2.0-   1.0  
2.2   1.2  
Maize + green
Udaipur 2.0- 2.0- 0.4- 0.3
2.2 2.2 0.6 0.5
Maize (sole)   2.5 2.5    
Double crop system
Maize - wheat Hoshiarpur, Jammu, Dehra
2.5-   1.8  
2.6   2.0  
Maize - mustard Hoshiarpur, Agra, and
2.5-   1.0  
2.6   1.2  

TABLE 6. Paddy-based Cropping Systems for Drylands and Their Production Potential in a Normal Season

Cropping system (sequence cropping) Region Yield (t/ha)
of paddy
Yield (t/ha)
of second crop
Grain Edible portion Grain Edible portion
Paddy - chick-pea Dehra Dun,
Varanasi, and Rewa
2.0- 1.2- 0.6 0.5
2.5 1.5 0.8 0.6
Paddy - finger
Ranchi, and Rewa
2.0 1.2- 0.6- 0.6
2.5 1.5 0.8 0.8
Paddy - wheat Dehra Dun, Ranchi,
Rewa, and Varanasi
2.0- 1.2- 1.8- 1.8
2.5 1.5 2.0 2.0

Maize-based cropping systems are quite popular in regions like Bangalore, Akola, Udaipur, Varanasi, Indore, Dehra Dun, Jammu, and Hoshiarpur. Intercrop systems of maize + pigeon-pea, maize + soybean and maize + green gram have exhibited distinct superiority in terms of total productivity over the other systems tried. Of these, a maize + soybean intercrop system gave the highest productivity, 2.0 to 2.2 t/ha of maize grains and 1.0 to 1.2 t/ha of soybean (table 5). Even productivity values of 3.0 to 4.0 t/ha of maize have been obtained in good rainfall years. Maize-wheat and maize-mustard double crop systems have shown great promise in the Hoshiarpur, Dehra Dun, and Udaipur regions, with a production potential of 2.5 t/ha of maize, and 2.0 t/ha of wheat in Dehra Dun, and 1.0 to 1.2 t/ha of mustard in Udaipur.

Paddy-chick-pea, paddy-finger millet and paddy-wheat double crop systems are finding favour with the dryland farmers of Dehra Dun, Varanasi, Rewa, Bhubaneswar, and Ranchi. The paddy-wheat double crop system has given, on average, 2.5 t/ha of paddy and 2.0 t/ha of wheat grains at Dehra Dun.


Pulse-based Cropping System

In areas like Anantapur and Akola, pigeon-pea forms the principal component of the intercrop system, with groundnut as the companion crop. In the Bangalore and Bhubaneswar regions, finger millet (transplanted) forms a good companion crop to the pigeon-pea, the yield of finger millet being obtained as a bonus. Among double crop systems, green gram-safflower, cow-pea-finger millet/maize, black gram-rabi sorghum systems have shown great promise, cow-pea as the principal crop being quite promising in the Bangalore region (table 7).

TABLE 7. Pulse-based Cropping Systems for Drylands and Their Production Potential in a Normal Season

Cropping system Region Principal/First
crop yield (t/ha)
crop yield (t/ha)
Grain Edible portion Grain Edible portion
Intercrop system
Pigeon-pea +
Anantapur, end Akola 1.2- 1.0- 1.0  
1.5 1.2 1.2  
Pigeon-pea +
finger millet
Bangalore, and
1.0 0.8- 0.8 0.8
1.5 1.2 1.0 1.0
Pigeon-pea (sole)   1.5 1.2    
Double crop system
Green gram -
Bijapur, Solapur, Indore,
Udaipur, Ranchi, and Hissar
0.6- 0.5 1.0  
0.8 0.7 1.5  
Cow-pea -
finger millet
Bangalore 0.6- 0.6- 2.0 2.0
0.8 0.8 2.4 2.4
Cow-pea - maize Bangalore 0.6- 0.6- 2.2- 2.2
0.8 0.8 2.5 2.5
Black gram -
rabi sorghum
Bijapur, Solapur, Akola, and Indore 0.5- 0.4- 1.2- 1.2
0.6 0.5 1.5 1.5


Oilseed-based Cropping Systems

Red gram and castor go very well with groundnuts as the principal crop in the intercrop systems, the former (groundnut + red gram) having shown promise in the Anantapur, Solapur, Akola, Ranchi, and Rewa regions. In the Rajkot, Ranchi, and Bangalore regions, groundnut + castor system is becoming popular .

