Despite the increase of population in rural India during the last decade, 74.3 Crore in 2001 to 83.3 Crore in 2011, the largest employment generator agriculture has registered a drop of 1.3 Crore workforce. Interestingly, the unemployment seems stable at 59 lakh.
Rural people’s shift from farm jobs to non-farm jobs has led a labour shortage for the agriculture sector, posing challenge for the food security in India.
“The issue of agricultural labour shortage very closely affects poverty alleviation and food security of 600 million smallholder farmers in India. They are the most hit by labour shortage, having no means to afford high wages of farm workers to carry out labour intensive production,” said Dr. William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
In India, boosting the productivity of agricultural sector has long relied on low-wage, surplus labour in the world’s second largest populous country, requires sustainable and inclusive labour-saving technologies and farm mechanisation.
“India’s labour market is beset with four major challenges – tightening of agricultural labour supply; attracting and retaining talented youth in agriculture; sustainable employment for rural labour force; and increasing labour productivity,” highlighted Dr. Cynthia Bantilan, Research Program Director – Markets, Institutions and Policies, ICRISAT.
The issues on labour dynamics acquire greater importance in the national policy arena, with non-farm income emerging as one of the important sources of income for rural workers as a whole, a trend ushered in by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNNREGA). However, this social safety program shifting many Indian workers out of agriculture and in other sectors such as manufacturing and services while ensuring equal wage for male and female workers, has threatened to affect India’s food security due to&nbs p;farm labour shortage.
But according to Dr. Bantilan, this shortage in farm labour actually creates a potentially vast opportunity in making farming a more profitable business and in encouraging the youth and women back to farming. This is by empowering them with new technology and improved practices that are less labour intensive and reduce costs.
After implementation of MGNREGA and Indira Awaas Yojana, a major chunk of rural people have moved to farm jobs to construction jobs. However, Dr. Keshav Das, Professor and Acting Director – Gujarat Institute of Development Research said, “ Construction sector is not the only reason behind the decline in agricultural labour. There has been a good rise in rural micro enterprise which have generated good number of employment in the rural areas.”
Recommendations drawn during the symposium for improved labour productivity in response to labour shortage include: development of labour saving technologies and machine harvestable crops; inclusive farm mechanisation program especially for women and youth; creation of large-scale employment opportunities for the rural poor; integration of farm and non-farm activities in rural areas; training on agricultural machineries and modern farming techniques; ICT tools to facilitate information flow and seasonal labour migration; and ensuring that MGNREGA allows for employment; creation during slack season critical in mitigating farm labour shortage and enhancing livelihoods of the poor.