Agrarian Crisis: Life at Stake in Rural India

Jaya Mehta, Vineet Tiwari and Roshan Nair

The Indian economy is engulfed in a deep and intractable crisis. The government’s response to the situation has been to introduce populist measures like debt waivers, a food security bill, a proposed land reform policy bill etc, and continue with the neo-liberal thrust of opening up our agriculture to world market forces and to the corporate sector. This has exacerbated the crisis and created an impression that the agrarian crisis is the result of the policies of globalisation and a reversal of these policies will correct the situation. Of course, it is necessary to resist the neo liberal policy frame and also to reverse it. However, the crisis has a much longer history. Its roots are deep. Just reversing the policies of two decades cannot redress the injustice meted out to the majority of agricultural population over centuries.

The roots of agrarian crisis have to be traced in the distorted capitalist development trajectory that we inherited from our colonial past. It created an imbalance between industry and agriculture. The Economic Survey 2010-11 tells us that the share of agriculture and allied sectors in GDP is 14.2% whereas the share of workforce directly engaged in this sector is 58%.

The distorted trajectory also created an inequitable resource base within agriculture. According to the NSS survey 2003-2004, the top 5.2% of rural households own 42.8% of the area and the top 9.5% own 56.6% of the area. The remaining 90.5% of households owned just 43.4% of the land area. 10% of rural households do not own any land. If we exclude homestead land then 41.6% of rural households would be classified as landless.1

Resolution of the agrarian crisis demands that both these anomalies be corrected. This would require a radically restructured institutional frame.

In the year 2010, the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies undertook a survey of marginal farmers across 8 states in the country. The states covered in the study are: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharastra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The objective was to study the impact of new technological and economic environment on the production and marketing patterns of marginal farmers. The survey covered 30 districts and 113 villages. We listed 15,173 households and surveyed in detail a sample of 1096 cultivator households. The findings of the survey are contextualized in the statistical frame provided by the Assessment Survey of Farmers, NSS 59th round (January-December 2003).

The main findings of the study can be summarized as below:

1) The Question of Land

We begin with the central question: the question of availability and distribution of the main resource base – Land.

Arable land is shrinking

There has been a dramatic drop in total cultivated area in the country. During the period 1992 to 2003, total arable land decreased from 125 million hectares to 107.6 million hectares – a decline of 17.4 million hectares. At the same time, farm holdings have increased from 93 million to 101 million. This implies that the farm size of an average holding has dropped from 1.34 hectares in 1992 to 1.06 hectares in 2003.2

The farmers have fiercely resisted forcible acquisition of their land. The government has agreed to repeal the 1894 act and later introduced a new act, consisting of provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation. However, there are innumerable stories not so well known of arable land being transferred permanently to non-agricultural uses through booming real estate market. In some instances, farmers have willingly surrendered their land as the small holding they have does not offer any viable livelihood possibility.

Amendments in Land Acquisition Act alone will not bring any solution to the problem of land. There is a need to ensure viable livelihood possibilities for the peasantry.

The Skewed Distribution of Land

Farmland available to rural households has always been distributed in a very unequal manner. As already mentioned above, 41.6% of rural households do not have any land other than homestead. Among those who own farmland, 66% households have holdings, 18% have small holding and 9% have semi-medium holdings. Only 5% of households have farm holdings with more than 10 acres of and.

The NSSO data on which many government agencies base their policy decision only considers land owned by households. This excludes vast tracts of land held by trust, religious institutions and other such bodies. It also fails to capture the extent to which big landlords have been able to flout land ceiling restrictions by making fictitious transfers.

Religion, Caste and Distribution of Land

Caste and religion, it appears are still strong detriments to land ownership and distribution. Muslim and scheduled caste families own land only where the entire village is inhabited by them. In villages dominated by OBC or general caste Hindus, the land ownership of scheduled castes or Muslims is marginal. Among the states covered in our study, the landlessness of scheduled castes is most glaring in Punjab, Bihar and Tamil Nadu.

Land Leasing

Over the years, the incidence of tenancy has declined. The NSSO reports3 that the share of tenant holdings in total operational holdings has reduced from 24% of 1970-71 to 10% in 2003-2004. The share of the tenanted land in total came down from 10% to 6.5% during this period. However, these percentages do not reflect the extent of leasing still prevalent. Even in the year 2002-03, one crore holdings had leased in 70 lakh hectares of land.