TABLE 8. Oilseed-based Intercropping Systems for Drylands and Their Production Potential in a Normal Season

Intercrop system Region Yield (t/ha)
of groundnut
Yield (t/ha) of the
companion crop
Groundnut + red gram Anantapur, Solapur,
Akola, Ranchi, and Rewa
0.9- 0 5
1.0 0.6
Groundnut + castor Rajkot, Ranchi, and
2 0- 0.6
2.5 0.8
Groundnut (sole)   2.5  

Total nutrients supplied through cropping systems

Cereal-based Systems

Of the cereal-based intercrop systems, the maize + soybean system supplies the highest quantity of various nutrients - calories, proteins, fat, calcium, iron, etc. - on a per hectare basis, followed by the sorghum + pigeon-pea (2 :1) system. Between pearl millet + pigeonpea and pearl millet + green gram, the former supplies more nutrients per unit area than the latter. Pearl millet-based systems are, however, richer in iron than either sorghum or maize-based intercrop systems. In terms of calcium and iron, finger millet-based cropping systems are the richest .

TABLE 9. Total Nutrients Supplied per Hectare by Different Cereal-based Intercrop Systems vis--vis Sole Crops

Crop/System Kcal/ha Protein
Sorghum 8,725 260 48 625 145
Sorghum + pigeon-pea (dhal) (2:1) 8,600 to 9,800 340-400 46-52 850-1,020 144-165
Pearl millet (dehusked) 6,150 200 85 715 226
Pearl millet (dehusked) + pigeon-pea (dhal) (2:1) 5,300 to 6,800 225-290 59-75 780 1,000 164-207
Pearl millet (dehusked) + green gram (dhal) 4,900 to 6,400 200-270 55-70 680 920 165-214
Maize 8,550 278 90 250 50
Maize + pigeon-pea (dhal) (1 :1) 7,900 to 9,900 290-370 77-96 430 540 59-73
Maize + soybean 11,200 to 12,000 650-760 270-313 2,600-3,100 155-182
Maize + green gram (dhal) 8,200 to 9,300 305-370 76-85 455-600 69-87
Finger millet (rag)) 8,200 183 33 8,500 435
Finger millet + soybean 6,800 to 7,900 220-490 62-85 6,670-7,600 336-383

TABLE 10. Total Nutrients Supplied per Hectare by Different Pulse-based Intercrop Systems vis--vis Sole Crops

Crop/System Kcal/ha Protein
Pigeon-pea (dhal) 4.000 270 20 880 70
Pigeon-pea (dhal) + groundnut (kernel) 6,500 to 8,000 370-460 256-310 1,000-1,200 65-81
Pigeon-pea (dhal) + finger millet 6,000 to 7.300 240-340 24-33 3,360-4,360 186-244
Groundnut (kernel) 4,300 210 313 390 12
Groundnut (kernel) + pigeon-pea (dhal) 4,600 to 5 500 250-300 225-250 620-770 36-47
Groundnut (kernel) 8,200 400 600 750 24
Groundnut (kernel) + castor 6,600 to 8 200 320-400 481-602 600-750 20-24

TABLE 11. Total Nutrients per Hectare Supplied by Double Crop Systems

Cropping system Kcal/ha Protein
Sorghum - chick-pea (whole) 10,100 to 12,625 350-430 80-100 2,120-2,645 200-250
Pearl millet (dehusked) - chick-pea (whole) 7,570 to 8,655 290-330 107-123 2,160-2,610 255-290
Rice - chick-pea (whole) 6,300 to 8,050 185-240 38-50 1,330 1,770 100-130
Rice - finger millet 6,110 to 7,800 125-160 14-18 2,180-2,900 140-190
Rice - wheat 10,370 to 12,100 295-340 33-38 860-970 125-145
Maize - wheat 14,780 to 15,810 490-525 117-124 990-1,080 140-150
Black gram (dhal) - rabi sorghum 5,920 to 7,320 245-300 30-37 1,070-1,300 115-140

Pulse-based Cropping Systems

The pigeon-pea + groundnut system supplies the highest calories, proteins, and fat per hectare. However, the highest calcium and iron are supplied by a pigeon-pea + finger millet system .


Double Cropping Systems

The maize-wheat sequence crop system supplies the highest calories and proteins, followed by the sorghum-chick-pea/rice-chick-pea systems. The sorghum-chick-pea system supplies, in addition. abundant calcium and iron.

