To boost rural incomes, keep youth in their villages

To boost rural incomes, keep youth in their villages

Increasing and diversifying agricultural production and retaining youth in the villages is an urgent imperative.

For stability, versatility and steady profitability in agriculture and general incomes in rural areas, to meet the national needs of diversifying nutrition and health all across, to prevent vulnerability with regard to food inflation and shocks like international currency turmoil, wars, floods and droughts, we need to retain educated youth as role models in their native villages and nearby. This retention will also increase the prospect of modernising villages and enabling their residents to benefit economically and socially. Life mores will improve.

In relation to agricultural production, its share in GDP is decreasing. It is now hardly 12%, while rural population still accounts for over 65% of the country’s total population. Obviously, it is yielding very low total and per capita incomes. Rural productivity and incomes need to go up. Instead, rural youth are drifting away to towns and cities in search of improved incomes. The trend must be arrested. Village youth have to be retained, variously skilled/educated, capital endowed and helped to become more productive.

The viability of agriculture is manifestly and largely declining. The size of the average individual land-holding is declining, while the number of landless agricultural labourers are increasing.

The average size of an operational holding has witnessed a steady decline: 2.2, 1.84, 1.33 and 1.11 hectares respectively in the years 1970-71, 1980-81, 2000-01 and 2010-11. The number of operational holdings have increased from 70 million in 1970 to 138.3 million in 2010-11.

A viable holding is expected to yield enough at least to sustain the farmer and her family, reasonably meeting their ever-diversifying and increasing needs. That is estimated to be two hectares in area. Holdings below two hectares were 70% in 1970 and rose to 85% in 2010-11.

The proportion of holdings above two hectares declined from 30% in 1970 to 15% in 2010. This bleak land capital availability scenario has been pushing youth away from villages. The much-needed diversity and quantum of capital to make agriculture more productive, really sustaining and value-adding, has failed, and continues to fail, to emerge and accumulate in rural areas.

Regarding irrigation, efforts have to be made to use low irrigation intensity techniques and choice of such varieties of crops. Superior foods, pulses, oil seeds, fruits and vegetables, flowers and millets have to be raised in a rotation and multi-crop manner. These need modern techniques and equipment, ability to use and service them, agriculture entrepreneurial skills and capital.

Retaining the educated

More educated youth, graduates, diploma-holders, agriculture technology graduates have to remain on land in the villages, to make farming viable and more labour-absorbing. This requires changes in land-man system and a facilitation of taking land on lease from small unviable languishing land-holders.

When these very small landholders are released from their land-holding proclivities and compulsions, they can choose non-farm employment seriously and get better incomes, including from changing profession and from migration. They will have to bestow undivided attention to family and child-care and to educate/skill their children as much as possible.

In view of the above social and economic developments and needs, quite a number of educated or skilled youth will have to be living and working in villages. These are times when unemployment allowance and payments for land-holding farmers are being thought of, and these ideas have to be mated with incentives possibly needed to retain educated youth in villages to forestall the already emerging prospect of villages becoming virtual old-age homes.

The Telangana proposal to provide Rs 4,000 per acre of land per year for each land-owning farmer is noteworthy; this could be granted only for graduates living in their native villages, engaged in cultivation and related activities.

Special incentives may be thought of for agriculture graduates. These qualified land-owning agriculturists may be encouraged to lease land for increased viability and profitability and creating increased employment in agriculture — irrigation, mixed farming and further processing and allied activities, including livestock raring and equipment servicing.

The expenditure on this subvention prospect may be underwritten from tax proceeds from increased consumption and production in rural areas. Farm families will be further encouraged to educate their youth with a view to improving their farming activities and profitability thereof.

Increased income in villages, from farming, allied and other non-farm activities will increase buying power in rural areas.
This will certainly boost demand across other sectors — housing, FMCG, transport, solar energy, automobile, tourism, etc. Insurance, banking, mutual funds and share-broking will additionally grow to service the increasing and diversified needs of the more modernised villagers.

(The writer is a former professor of Maharaja’s College, University of Mysore)

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