Most of the tenant farmers are landless households or marginal farmers leasing in land from big landlords on disadvantageous terms. Meaningful tenancy reforms have been carried out only in the state of West Bengal. There are also cases of small farmers leasing in small pieces of land from other small farmers. In these cases the lease terms are more equitable and often costs and output both are shared equally by the lessor and lessee households.

Finally, there are small farmers leasing out land to big farmers because they are unable to cultivate their own land holdings. This ‘reverse leasing’ is also reported in NSSO data. As many as 14% of large holdings (10 to 20 hectares) in the country, reported land leasing. Reverse leasing is particularly noticeable in states like Punjab, where yields and profits are attractive. Here we find 49% farmers in the land size category 5 to 10 hectares reporting at least one leased in plot.4 Big landlords in Punjab lease in land from small farmers and offer a meagre amount as rent.

Reverse leasing was also found in Ujjain and Sagar districts in Madhya Pradesh where small farmers lease out their land for wheat cultivation to well to do farmers.

2) Irrigation and Crop Choices

One acre of land does not mean the same thing to everyone. Among other things, access to water becomes a key differentiator between productive and unproductive land. During kharif period, crops can be grown without any irrigation facility. The farmers can depend on rain water. However, rabi crops require irrigation. In the country, 87% of operated area is sown during kharif season of which 41% is irrigated. In rabi season, only 58% of total operated area is sown. Of the total operated area 38% is left fallow. Further, 67% of the sown area in rabi season is irrigated.

The availability of water varies across states. In Punjab, 94% of total operated area is irrigated during rabi season while in Chhattisgarh only 8% is irrigated. Within a state, irrigation infrastructure varies from one district to another; within a district it varies from one village to another and within a village the availability of water varies from one household to another.

In our study we covered 113 villages. Of these, we came across only 4 villages, one in Madhya Pradesh and one in Maharastra, where none of the farmers had any irrigation facility. In other 44 villages, while big farmers had access to some water source or the other, the small and marginal farmers depended only on rainwater. The answer to the water availability question cannot be given in plain yes or no. The inevitable accompanying questions are how much water and at what cost.

How much water?

Often when a farmer reports that he has access to irrigation facilities, he qualifies his answer by saying that it is not perennial. It is a rain-fed canal or well. A great number of water bodies provide water only during the monsoon. A few months later, rivers, canals, wells and tanks either dry up or have greatly decreased water availability. They provide irrigation for kharif crops but in rabi season, when irrigation is most required, they become redundant. It is only in states like Punjab and Haryana that water is released in canals in planned manner to facilitate irrigation.

Cost of Irrigation

Traditionally, irrigation meant using surface storage of water in rivers, ponds and tanks for crop cultivation. The flow of water was not tempered by pump sets and electric motors. Irrigation infrastructure was in this sense, a public good. In the decades of 1950s and 60s, the government made substantial investments in enhancing surface irrigation facilities. Since 1980s, the government’s drive to lay down surface water irrigation infrastructure slowed down. Those who opposed big dams asked for minor irrigation schemes, watershed projects and revival of traditional water sources.

Unfortunately, the transition took quite another turn. Crop cultivation began depending more and more on ground water extraction. In 1981, 1.5 crore hectares of land were under canal irrigation and 95 lakh hectares of land were under canal irrigation and 95 lakh hectares under tube wells. In 2005-06, canal irrigated land stayed constant at 1.5 crore hectares but area under tube wells increased to 2.32 crores, making it the most dominant form of irrigation in India today. There are more than 2 crore irrigation wells in the country equipped with diesel and electric pumps.5

The transition from surface water to ground water implies privatization of irrigation infrastructure. The investment required for ground water extraction is substantial, especially in areas where water tables are low. The ownership of groundwater assets is naturally concentrated with rich peasants. Further, groundwater has no territorial rights. Therefore, rich peasants acquire control over disproportionately large areas of ground water and become water lords. A natural corollary has been the emergence of informal ground water markets and pump rental markets in different parts of the country. Through these markets, although water is available to the small and marginal farmers, the cost is exorbitant. Thus, when a marginal or small farmer reports that he or she has access to tube well water which is motorized; it does not imply that ownership of that tube well and motor lies with him of her. The farmer pays heavy amounts as rental for this facility.

Crop Choice

In a given agro climatic region, the possible uses of farmland depend upon the land size and water availability.

Lack of sufficient water restricts the crop choice available to the marginal farmers.

