Agricultural Census data suggest marginalization of Gujarat’s farming community, concentration of large holdings in fewer hands

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Average large land holdings in selected states (hectares)

By Rajiv Shah*

A recent Government of India report, giving complete details of the state of agriculture in India, has suggested that while Gujarat may have seen around 9 plus per cent of agricultural growth in the last decade, this has happened alongside a simultaneous marginalization of the state’s farming community. The data put out in “Agriculture Census 2010-11”, finalized this year, have found that large farmers, who form just one per cent of the total farmers in Gujarat, each with an average holding of 20.91 hectares (ha),  own 10.30 per cent of the total operational holdings in the state. By sharp contrast, marginal farmers, forming 37.16 per cent of the total farmers – and each with an average holding of 0.49 ha– own 7.7 per cent of the total operational holdings.

What is equally disturbing in that, while there was a sharp rise in the number of marginal farmers in Gujarat from 15.85 lakh to 18.16 lakh between 2005-6 and 2010-11, suggesting a high rise of 14.55 per cent, there was a simultaneous fall in the absolute number of farmers with large holdings by a whopping 28.05 per cent, from 11.33 lakh to 10.20 lakh. While one could see a simultaneous marginalization of the farming community across India, Gujarat’s percentage rise in the number of marginal holdings – 14.55 per cent – has been one of the highest in India. Among major states, only three, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, saw a higher rise in marginalization in the five year period – 22.02 per cent, 21.64 per cent and 21.15 per cent respectively.

The figures also suggest that Gujarat’s fall in the number of large farmers during the period under study was one of the highest in India. Gujarat’s 28.05 per cent fall in the number of large holdings, in fact, stands in sharp contrast to the fall by 11.23 per cent in the country as a whole. The states which witnessed a higher percentage of fall in the number of large holdings than Gujarat were only three – Andhra Pradesh (– 36.38 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (– 30.01 per cent), and Odisha (– 51.14 per cent). The figures simultaneously suggest, in Gujarat, there was a fall in the absolute number of medium sized farmers, each having an average holding of 5.72 ha of land, by 11.95 per cent, from 33.80 lakh to 29.30 lakh, which again was one of the highest in India.

The figures further reveal that, like marginal farmers, the number of small farmers, with an average holding of 1.45 ha, has gone up in Gujarat by 6.22 per cent, from 13.45 lakh in 2005-06 to 14.29 lakh 2010-11, which was quite high compared to all states, except Andhra Pradesh (10.58 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (14.01 per cent) and Rajasthan (14.38 per cent). In the country as a whole, there was a rise of 3.22 per cent of farmers with small holdings. Owners of small and marginal operational holdings in Gujarat together make up 62.97 per cent of total farmers, but they own 33.32 per cent of the area under cultivation. In all, there are 48.86 lakh operational holdings in Gujarat as of 2010-11, up from 46.61 lakh in 2005-06, a rise of 4.82 per cent.

The figures further reveal that, while there was a fall in the number of farmers with large holdings, the average size of large holdings in Gujarat has gone up from 16.72 ha in 2005-06 to 20.91 ha in 2011-12. Notably, this rise in the average size of large holdings in Gujarat has taken place at a time when there was nearly no rise in this category at the all-India level – the average large holdings size in the country as a whole was 17.08 ha in 2005-06, which rose marginally to 17.38 ha in 2010-11.

If seen against the backdrop of the Census of India report, marginalization of the farmers in Gujarat, as in India, has taken place alongside a sharp rise in agricultural workers. The Census of India data show that in 2011 there were 45 lakh able-bodied population of Gujarat who had agricultural labour as their “main” activity. While this forms approximately 22 per cent of those who qualify themselves in the definition of “main workers” of Gujarat, what is significant is that the rise of agricultural “main workers” was to the tune of 50 per cent between the two censuses – of 2001 and 2011. There were 30 lakh agricultural “main workers” in Gujarat in 2001.

By “main workers” is meant “those who had worked for the major part of the year preceding the date of enumeration i.e., those who were engaged in any economically productive activity for 183 days (or six months) or more during the year”, to quote from an expert source. As against this, “marginal workers were those who worked any time at all in the year preceding the enumeration but did not work for a major part of the year, i.e., those who worked for less than 183 days (or six months)”, adds the source (Indian District Database, University of Maryland).

All-India comparisons suggest that the total number of agricultural workers under this category also rose pretty sharp, but the rise was not as sharp as the one seen in Gujarat. In India, there were 6.35 crore agricultural workers in 2001, which rose to 8.62 per cent in 2011, which was a rise of 35 per cent. Comparative figures suggest that in Maharashtra, the “main” agricultural workers rose from 76 lakh to 1.11 crore, a rise of 46 per cent. In Andhra Pradesh these rose from 98 lakh to 1.32 crore, or by 48 per cent. In Tamil Nadu these rose from 61 lakh to 72 lakh, or by 18 per cent.

Further on, in Punjab, an agrarian state, these rose from 11 lakh to 12 lakh, a rise of just nine per cent. In Haryana, these rose equal to Gujarat – 50 per cent, from six lakh to nine lakh. In West Bengal, these rose from 45 lakh to 59 lakh, or by 31 per cent. Only Karnataka experienced a higher rise in agricultural labour than Gujarat, from 38 lakh to 51 lakh, or by 53 per cent.

What is particularly significant is that, during the decade in question (2001-11), the total number of those who had farming as their main activity in Gujarat – “cultivators” in the Census of India terminology – rose from from 47 lakh to 48 lakh, a rise of just about 2.13 per cent.  This suggests that the number of those who depend on farming as their activity has stagnated – rise of was of just about 0.21 per cent per year. This is against the rise in population of Gujarat by 19 per cent in the decade, from 5.07 crore to 6.04 crore – which shows an annual rise of a little below two per cent.

Senior journalist, editor@counterview.net

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