Agriculture is the mainstay of India. Even today about 57 percent of Indian population is engaged in agriculture and is dependent on it. However the contribution of agriulture to India’s GDP has reduced over the years, from 50 percent in 1950 to 17.9 percent in 2014-15. Several reforms have been introduced in the country in various sectors that have directly impacted the growth of sectors such as industry, service and so on and so forth and today these sector are contributing more than double to the GDP. The inputs into the agricultural sector have not matched with the scale of this sector and therefore the contribution of agriculture to GDP is reducing.
We concern ourseves with agriculture and within the sector with the poor/ smallholder farmers. IDEI defines smallholder farmers based on the size of land owned by these farmers. Farmers who own less than 1.4 hectares of land are smallholder farmers and poor farmers- farmers with limited resources including land, capital, skills and labour. There are 93 million small farms1 (more than 500 million people) in India. About 81 percent of farms in India have land holdings of less than 2 hectares, whereas their share in total cultivated area is about 44 percent and despite a lower cultivated area their contribution to total farm output exceeds 50 percent.
These smallholder farmers are facing several challenges to continue to engage in agriculture productively. Some of the key constraints are listed below:
Water Scarcity: agriculture consumes about 70 percent of water used by all sectors. India is world’s second top country that engages in irrigated agriculture 1 however only one third of the cropped area is under irrigation 2. While the large land holding farmers access water for irrigation from assured and cheaper sources such as canals and tanks; the small and marginal farmers rely on rented water. According to CGWB’s report, Ground Water Scenario in India the statewise decadel water level fluctuation with mean (November 2013- November 2014) with 2014 points out that for 56% of wells in the country the water level fell between 0-2m 1. Considering that about 45% of the small and marginal farmers wholly irrigate their lands and therefore depend on the ground water availability, their challenges are bound to increase exponentially especially if the current trend of use of irrigation devices continues.
Lower productivity: There are several factors that have led to lower productivity per unit of land in India. The data from NSS 2003 Farmers’ survey has empirically etsablished that small farms continue to produce more value in terms of per hectare than the medium and large farms. From efficiency point of view, small holdings are equal or better than large holdings. However the overall productivity of unit land is far from efficiency yet. Monocropping, high cultivation costs, low resources, absence of quality and certified seeds, quality of soil and so and so forth are some of the reasons of low productivity.
Lower Levels of Formal Education and Skills: Education and skills are important for improving farming practices and productivity. These help in building awareness and therefore emaking more informed decisions w.r.t agriculture. The NSSO data shows that literacy among males and females for marginal farmers respectively were 62.5% and 31.2 % while the corresponding numbers for medium and large farmers were 72.9% and 39%.
Food Insecurity: India achieved food self sufficiency in the 70’s due to the green revolution and this helped ward off the famine situation. However the agricultural growth in 90’s and there-after slowed down and this became a great cause for worry.
Risk and Vulnerability: the small and marginal farmers are exposed to higher risks and therefore are more vulanerable. Some of the these risks include harvest risks, social risks, health risks and risks due to natural disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones etc. These push the already resources crunched farmers further to take loans and therefore into the cycle of indebtedness.
IDEI GOAL STATEMENT- IDEI works with the goal to:
make affordable, high-quality food readily available to the rural poor by boosting agricultural productivity and enhancing the nutritional quality of vegetable crops;-
promote rural income growth by making smallholder agriculture more competitive and market oriented through improvements in agricultural value chains;-
increase water productivity in agriculture;-
provide the means to make a more intensive and competitive agriculture both environmentally sustainable and climate smart.
1. Smallholder Farmings in Transforming Economies of Asia and the Pacific:Challenges and opportunities, Discussion Paper prepared for the side event organized during the Thirty- third session of IFAD’s Governing Council, 18 February 2009