Nutritive value of the proteins of some foodstuffs

The biological value (BV) and protein efficiency ratio (PER) of some of the more frequently consumed foodstuffs are presented in table 12. Among cereals (rice, wheat, and maize), rice has the highest BV and PER. Between the two pulses. chick-pea and pigeon-pea, the chick-pea proteins have a higher nutritive value than the latter. Regarding edible oil sources, sesame is superior to groundnut. The BV and PER of some animal/poultry/fish products are also presented in the table for comparison with plant sources.

TABLE 12. Nutritive Value of the Proteins of Some Foodstuffs


Biological value

Protein efficiency ratio


































Source: McDivitt and Mudambi 1969.


From the various tables presented in the paper, it is obvious that a decade of research on dryland agriculture has made available the technology to produce enough nutrition, through plant sources, for five members of a marginal/small farmer's family. This technology is, essentially, based on proven intercrop/double-crop systems suitable to different agro-climatic regions. Of course, inputs such as improved varieties, judicious fertilizer use and timely plant protection measures, including weed control, are essential to optimize the yield levels in a normal season.


Agricultural production and nutrition
Consumer acceptability
Economics and marketing

Agricultural production and nutrition

The Green Revolution has set in motion sweeping changes in food-growing patterns, and the nutritional quality of the food mix cannot be taken for granted. An ICRISAT study has shown that protein availability has gone up substantially in the wheat production system. Both nutrient and production cost data for other systems and regions of the country must be gathered and compiled for the benefit of those planning food systems. Since improved protein quality is derived when the diet is a cereal-pulse blend, the total system has to be considered. New data led a recent FAO/WHO/UNU consultation to raise the adult protein requirement from 0.57 to 0.72 grams/kg body-weight, and this again involves the provision of proteins of better quality by food blending.

In farm practice, anti-nutrients are a factor to be taken into account. Lathyrus is an excellent example. It is an exceptionally hardy. easy-to-grow crop, favoured by marginal farmers in India and Bangladesh. It is raised as a mixed crop with barley, wheat, and chick-pea in many parts of India, and as a pure crop in Madhya Pradesh and even Andhra Pradesh. Screening of Lathyrus varieties in Bangladesh revealed that 5 to 7 per cent had a very low neurotoxin B-oxalyl aspartic acid content, and a Pusa variety totally devoid of the toxin had been evolved. Some attention is called for to pocket areas that employ unusual food materials in fair quantity. Thus, Lathyrus, chinnapodium, jackfruit, and zizyphus are important in various local regions of Bangladesh. Whether the trypsin-inhibitors found in most pulses are relevant in human nutrition is still in doubt, though they are of course destroyed by cooking. Correlation in chickpeas between methionine and total sulphur content is poor, but seed coat smoothness and polyphenol content do correlate with insect infestation by foiling oviposition.

Consumer acceptability

The overriding emphasis in agricultural development on high productivity per unit area has tended to ignore the preferences of the consumer. It is true that unacceptable

Mexican red wheats of the early 1960s were rapidly phased out, but it has taken longer for the great variability in size and shape of JR-8 rice grown in different regions to be recognized, besides its low milling yield. The same variability is noted in the length/breadth ratio of Hamsa rice, which is an important index of consumer acceptability. A way out of the rice classification problem for market purposes is to also take into account thickness, which seems to be dependent on nitrogen fertilization of the crop. The Phalquna rice variety has rapidly become extremely popular in the Andhra coastal belt. The black tip, which caused considerable alarm, has fortunately been found to have no adverse nutritional consequences, though it does of course affect consumer acceptability. A similar problem with regard to wheat is Karnal bunt which particularly attacks WL-711 wheat grown in Punjab and Haryana; the Government has had difficulty in fixing specifications, and consumers are apprehensive. High-yielding hybrid jowar may give good returns to the farmer, but is totally unacceptable to consumers in Maharashtra for its off-odour and peculiar appearance. Again, while a maize-soya rotation mentioned in one of the papers may be excellent in terms of yields and economics, consumer demands for both these crops are minimal.

Economics and marketing

While the pattern of urban marketing has stabilized to a certain extent, rural marketing is a neglected area. Even such foods as milk and tomatoes fetch low returns for the actual producers, and poverty among them is increasing. The widely dispersed public distribution system through fair-price shops must be widened to include these commodities. In fact, stability of farming systems both in terms of crops raised and of remunerative prices for them would provide employment opportunities, which are the crying national need. When the productivity of natural resources of land and water is maximized, and the farmer is provided with options which are stable and economically attractive, he/she will make the right crop-raising decisions. Public policy must help the farmer realize these expectations. So far. only cereals have offered really viable technologies.

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