Where are Punjab's famous Small farmers?

Where are Punjab's famous Small farmers?

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published Published on Jun 18, 2014   modified Modified on May 23, 2016

Punjab, which was known to be the land of agricultural prosperity during the 1970s and 1980s thanks to the Green Revolution, has increasingly witnessed its small and marginal farmers being pushed out of the agricultural sector. Based on a survey (conducted in 2012-13) of 288 farmers from 12 villages—2 villages from each of the 6 districts that represent various agro-climatic zones—the study by Sukhpal Singh and Shruti Bhogal reveals that most of the small and marginal farmers* who left farming started working as wage labourers, thereby, depicting the painful aspect of depeasantization.  

The study entitled Depeasantization in Punjab: Status of farmers who left farming, which was published in a leading scientific journal Current Science (May, 2014) tells us that altogether 288 farmers had left farming since 1991 (as revealed from the field survey conducted during 2012-13 in the 12 villages). Of these farmers, 111 (38.54%) were marginal farmers, 125 (43.40%) were small farmers, 29 (10.07%) were semi-medium farmers, 17 (5.90%) were medium farmers and 6 (2.08%) were large farmers. On the whole 14.39% of the farmers had left farming in the 12 villages considered under the study since 1991. This proportion is very high in case of marginal (26.49%) and small (18.27%) farmers. (Please see the table 1 below).

Table 1: Number of families who left farming in Punjab since 1991

Table 1

Source: Depeasantization in Punjab: Status of farmers who left farming -Sukhpal Singh and Shruti Bhogal, Current Science, Vol. 106, No. 10, 25 May, 2014  

Of the total 288 farmers surveyed who left farming, 25.35 percent started working as wage labourers. Among marginal (39.64%) and small (23.20%) farmers, this proportion was quite high. However, about 19.44 percent of the total sampled farmers (who left farming) set up their own petty businesses. The proportion of small, semi-medium, and medium & large farmers who started their own enterprises were 17.6 percent, 34.48 percent and 23.53 percent, respectively. About 27.08 percent of the total sampled farmers joined public or private sector. These figures for marginal, small, semi-medium, and medium & large farmers were 24.32 percent, 32 percent, 24.14 percent and 11.76 percent, respectively. (Please check the table 2 below for more details).   

Table 2: New occupations of farmers who left farming in Punjab (%)

Table 2

Source: Depeasantization in Punjab: Status of farmers who left farming -Sukhpal Singh and Shruti Bhogal, Current Science, Vol. 106, No. 10, 25 May, 2014

Reasons for leaving agriculture

Singh and Bhogal, both hailing from Punjab Agricultural University, inform us that agriculture in Punjab has faced crisis in the form of stagnating productivity, rising cost of production, decelerating income, shrinking employment, mounting indebtedness and ecological imbalance. The process of shifting of farmers from agricultural to non-agricultural sector for an alternate of livelihood is called depeasantization. The shifting of workforce from farming to non-farming can be categorized into growth-led shift and distress-induced shift. The 'pull factors' that operate in the case of growth-led shift are: mechanization of agriculture, increasing employment and income, high education level, urbanization, development of secondary and tertiary sectors, and state intervention for generating employment opportunities. The 'push factors' that operate in the case of distress-induced shift are: falling productivity, increasing costs, decreasing returns, unemployment, underemployment, indebtedness and even suicides.

Table 3: Reasons for shifting away from farming in Punjab (%)

Table 3

Source: Depeasantization in Punjab: Status of farmers who left farming -Sukhpal Singh and Shruti Bhogal, Current Science, Vol. 106, No. 10, 25 May, 2014

From the table 3 it can be discerned that roughly 30.56 percent farmers (in the 12 villages surveyed) left farming since it was a non-profitable venture. Nearly 53 percent of marginal farmers, 18.4 percent small farmers, 13.79 percent of semi-medium farmers and 11.76 percent medium farmers left farming since agriculture was non-profitable. 