We looked into the cropping pattern of 811 marginal farmers in our study. Our findings are as follows:

1. Out of 811 farmers, 393 cultivated their farmlands only in one season, mostly kharif. In water-scarce states like Maharastra and Andhra Pradesh, most farmers are able to cultivate only kharif crop. In Maharastra, 109 out of 126 marginal farmers take only kharif crops. In Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala, there is no water scarcity but not everyone is able to take two crops. The villages in these states have a different problem. In many villagers land is flooded during kharif season and the farmers can only take rabi crops.

2. In general, marginal farmers in all the states cultivate subsistence crops as their primary choice. This is most true where paddy is the subsistence crop, such as in West Bengal, parts of Bihar and the southern states excluding Kerala. The areas where jowar and other coarse grains were the traditional subsistence crops, the cropping pattern have changed. Many farmers have now shifted to soyabean, cotton or other oilseeds. This trend is observed in the districts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

3. In every village, the large farmers had a much wider and superior spectrum of crop choices available to them. In Jalandhar district, crop choice is directly related to farm size. The smallest land size farmers grow wheat and maize. The slightly better off farmers in the next category grow wheat and paddy. The large farmers grow wheat, paddy and potato and the largest category farmers grow wheat, paddy and sugarcane.

4. In the tribal areas of Maharastra and Madhya Pradesh, farmers with very small and fragmented holdings also cultivate a large number of crops. Their subsistence crops are lesser known indigenous crops and their production is also meager.

3) Production and marketing patterns

While small land sizes and limited availability of water constrain the land use possibilities for marginal farmers everywhere, these constraints are more formidable in some places than in others. There are marginal farmers situated in relatively more developed areas and there are marginal farmers situated in regions which are cut off from basic infrastructural facilities. Naturally, the production and marketing patterns in the two cases are different.

Marginal farmers in well endowed regions take both rabi and kharif crops and their cultivation practices are at par with the medium and big farmers.

Farm operations

When big farmers mechanize their farm operations, they buy tractors, harvesters, threshers, pump set etc. When they buy these machines, they also create local rental markets for them. Marginal farmers do not own these big farm implements, not even in the prosperous state of Punjab.

In our study, only two out of 811 marginal farmers reported owning a tractor. Nevertheless, when machine use is initiated by big farmers and machines are available on rent, marginal farmers hire these machines and mechanize their farm operations. They use tractors for ploughing, threshers for threshing and trolleys for transportation. We also found marginal farmers using harvesters in many villages of Punjab and in one village of Bihar.

The rentals for use of farm machinery are high and the net result is that farm operation cost per acre is much higher for marginal farmers as compared to medium and big farmers. This trend is seen in every state. The higher cost of farm operations is particularly noticeable in Punjab and Bihar. It is not irrational for marginal farmers to opt for costly mechanized farm operations. The situation is such that they have few options left. For instance, in Punjab, if wheat is harvested with a harvester, the rent is Rs. 1300 per acre. However, if harvesting and threshing comes to Rs. 1300 or more per acre and the time required is also more. Labour is only available there through contractors and is quite expensive. The farmer chooses to use a harvester.

Application of Improved Seeds, Fertilizers and Pesticides

In developed regions, marginal farmers also use improved varieties of seeds and apply adequate (or excess) quantities of fertilizers and pesticides. The term ‘improved seeds’’ however has different meanings in different cases.

The high yielding variety seeds initially supplied by National Seed Corporation or State Seed Corporations gave a significant jump in the yield rates. Even now, one can find traces, where state agencies have seeds suited for a particular agro-climatic region. When such seeds are supplied by state agencies and used by small and resource-poor farmers, they mean a definite advantage in terms of productivity and risk protection.

However, now-a-days seed industry has gone into the hands of private companies and multinationals. Thus we have BT cotton as an ‘improved seed variety’, which has ravaged the cotton fields of Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra and Karnataka. The alarming number of farmers’ suicides in these states is also a fall out of application of so-called improved variety of seeds.

It is unfortunate that the government of India actively promotes research in transgenic plant and seed varieties and their applications in Indian agriculture. This is one of the main areas of research work under Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture. The Seed Bill was opposed by many farmers’ organisations because it is designed to enable the multinational companies to acquire greater control on seed markets and seed research but got passed with the incorporation of some new amendments.

Productivity and Total Production

Spending large amounts on farm operations and farm inputs, the marginal and small farmers often manage to reach production standards and yield rates attained by resource-rich big farmers. If the weather is favourable, seeds are reliable and pests do not attack, the marginal farmers can expect to reach the average productivity of the region or even exceed it. However, the small size of the land puts the ultimate limit on total production.

