Displacement, lack of jobs main reasons behind increase in farm labour
SINCE 2001 more than 10,000 people have been joining the agricultural labour force of India each day. As a result, the country’s 30 per cent working population, 144.3 million, is agricultural labour, which works on farms. The number of farmers has dipped from 127.3 million in 2001 to 118.7 million in 2011. The figures are from the latest report of Census of India.
While presenting the report, Census commissioner C Chandramouli said fall in size of land holdings over time was responsible for the 3.5 per cent rise in landless labour over the past 10 years.
The report rings alarm bells since the agriculture sector is struggling to provide jobs.
During a recent inaugural session of Asian Development Bank, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “With limitations of the agriculture sector in absorbing additional labour, high productivity jobs need to be created in other sectors.”
If agriculture is such a nonviable preposition then what is forcing people to join the labour brigade? Displacement is the foremost reason, says Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. “Due to increase in urbanisation and industrial projects, land resources are getting depleted and people are becoming landless. These people, who have been practising farming for generations, do not know any other skill. The primary job they can do is work on others’ land,” she says.
Another reason is big sectors like manufacturing are not generating jobs to absorb labour from the agricultural sector. “Most of the employment today is coming from the construction sector,” adds Ghosh.
Rise in agricultural input cost and low profits are making agriculture nonviable, points out Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA). She adds the Census report fails to define whether the agricultural labour owns or rents land. “Had the census defined their land status it would have been easy for the government to decide on intervention.”
Ghosh says concentration of land in the hands of a few has also resulted in the rise in agricultural labour. “They rent land or employ people to work on their farms. This trend has resulted in fall in the number of farmers.” Migration could also be a reason but it is difficult to affirm since the Census data does not capture seasonal movement of people, say economists.
“There is an urgent need for intervention through assured income to farmers and better prices for agricultural commodity,” says Kuruganti.
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