Farmers have decreased, farm labourers increased: census report

Only 54.6 per cent of total workers in India are now part of the agriculture sector

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Wednesday 01 May 2013

Latest details from Census of India report released on Tuesday paints a bleak picture of Indian agriculture. It rings the alarm on an agrarian crisis—the number of farmers have dipped by over 8.6 million in the past decade. It also disproves critics who have been crying hoarse about shortage in agricultural labour—the data shows more than 37 million people have taken to farm labour in the past ten years.

The census details were released by Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in the presence of the registrar general of India and census commissioner C Chandramouli in Delhi. The statistics show that only 54.6 per cent of total workers in India are now part of the agriculture sector with a decline of 3.6 per cent as compared to 2001.

Compared to 2001 census, there has been increase of 44 per cent in the male population of agricultural labourers, while for females the number has increased by 24.5 per cent. Chandramouli attributes this rise in agricultural labour to the falling size of land holdings over time. The Planning Commission and industrial associations have long been complaining about a shortage of farm labour because of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for a long time, but the figures in the census report present a completely different picture.


The trends for farming show that 14 per cent women and 3.2 per cent of cultivators since 2001 have abandoned farming. This extrapolates to over 8.6 million people. Interestingly, the census office claims that over the past 50 years, the decline in population of cultivators was not significant enough for absolute numbers when compared to population increase. However, due to slow rate of population expansion in the past decade, the number stands out.

As per the census of 2011, 263 million people are engaged in the agriculture sector and over half of them are now agricultural labourers, a trend observed for the first time in the past 40 years.

Reasons for migration not clear

While the census has not been able to explain the reasons behind the migration of farmers from the agricultural sector, an official from the agriculture ministry says that the trend is very disturbing. “If agricultural labour is increasing in the country and number of cultivators is decreasing it can be because of two reasons. One is that farmers are losing their land and are being forced to work as labourers in the fields of others. The second can be that people are trying to work under MGNREGA so that they can live in their villages and work as agricultural labour.” However, a proper study or survey on the trends would be the best way to come to a conclusion, he added.


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