1 lakh farmers quit agriculture in 5 years in Maharashtra
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KOLHAPUR: As many as one lakh families of farmers in the state opted out of agriculture, their sole profession, in the last five years, according to the latest agriculture Census figures. Experts expressed fears that the trend might continue with the availability of other income sources and tolerance level of the farmers reaching its peak. The final figures of agricultural land holdings for 2015-16 will be released later. According to the agriculture Census of 2010-11, there were 136 lakh agricultural land holdings in the state. State agriculture and revenue minister Eknath Khadse said the figure has now shrunk to 135 lakh. The minister said land acquisition for industrialization, road widening and creation of new roads have eaten up the agricultural land. As per the agriculture Census of 2005-06, there were 137 lakh farmers' families in Maharashtra. It means that the number of farmers quitting agricultural activities between 2005-6 and 2010-11 reduced by one lakh. Similarly, another one lakh farmers opted out of the profession from 2011-12 till today. Speaking to TOI, Khadse said, "There are 135 lakh land holding families in the state at present. As may 90 lakh of them are marginal farmers, who own less than one hectare land. The fact is alarming as agricultural land is getting divided further into small pieces, which directly affects production. Remaining 45 lakh people are small, medium and large farmers, who actually have the capacity of producing foodgrains at large scale, which can be traded. The marginal farmers are mostly into vegetable or small scale foodgrain production, which has little role in the trade." Over the last five-six decades, the state has witnessed a successive trend of increase in the number of farmers in terms of land division and population growth. However, the number of farmers in the state started shrinking from 2010-11. The number was 1.37 crore in the state in 2010-11, but went down to 1.36 crore by 2013-14. During the same period, the area of operational holding and average size of operational holding also went down. In 2010-11, altogether 2,00,05,000 hectares of land was under cultivation in the state, which has now declined to 1,97,67,000 hectares. The average size of operational land holding also dipped from 1.46 hectares to 1.44 hectares. Sangeeta Shroff, associate professor at Pune-based Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, said the situation is far more serious. "Of the total labour force in the state, 52.7% are in the agriculture sector. Further division shows that 25.4% are cultivators (land owners), while 27.3% are agricultural labourers. It means that there are more labourers in the state than land owners. If labour force figures from Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and Aurangabad are removed, the employment number through agriculture sector stands at 81.36%. It means there are hardly any means of employment in the rural areas barring agriculture," she said. She said encouraging agro-processing industries in the rural areas and infrastructure development should be undertaken on priority to control the overall downfall in the sector. "The biggest factor behind farmers being discouraged to leave agriculture is poor irrigation facilities. The irrigation cover in the state is not more than 18%, of which a huge area is used for sugarcane cultivation. A cash crop like cotton is largely rainfed putting pressure on the farmers for making irrigation arrangements. Besides, foodgrain cultivation is also largely dependent on monsoon, which is adding to farmers' frustration. Unless these issues are tackled, the sector will continue to remain in poor light," Shroff added.
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