On the other hand, if the crops fail then marginal farmers have no capacity to absorb the shock. The fragile equilibrium of marginal farmers can break down with slightest perturbation.

Regions with no infrastructural facilities

There are marginal farmers situated in regions where they do not have access to mechanization, water and other inputs.

Many of the villages in this category are scheduled tribe villages with undulating plains, poor quality soil and no source of water. Because the topography has been unsuitable for agriculture and the people living here have had no say in the country’s planning priorities, no infrastructure could develop in these villages. We found in our survey that in some of the villages, even big farmers with 20 acres of land did not have any source of irrigation, invested little in their land and obtained no returns. While the marginal and small farmers in these areas do not expect to get any worthwhile returns from their land. Naturally, they do not invest anything other than labour in their farms. Labour they can invest because of the surplus labour they have. In many such tribal villages, we were told that all family members including women and children migrate to agriculturally prosperous areas or nearby urban areas in search of employment.

On the Margins of the Market

The farmers who produce cash crops or produce enough to sell a portion of their subsistence crop are minor entrants in markets and have little bargaining capacity. The volatile markets of agricultural commodities and dramatic responses of farmers make news routinely.

Opening up the trade in agricultural commodities have subjected our farmers to world market fluctuations. The maximum impact has been on the farmers in Kerala as most of their production is for export markets.

The ‘capitalist solution’ to market fluctuations was introduction of forward trading and contract farming. But the speculation in forward trading can create chaotic situations. The rapid rise of world food prices in the beginning of 2008 was largely due to commodity speculation. Impervious to farmers’ demands to give protection to domestic markets, the government has systematically dismantled all control and has allowed direct access to multinational companies in our agricultural markets.

Over the years, village level cooperatives have been discredited and stopped functioning in most of the places. In 2003, GOI sent a guideline to all state governments for modifying their APMC (Agricultural Produce Management Committee) acts. The modified acts now allow companies to set up their own purchase hubs outside the mandi (local market) premises. The dynamic initiative taken by ITC ltd. to spread a network of e-choupals and make direct purchases from farmers has made big news. The modified APMC acts have also legalized contract framing. This enables companies to hire large tracts of land for their specific requirements.

Both in contract farming and in e-choupal networks, the companies negotiate only with the farmers with respectable and large source of resource base. The marginal and resource-poor farmers are left out of their ambit. Moreover, with corporate entry – the government mandis, village traders and small processing units, all would get marginalized in due course of time. Thus, for small farmers the traditional market links are getting weakened further and no new alternatives are in sight with increasing control of large farmers over operational landholding.

4) Farm Income, Other Income and Debt Farm Income and Other Income

As explained above, the total produce of marginal farmers is ultimately limited by small land size and the unavailability of water. In most cases, the marketable surplus is very small. Even when farmers grow cash crops and produce a respectable surplus for the market, the returns from the market are uncertain. The sale-proceeds of farmers, in many cases, do not even cover their cost of cultivation. Even if the cost of cultivation is covered, the farm income is insufficient to meet the basic consumption needs of the family.

Almost every marginal farmer household requires supplementary income. The exact composition of supplementary income depends on many factors and every household can have a different story to tell. However, certain broad trends can be identified.

A major constituent of the supplementary income is the income of family wage labour. In most cases, the wage income component is 2 to 3 times as large as the farm income. In the year 2002-03, at all India level the monthly farm income for the land size category 0 to 1 acres was Rs 296. The monthly wage income was 3 times as large i.e. Rs 973.6 In such cases, some academics consider it more appropriate to classify wage income as the primary income and farm income as the supplementary income. These marginal farmer households are classified as landed agricultural labour households by some academics. We think this classification has incorrect political implications. The marginal farmers’ ‘identity’ should not be compromised.

Unfortunately, in most households the farm and supplementary income together is also insufficient to meet the basic consumption needs. In our survey, 80% of marginal farmer households said that their income was insufficient to meet their basic needs and this has also been reported in the NSSO survey.7

When expenditure exceeds income on a regular basis, the households try to make ends meet by taking loans.


The NSSO survey8 recorded 48% of farmer households in the country as indebted in the year 2002-2003. Maximum indebtedness was found in Andhra Pradesh – 82%; next was Tamilnadu at 74% and then came Kerala, Punjab and Karnataka. In these three states 60-65% farmers were indebted. The indebtedness incident also varied with land size categories. At an all India level, the indebtedness was 45% for marginal farmers and 66% for large farmers having more than 10 hectares of land.

