Tag Archive farmers

How Many Farmers Does India Really Have ?

Prachi Salve, 
(This article has been updated to reflect additional information)
It’s a bit of a mystery question. Reason is most data tells you that more than half of India’s population lives on or off agriculture. But does it really ?
The World Trade Organization General Council which met on July 24-25 failed to arrive at a consensus on the Doha Round talks thanks to India’s position on agriculture subsidies.  Needless to add, this has once again put the spotlight on India’s large farming populace. And thus some curiosity on how many farmers there really are.
Now Census 2011 says there are 118.9 million cultivators across the country or 24.6% of the total workforce of over 481 million.  The table below shows the number and percentage of cultivators, according to Census, since 1951 to 2011.

It can be seen from the table above that although the number of cultivators has been fluctuating, the percentage of cultivators has been coming down steadily. It has declined from nearly 50% in 1951 to 24% in 2011, which means the number of farmers has come down by half.
Let us now look at another set of numbers:
Number of Rural-Urban Cultivators, 2001 & 2011
Source Census (Figures in%)
From the table above, it is clear that total cultivators in rural areas have declined from 40% in 2001 to 33% in 2011. Gender-wise, females have moved away more sharply than their male counterparts from being cultivators. Their percentage has fallen from 37% in 2001 to 29% in 2011.
Lets get two views in. Journalist P.Sainath says there are 95.8 million cultivators for whom farming is their main occupation, which is less than 8% of the population. Devendra Sharma, agricultural researcher and policy commentator told us that “unlike the US, in India when the family owns a piece of land everyone works on the farm. So if we make a rough calculation of say 90 million households engaged in agriculture and multiply it with 5 (the average Indian family size) the number you get pretty much is equivalent to 53%”
Let us now try and look at the data of agriculture labourers, according to Census 2011. Very often, agricultural labourers are added with cultivators to calculate the number of farmers. This is not the case with the Census, which defines agriculture labour:  ‘A person who works on another person’s land for wages in money or kind or share is regarded as an agricultural labourer.  She or he has no risk in the cultivation, but merely works on another person’s land for wages. An agricultural labourer has no right of lease or contract on land on which she/he works.”
The following table shows the number of agricultural labourers from 1951 to 2011.

We can see from the table above that the number of people working as agricultural labourers has been increasing since 1951.  And the percentage of agricultural labourers has increased from 19% in 1951 to 30% in 2011.
This shows that quite a few people have actually moved from being cultivators to being agricultural labourers. During the decade 2001-11, the Census results show a fall of about 9 million in cultivators and an increase of about 38 million in agricultural labourers!
So, if we add the number of cultivators and agricultural labourers, it would be around 263 million or 22% of the population (1.2 billion).  Then where does the common perception of 53% of population being involved in agriculture come from? It needs to be remembered that over 600 million Indians dependent on agriculture are not farmers. They are deployed in an array of related activities including fisheries.  And this confusion is widespread and innocent!!!
Update 11th August,2014:
P.Sainath responded to us.  According to him, the census data on agricultural workers is further broken down according to main and marginal workers. The following table shows precisely this information on workers whose main and marginal occupation is cultivators.

Category Person Male Female
Main work
Rural 92.7



Urban 3.1 



Total 95.8  73.0  22.8 
Marginal work
Rural 22.2  9.3  12.8
Urban 0.6  0.3  0.3 
Total 22.8  9.6  13.1

  Source: Census 2011 (figs in million)

(Image Credit: Flickr)

Leaving farmers to reap the bitter harvest

Devinder Sharma
January 19, 2014
A day after Parliament approved foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in December 2012, a newspaper report highlighted how a big retail company was exploiting both the farmers as well as the consumers: the wholesale cash-n-carry Bharti-Walmart enterprise, the report said, was buying baby corn from contract growers in Punjab at Rs. 8 per kg, selling it in wholesale at Rs. 100/kg and finally the consumers were paying Rs. 200/kg. In other words, farmers were getting only 4% of the end price consumers paid.
So to say that private enterprise will save Indian agriculture is all bunkum. Take the case of paddy in Bihar, the only state to have repealed the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act way back in 2006, thereby allowing farmers the freedom to sell their produce to whomsoever they like. Against the procurement price of `1,310 per quintal of paddy that Punjab farmers got this year, Bihar farmers have managed to sell paddy at something around `800-900 per quintal. This is nothing but a distress price/sale, a classic example of the ruthless exploitation by private traders.
Ironically, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which is supposed to ensure remunerative prices to farmers, lists Bihar as the top ‘market-friendly’ state as far as agriculture is concerned. Punjab, which has a network of mandis and provides an assured price to farmers, is at the bottom of the chart. At a time when being market-friendly is the new mantra, the CACP is asking Punjab to disband the APMC Act and allow markets to operate freely. In other words, it wants Punjab farmers to go the Bihar way.
So when Rahul Gandhi asked the Congress chief ministers to exempt fruits and vegetables, which have contributed much to raging food inflation, from the APMC Act by January 15, I thought he had gone by what FICCI/CII have been campaigning for. What probably he has never been told is that only about 30% of India’s farmers get the benefit of procurement prices. The rest 70% are in any case dependent on the markets. If the markets were so helpful to these 70% farmers, I am sure by now the farmers in Punjab and Haryana would have demanded the repeal of the APMC Act.
But that hasn’t happened. The APMC Act, despite all its flaws, provides an assured price and market to farmers. It is primarily for this reason that Punjab farmers are refusing to diversify from wheat and rice cultivation in the absence of an assured price mechanism for other crops. This year, Madhya Pradesh is expected to take over Punjab in wheat production. It will manage to achieve this only because farmers have been given a bonus above the procurement price and thankfully have not been left to the mercies of unscrupulous private traders.
I am amused when some economists blame the APMC for the monopolistic market structure that restricts the entry of free trade and competition, thereby denying farmers an economic price for their produce. This is a wrong assumption. Under the APMC Act, farmers bring produce to the designated mandis where private traders are first allowed to make purchases. It’s only when there are no buyers left that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) or the State procurement agencies step in to lift whatever is available at the minimum support price.
This is what irks the private trade. It doesn’t want to pay the minimum support price to farmers. For example, if it can get paddy at `800-900 per quintal in Bihar, why should it shell out `1,310 per quintal in Punjab?
To say that our present market structure does not permit the entry of new players who want to invest in other infrastructure is wrong. In seven years after repealing the APMC Act, Bihar has seen no revolution in agricultural marketing. Farmers have been left in the lurch and the private trade has not made any investments. The clamour to do away with the APMC Act is primarily to pave the way for setting up terminal markets for the big agribusiness companies as well as for multi-brand retail.
Devinder Sharma is a food policy analyst.
The views expressed by the author are personal
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