Almost 18.75 percent of the total sampled farmers left farming for joining other professions. Nearly 17.36 percent of the total sampled farmers left farming due to high land rent compared to returns from farming. As a result of dearth of family labour due to old age/ death/ disease/ drug addiction, nearly 12.15 percent farmers left agriculture. Due to emigration 10.07 percent of the total sampled farmers left farming. High debt burden was a reason, which forced about 9.03 percent of the total sampled farmers to sell their land and leave agriculture. Due to price differentiation, few farmers (2.08 percent) left farming from their respective villages to buy land elsewhere for increasing the size of their land holdings.

As compared to medium and large farmers, satifaction level among marginal, small and semi-medium after change in profession due to depeasantization is low. Roughly one-third of the marginal and small farmers were dissatisfied with their new occupations and wanted to shift to another profession. 

Decline in no. of small & marginal operational holdings in Punjab since 1990s

After the 1990s, due to falling profitability small land holders in the state of Punjab started leasing out their land to the larger farmers, resulting in reverse tenancy. During the phase of reverse tenancy, the number of marginal and small farmers declined from 3.87 lakhs in 1995–96 to 2.96 lakhs in 2000–01 and further to 2.68 lakhs in 2005–06, say Singh and Bhogal. Contrary to Punjab, in India the number of marginal and small land holdings has been following an increasing trend as the total number of such operational holdings increased from 666.87 lakhs in 1980–81 to 834.81 lakhs in 1990–91, which further increased from 928.40 lakhs in 1995–96 to 980.77 lakhs in 2000–01 and then to 1076.24 lakhs in 2005–06. Although in the case of entire country, the number of total operational holdings of semi-medium, medium and large sizes at first increased from 226.89 lakhs in 1980–81 to 231.57 lakhs in 1990–91, since 1995 a declining trend is being obsrved as these figures declined to 227.57 lakhs in 1995–96, 218.17 lakhs in 2000–01 and further to 215.98 lakhs in 2005–06. However, the number of larger land holdings in Punjab followed an increasing trend. This points to the fact that small holdings are non-viable under modern capital-intensive farm technologies in Punjab.

* Note: Definition of various types of farmers based on size of land- Marginal holdings (of size 1 hectare or less), small holdings (size 1 to 2 hectares), semi-medium holdings (2 to 4 hectares), medium holdings (4 to 10 hectares), large holdings (over 10 hectares)

References:

Depeasantization in Punjab: Status of farmers who left farming -Sukhpal Singh and Shruti Bhogal, Current Science, Vol. 106, No. 10, 25 May, 2014 (please click here to download)  
 
Young, unmarried farmers more prone to suicides, says study -Navrajdeep Singh, The Hindustan Times, 5 June, 2014 

'State of Indian Farmers: A Report', done by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi for Bharat Krishak Samaj (please click here to download)   

The political economy of farmers'suicides in India: indebted cash-crop farmers with marginal landholdings explain state-level variation in suicide rates by Jonathan Kennedy and Lawrence King, published in the Lancet journal Globalization and Health 2014, 10:16 (please click here to download)  

Small Farmers in India: Challenges and Opportunities -S Mahendra Dev, WP-2012-014, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, June 2012 (please click here to download)  

Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Viability of Marginal and Small Farmers in India -Mahendra Singh, Agricultural Situation in India, June 2012 (please click here to download) 

Factors Influencing Economic Viability of Marginal and Small Farmers in Punjab -Mandeep Singh, AS Bhullar and AS Joshi, Agricultural Economics Research Review, Vol. 22, July-December 2009, pp 269-279 (please click here to download)  

Journal of Punjab Studies, Special Number on Agricultural and Rural Economy of Indian Punjab, Vol. 12, No. 2, Fall 2005 (please click here to download)  


The loud cries of farmers' widows have been lost in the din of the Narendra Modi coronation-Devinder Sharma, DNA, 27 May, 2014  

Bumper crop-but no smiles on faces of Punjab's farmers-Jaideep Sarin, IANS, The Business Standard, 7 May, 2014  

34% marginal farmers in Punjab living below poverty line -Amaninder Pal Sharma, The Times of India, 22 November, 2013  
 
Image Courtesy: Himanshu Joshi 


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