Rural distress is a known story but a survey by NSSO has revealed the alarming level of fragmentation in farmland and unavailability of jobs. As many as 69 per cent agricultural households own less than a hectare of farmland each, making farming unviable and forcing migration to urban areas as there are few non-agricultural jobs in villages
There were more than 90 million agricultural households in 2012-13 (July-June), making for 57.8 per cent of total families in villages, when National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) conducted the Situation Assessment Survey covering more than 4,500 villages with about 35,000 households across the country.
Poor and populous states like West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar were the worst performers. In West Bengal, 92 per cent agricultural households owned less than one hectare of land. Jharkhand with 86 per cent and Bihar with 85.3 per cent exhibited a similar trend.
States like Punjab, Karnataka and Rajasthan performed better showing that the size of farmlands is one of the main factors in making agriculture viable. Large farmland holdings increase income by allowing farmers to use technology and practice economies of scale.
Uttar Pradesh, which had an estimated 15.5 per cent share of all rural households, also accounted for about 20 per cent of the total agricultural households.
Among the major states, Rajasthan had the highest percentage of agricultural households (78.4 per cent) among its rural households, followed by Uttar Pradesh (74.8 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (70.8 per cent).
Looking at the economics behind agricultural households, the survey noted that 68.3 per cent of such households still relied on agriculture as their primary source of income.
However, almost 22 per cent households reported salaried employment as the primary source of income. About 44 per cent were registered under the National Rural Employment Generation Scheme.
Hinting at further stagnation of incomes, the survey revealed, average investment into productive assets by households was just Rs 513.
But average consumption expenditure was about 12 times more.
Sabnavis said although historically India has seen a continuous acceleration in fragmentation of farmlands, the situation has reached a dangerous level now.
For the survey, NSSO defined agricultural household as the one where at least one member was engaged in agriculture and related activities.
The findings of the survey are difficult to be compared with the previous ones as they did not take into consideration landless farmers and those engaged in allied activities like animal husbandry, poultry and fishing.