This review gives a historical perspective of the development of Farming Systems Research (FSR) in India over the past 60 years, as India changed from a traditional, subsistence oriented agriculture to one based on science and technology. The first period relates to the years 1930–50, when the Government of India created the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and initiated research on dryland agriculture.
The second period relates to the development of coordinated agronomic trials and simple fertilizer experiments on farmers' fields during the years 1950–65. This development was a forerunner of networks of coordinated applied agronomic research relevant to farmers' cropping systems and adaptive research with farmers' participation. The development of a soil conservation research network in the same period strengthened research on the natural resource base countrywide. The third period started with the reorganization of ICAR, the establishment of State Agricultural Universities and the introduction of coordinated research programmes on high-yielding varieties (HYVs). At the same time the coordinated dryland agricultural research programmes, and subsequently the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), were established, leading to the development of a national system of FSR for rainfed agriculture.
The fourth period of FSR started with the establishment in 1972 of ICRISAT, an international agricultural research centre that accepted FSR as its mandate and developed the concept of integrating the management technologies for various components of climate, soil, water and crops with a farmers' perspective. ICRISAT's work was complementary to that of CRIDA and helped to bring about conceptual changes in Indian FSR through research aimed at understanding principles and processes of semi-arid tropical (SAT) farming systems. Following this, mechanisms for strengthening on-farm research were emphasized so as to provide stronger linkages between researchers, extension workers and farmers.
Today, FSR with a farmers' perspective occupies pride of place in India's agricultural research agenda. Yet it is a long way from bridging the gap between the generation of technology and its adoption by farmers, who have shown a preference for its components rather than for the full package of technology.