Farming crisis

Rural distress

Print edition : March 04, 2016
Successive droughts have imperilled the livelihoods of crores of farmers and agricultural workers in India.

AS India reels under the onslaught of the second drought in two years, which has forced thousands of farmers to commit suicide and placed in peril the livelihoods of crores of workers and cultivators, it is time to take stock of the central role of agriculture in the Indian economy, for the Indian population, and the number of small farmers and the extent of their debt.

The percentage of agricultural labourers among agricultural workers has been rising steadily over the past 20 years, from 40.3 per cent in 1991 to 54.9 per cent in 2011, according to data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Parallelly, the percentage of cultivators, which was at its peak in 1951 at 71.9 per cent, has dwindled over the decades to just 45.1 per cent in 2011.

This has to be seen in the backdrop of a declining rural share of the country’s total population—from a high of 82.7 per cent to 68.9 per cent in 2011.

Among agricultural households, which numbered 9.02 crore in 2014, nearly 87 per cent possessed only two hectares or less and 69.44 per cent possessed only one hectare or less, according to data from the Ministry.

Of all the households engaged in farming on two hectares or less, the percentage of indebtedness within each class of land size varied, from 41.9 per cent of those having a land size of one-tenth of a hectare or less to 55.7 per cent among those possessing 1.01-2.00 hectares.