Providing the poorest landless agricultural labourers with farm tools can ameliorate their lot

An intervention carried out in Nandurbar, Maharashtra showed that the labourers earned more, in addition to increasing agricultural productivity

By Suraj Mondal
Published: Tuesday 13 July 2021

Photo: Suraj MondalIn agriculture, labour is an important component, but is usually not under consideration most of the time. Landless agricultural labour is a vital factor in agricultural production. These labourers’ productivity and earnings are an important determinant of the level of economic development.

I will focus on asset strategies of landless agricultural labourers who invest their time in growing crops on others’ farms, without any stake in farm assets. Strategies to develop assets of landless agricultural labour are a neglected area in India.

The number of landless agricultural workers has steadily increased in India. There were 106.7 million landless agricultural labourers according to the 2001 Census. This number increased to 144.3 million in 2011.

The most important assets, as far as landless agricultural labourers are concerned, are labour power and farm tool kits.

The quantity and quality of labour power and farm tools is co-dependent and influenced by investments. Investment is defined as a unit that includes anything involving the acquisition or purchase of ‘assets’ that can bring future returns.

So, why are farm tools not the most important?

In 2019-20, the Development Support Centre (DSC), a resource-based organisation for which I work, decided to ensure basic farm assets to landless labourers with fund support from a number of corporate social responsibility funds.

The Nandurbar district of Maharashtra is predominantly tribal. Landless agricultural labourers routinely migrate from the district in search of work due to lack of availability of rural credit as well as lack of employment opportunities in villages.

In 2020, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown meant an economic shutdown, with a cessation of work and livelihoods for these people. There was an urgent need to carry out hand holding activities for them.

DSC’s intervention aims to understand both, the economic impact of the pandemic as well as planning and implementation of programmes for agriculture labourers who do not have assets, in order to respond to their problems.

Some 528 farm toolkit sets including harvester sickles, weeding sickles, hoes, 375 battery spray pumps, and 480 seed dibblers were given to landless farm labourers and small and marginal farmers in Nandurbar and Nawapur blocks in Maharashtra.

The farm toolkits are outfitted with high-quality equipment sets, with advanced technology that guarantees a quality output beyond manual yield. 

The intervention ensures significant cumulative growth on an increasing number of work days, with a higher order of labour productivity and degree of motivation.

The intervention also demonstrates the improved quality of labour to farm when one is equipped with his / her own farm tools. The evidence from the field claims a higher demand for labour and 20 per cent more earning days to these landless labourers in a single crop cycle, now that they have the potential to earn an optimum surplus over and above what they survive on.

Another observation was that the labourers enhanced their investment from these returns. The proportion of re-investments made from the new income earned through original investment was 11-14 per cent more in the project area. The beneficiaries were also found saving some of their income for emergencies in the future.

The project successfully established a social cohesion. It was a unique project of its kind. Its strength lies in its attempts to make balanced intervention: The development of assets for landless agriculture labourers while promoting access to farm tools and technologies for small and marginal farmers at the same time.

The project’s activities were all implemented after the identification of poverty pockets. Thus, it has successfully focused on the most vulnerable, excluded and economically disadvantaged labourer families.

The programmes and policies that are usually promoted, are focused and intended for landholders, effectively neglecting landless agriculture labourers.

One needs to understand what people do and why their priorities are as they are, to intervene productively.

Suraj Mondal is a livelihood development expert with Development Support Centre (DSC), Gujarat

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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