The higher incidence of indebtedness for big farmers does not mean they are more in need of loans. It only means that they have greater access to credit on reasonable terms. The marginal farmers on the other hand are in far greater need of credit for farm operations and for their consumption needs. Their access to institutional credit is limited and they have no option but to approach the informal credit market. This difference is most noticeable in Andhra Pradesh.

In Andhra Pradesh, the moneylenders are not necessarily the traditional Sahukars. A number of unregistered institutions have cropped up which call themselves banks/microfinance groups. These unauthorized banks charge compound interest on the loans which they extend. Compounding is done more than once a year – in some cases monthly or more frequently. In Tippepalli village of Ananthapuram district, we found two cases where Rs. 4,000 and Rs. 5,000 were taken as loan in 1998. In ten years, these amounts have increased to Rs. 25,000 and Rs. 44,000 respectively. Additionally, there are registered micro-finance agencies in AP villages. In our survey, all the 16 villages reported presence of micro-finance agencies. The villagers said that the micro-finance companies recover their loans on a weekly basis. If a household is unable to pay, the agents behave harshly. There are cases of household members getting kidnapped by these agencies. Some women’s groups are demanding that micro-finance agencies should not be allowed to operate in the state. In Warangal district, three villages out of four reported farmers’ suicide due to financial problems. These villagers are Burhanpur – 15 suicides, Krishnajaigudam – 6 suicides and Ramteertham – 4 suicides.

On the one hand, the poor farmers in Andhra Pradesh take loans on exploitative terms and when they cannot return them, they give up their assets or lives. On the other hand, there are farmers in Bihar, West Bengal or Maharastra who have no access to any sort of credit. In our survey, mainly West Bengal farmers reported that they do not take any loans. On further enquiry they informed us that they used to buy their food, grocery and other necessities on credit and the interest is recovered by the grocery shop keeper by charging higher prices for the goods that they buy.

In Raigad district of Maharastra, when farmers did not report having taken any loan, we specifically enquired if they had bought their groceries and other necessities from the local shopkeeper on credit. Some reported that the shopkeeper did not give them such credit and others said that they were afraid to buy anything on credit as they knew that they would not be able to repay it.

In Bihar, farmers reported that small loans up to Rs. 5000 are usually taken from friends and relatives without any interest. For loans bigger than that, farmers approach money lenders. The interest rate is 60% or more. For a loan of Rs. 15-20 thousand the standard procedure is to mortgage one beegha of land. The money lender keeps the land till the loan is returned. He cultivates it and takes the entire produce as interest.

Debt cannot be the solution for everyone and it cannot be a permanent solution for anyone. What, then, is the solution envisaged in this ‘capitalist’ economy? One solution that is given to ‘losers’ is to ‘quit the game'. The household has the ‘option’ to give up land and move into the landless agricultural labour category. The farmer household may also decide to quit agriculture completely and move on to join the burgeoning urban informal sector – however overcrowded, self-exploiting and subhuman it may be. Finally, the farmer also has a choice to quit this world altogether – as more than two lakhs have chosen to do since 1997.

5) The Case for a Collective Production Base

Amidst all the variations in the resource base and production patterns of 7 crore marginal farm households spread across the country, two common features emerge without any ambiguity. One, the farm income inclusive of livestock income is insufficient to meet basic cultivation costs and consumption needs. Supplementary income is necessary for all marginal farmers. Two, marginal farm households obtain this supplementary income by offering their labour in markets that are unfair and exploitative. In other words, the agrarian question looms large in the face of the Indian economy. The surplus labour in agriculture distributed among numerous small holdings cannot be contained in this sector.

The neo-liberal policy frame is supposedly designed to make agriculture modern and structured and this is to be attained by facilitating the entry of corporates. This design will debouch surplus labour out of agriculture. Unfortunately, there is no employment space available for this workforce outside.

To intervene effectively in this process, the farmers must come together. Transcending caste and religious differences and coming together politically is necessary as a first step. But one can also look beyond that and consider pooling land together to form production cooperatives. This will enable small and resource-poor farmers to acquire the strength of collective production base.

The strength of a Cooperative

Rural society in India has had a long experience of service cooperatives providing credit and other inputs, and facilitating marketing. It is true that in many places, these cooperatives have malfunctioned and there is rampant corruption in this sector. However, this does not warrant discarding the very concept of cooperatives. What is required is to cleanse the existing system, break local hierarchical structures and ensure participation of the wider village community in a democratic way.

