State reaps Maharashtra farmer harvest

Written By Unknown on Selasa, 07 Mei 2013 | 22.23

Maharashtra, notorious for farmer suicides and irrigation losses over the last few years, has sprouted a surprise. It has added more farmers in the last decade than any other state, shows Census findings released last week.

The state has gained over seven hundred thousand cultivators since 2001 in sharp contrast to national trends that saw India's farmer population decline by nearly nine million. Even leading agricultural states like MP, UP, Punjab and AP have witnesses a drop in their population of cultivators. (see box)

Maharashtra has added 0.76 million cultivators and 2.67 million agricultural labourers in the last decade, says the Census 2011 findings. Rajasthan is the only other major state to have added farmers.

The findings are surprising as the state has witnessed two major droughts during the decade, one in 2002 followed by the current dry spell since 2011. An increase in the number of farmers also doesn't necessarily indicate a healthy agricultural sector, point out economists, who believe this trend in Maharashtra is yet another indication of distress in the state.

Economist Abhay Pethe, who has been studying the socio-economic profile of Maharashtra, is surprised as agriculture, including allied activities, contributed a mere 12.4% to the gross state domestic product in 2011-12. He believes the increase could reflect a form of disguised unemployment. "It's likely that many villagers report themselves as farmers because they have no non-farm employment. Other states have been better at providing employment under government programmes such as the NREGS which could contribute to such disparity."

Economist Abhay Pethe says its is possible that many villagers are calling themselves farmers because they have no non-farm employment. He also feels much of the increase reported in the number of cultivators as well as farm hands could be in vineyards or fruit orchards rather than in traditional cereals and millet crops such as wheat, paddy, jowar or ragi.

His views are corroborated by Ulka Mahajan of the Anna Adhikar Abhiyan who works closely with farming communities in Raigad district. "Many industrial estates and smaller units in the state have shut down in the last decade forcing villagers back to their villages. While agricultural land holding might not have increased over the years, the dependence on agriculture has definitely increased."

The Census defines cultivators as those who are directly engaged in the cultivation and supervision of land, and labourers as those who work on land owned by others for wages.

The state's agricultural data reflects this gloom in many ways, even as it hints at an increase in crop yields. There has been no agricultural expansion in the last 10 years. The area under cultivation for principal crops has shrunk from around 400 lakh hectares in 2000-01 to 392 lakh hectares a decade later. Crop yields have, however, correspondingly increased from 800 lakh tonnes to 1,340 lakh tonnes.

Agricultural economist Devinder Sharma points to another possible scenario. He explains that cities like Mumbai and Pune which were traditional job magnets have possibly saturated their capacity to provide jobs and people in Maharashtra have no other avenues left but to return to their farms. Other states have had a later start. "Agriculture is considered the lowest economic activity and an increase in farmers merely means the state is witnessing jobless growth."

Maharashtra's farmer gain

2001/ 2011 / Increase in number of farmers between 2001-11

Number of cultivators in Maharashtra (in million) 11.8/ 12.6 /0.7

Number of agricultural labourers 10.8 /13.5 / 2.6

Maharashtra gains farmers while other agri states lose

Area // Cultivators// Agricultural labourers // Total agricultural workers as a % of total workers

2001/ 2011 // 2001 / 2011// 2001 /2011

India // 127.3/ 118.7// 106.8/ 144.3 // 58.2/ 54.6

Maharashtra // 11.8/ 12.6 //10.8/ 13.5 // 55.0 / 52.7

Punjab // 2.1/ 1.9// 1.5/ 1.6 // 38.9 / 35.6

Uttar Pradesh // 22.2/ 19.1 // 13.4/ 19.9 // 65.9/ 59.3

Madhya Pradesh // 11.0 /9.8// 7.4/ 12.2 // 71.5/ 69.8

Andhra Pradesh // 7.9/ 6.5//13.8/ 17.0 // 62.2/ 59.5

Haryana // 3.0 / 2.5// 1.3/ 1.5 // 51.3 / 45.0

Bihar// 8.2/ 7.2// 13.4/ 18.3 // 77.3/ 73.6

(Source: Census of India, 2011)

Stagnant agricultural sector

Category2000-01 //2010-11

Total area under principal crops (in thousand hectares): 40,085// 39,238

Production of principal crops (in thousand tonnes): 80,063 //1,34,032

Net area sown (area in '000 hectare)// 17,844 // 17,406

Gross cropped area 21,619 // 23,175

(Source: Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2012-13)

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