Monday, December 25

No Longer An Agrarian Economy

In the past decade and a half, nearly two lakh small farmers in the state have quit agriculture, according to National Census data, reports AMRITA CHAUDHRYin The Indian Express

He is just 30 years old but years of hard work has etched deep lines of pain on his face, ageing him by almost 10 years. This is Dara Singh, who, along with his brother Sukhdev Singh of Jallur village in Sangrur district, has lost all of his 20 acres to “meeting daily demands”. Both the brothers quit agriculture some three years ago and are now daily wagers. “The pride and self-respect that we had when we were farmers has been lost now. On a very good day, we make Rs 80-100 a day as we work as labourers on the farms of people who were once our neighbours,” he says.
Chander Shekhar, another farmer from Sadihari village in Sangrur, quit agriculture two years back and decided to start some kind of business in Rajasthan. He failed and is once again back in his village with nothing to do.
Tears roll down his faces as he tells his tale: “I got nothing from agriculture; could not even manage two square meals. I thought trading would be a good option. But from where do I get this huge capital to invest in trading? And, as they say, once a farmer, always a farmer. I have nothing to do now. Small farmers in Punjab are dying each day. Please help us.”
Even statistics support his claim. Nearly two lakh small farmers are missing from the state agriculture scene as per the National Census data for 2000-2001. As per the available figures for the Census 1990-1991, small farmers with land holdings less than two hectares were around five lakh in number. For the census 1995-1996, this number came down to 3.87 lakh. As per the latest figures available for 2000-2001, the number of small farmers owning less than two hectares of land is around 2.96 lakh. In short, in the past decade and a half, nearly two lakh small farmers in the state have quit agriculture.
“We are yet to study as to where these farmers have gone,” says well-known economist Dr P.S. Rangi, who is also a consultant with the State Farmers’ Commission.
He adds that this study has been given to Punjab Agricultural University, which has been told to complete it by March 31, 2007. “We want to know what are these farmers doing presently; has their lot improved after quitting agriculture or has it deteriorated further. Other aspects of this study will include as to what kind of profession have these farmers taken up currently,” he says.
Renowned economist Dr Sucha Singh Gill of Punjabi University, Patiala, says, “Firstly, it is never healthy to have such a large population, as we have in Punjab, totally dependent on one occupation. Seventy per cent of the population in Punjab is into farming. Now, it is no longer viable at least for the small farmers.”
He adds: “The NSSO figures say that in Punjab we have about 7.5 lakh families who make a living from dairy, so several farmers have made a parallel move from crops to dairy. There could be many who have become daily wagers or some who could have joined value-added services to agriculture, like that of milk processing and so on. We will have the details once the study is out.”
Dr. Sucha Singh Gill writes that the state is no longer an agrarian economy, technically speaking. An excerpt from an article 'A Futuristic View' in Seminar
In terms of the state domestic product, the share of agriculture and allied activities came down from 59.32% in 1970-71 to 39.74% in 2000-01. The share of workforce engaged in agriculture (cultivators and agricultural labourers) declined from 62.57 in 1971 to 39.36% in 2001. Thus agriculture no longer occupies a prominent position either in generating income or in providing employment. If these trends continue, agriculture will further lose in the coming decades. On the basis of past trends, it is expected that by 2021 the share of agriculture in Punjab’s income and employment will diminish to about 25%. This decline will be matched by a rising share of income and employment in the manufacturing and service sectors of the economy. Industry and service sectors have boundless potentials of growth unconstrained by availability of natural resources like land, mines, forestry, and so on.
The trend towards manufacturing and service sectors has been accompanied by a rapid urbanization of the state. In 1971 the share of rural population in Punjab was 76.3% which declined to 66.05% in 2001. If the same trend continues, a majority of Punjab’s population would be living in urban areas after 2035. The data also reveals that although 66.05% of the total population resides in rural areas, a large number of them are not engaged in agriculture. Up to 1991, more than 75% of the rural population was engaged in agriculture. But the 2001 Census brought out that 46.50% of the rural population is now engaged in non-agriculture activities.
The rising importance of non-agricultural activity in the rural areas should give a further boost to urbanization, transforming big villages into small towns and towns into cities. With the expansion of urban conglomerates, persons engaged in manufacturing and service sectors but living in the rural areas will migrate to cities in search of a better quality of life. Ludhiana district is already urban in nature. Jalandhar and Amritsar districts will soon join Ludhiana with a majority of people living in urban areas.

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