A production co-operative demands a much greater degree of irrigation than a service co-operative. Poor households are apprehensive because their meagre resources are put at stake. It is necessary that they get convinced of the advantages of pooling their resources together.

When 10 or 15 or more farmers pool together their land and form a cooperative holding of 15 or 20 acres, the endeavour would open up many possibilities. Water management would be better. Mechanized farm operations would be more efficient. The spectrum of available crop choice would be wider. The bargaining capacities in input and output markets would improve. The risks would be shared within the group.

In addition to all these above advantages, the surplus labour in individual small farms will also get collectivized in the cooperative. This collective labour then can be engaged in infrastructure build-up and agro-processing activities linked to the cooperative. In this manner, the shift of labour from farm to non-farm activities can also be planned in humane and dignified manner.

Formation of a cooperative would also prevent the transfer of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses. The institutional barrier of a cooperative would not allow real estate market or companies to take away non-viable holdings from the farmers.

Forming a production cooperative does not mean surrendering ownership of land. It only means pooling land together for joint production. The income and production from the cooperative would be distributed in accordance with the resources and labour offered by each member. The exact blue print of the cooperative will be decided by members who come together to pool their resources. Nevertheless, two points must be clear in any programme of cooperative formation.

First, any joint endeavour succeeds when the partners are equal. Unequal partners beget unequal exchange. Therefore, small and marginal farmers’ cooperatives must restrict membership based on a criterion of resource base size. Second, the feudal backdrop of Indian villages and the predatory character of neo-liberal markets will not allow cooperatives to survive on their own. A programme of cooperative formation must necessarily demand ‘state support’.

Women farmers showing the way

In our survey, we could not adequately delineate the role of women in the agrarian scene. It is, however, noticed by everyone that Indian agriculture is acquiring a feminine face. Especially among the small and resource-poor farm households, men generally migrate out leaving the non-viable holding to women. These women farmers do not have legal rights on these holdings. While we must insist that women should have ownership rights on the land that they till, we would also like to point out that their special situation makes them particularly receptive to the idea of joint productive activities.

In Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, there already exist some instances of successful joint farming exercises by women.

We came to know about Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO, since 1989 has been supporting poor dalit women to jointly lease in or purchase land through various government credit schemes. Now there are 144 women who have leased in land collectively. These groups are small in size with 5 to 15 members each. A total of 211 acres of land have been leased in across 26 villages. Rent is paid partly by the group members and partly by interest-free loans from DDS. Similarly, women’s groups have jointly purchased land in 21 villages. The government provides subsidized credit for those purchases. In all, there are 436 women who have made group purchases of 535 acre of land in Andhra Pradesh.

The experiment in Kerala is far wider and is directly initiated by Kerala government. Under the Kudumbasree programme of Kerala government, 46,444 groups are engaged in collective farming. The size of a group varies from 4 to 10 members. Correspondingly, the land given to a group varies from 50 cents to 2.5 acres. Women under this scheme are 50 cents to 2.5 acres. Women under this scheme are engaged in cultivating tapioca, paddy, vegetables, pineapple, etc. In all 27, 270 hectares of land has been recruited in this scheme. The land given to these women’s groups is either fallow land under government ownership or private land taken by the government on lease. Area incentives are given for bringing fallow land under cultivation and performance incentives are given when production exceeds the stipulated average productivity.

These are still small experiments but they demonstrate that poor women farmers are able to realize the advantages of collective production activities. It is perhaps naive to generalize at this stage and think of a nation-wide agenda for formation of cooperatives of landless and land-poor farmers. However, if such an agenda is taken up by the farmers and if the state can be pressurized to accede to their demand of state support, then we can have an immense possibility for a radical political project.

Marginal and small farmers own 44% of total arable land. If this 44% of the arable land is recruited under cooperatives, the land use pattern can change, the markets can change and a concrete shape can be given to our dream that a just and exploitation-free world is possible.


1) NSS report no. 491

2) NSSO report no. 492 on Operational Land Holdings

3) NSSO report no. 492

4) NSSO report no. 492, table no. 4R

5) GOI, Ministry of Agriculture

6) NSSO report no. 497, table 6

7) NSSO report no. 497

8) NSSO report no. 498

(Courtesy: AES, India)

Note: Jaya Mehta is a senior economist and social activist, Indore, associated with Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies, New Delhi; Roshan Nair is a social scientist and activist; Vineet Tiwari is a writer and General Secretary of Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Madhya Pradesh.

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