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Despite the increase of population in rural India during the last decade, 74.3 crore in 2001 to 83.3 crore in 2011, agriculture, the largest employment generator, has registered a drop of 1.3 crore workforce. Interestingly, unemployment in rural was stable at 59 lakh.
Government’s increasing expenditure on social sector programmes, such as Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Indira Awaas Yojana and MGNREGA, have given a boost to the construction sector in rural India. Today, construction accounts for 37 percent of rural income in India.
Even though, agriculture sector employs 60 percent of rural population, it accounts for only 35 percent of income generation there. This income disparity has helped develop a sentiment among rural people, causing shift in jobs from farming sector to non-farming sector.
Elaborating an example, Prof Alakh N Sharma, Director at Institute for Human Development, New Delhi, says, “In Bihar, remittances constitutes 29 percent of rural income while agriculture constitutes 25 percent. There has been a huge migration in the State in past decade as around 56 percent of rural males, below 39 years, have migrated to urban areas.”
However, Dr. Keshav Das, Professor and Acting Director - Gujarat Institute of Development Research, reveals a different story, “Construction sector is not the only reason behind the decline in agricultural labour. There has been a good rise in rural micro enterprises which have generated good employment in the rural areas.”
This shifting of people from farm jobs to non-farm jobs has led to labour shortage and increase in wages. Therefore, farm mechanisation can be a wayout to mitigate labour shortage. According to experts, mechanisation can boost agriculture production and pull out the sector from the pressure of labour shortage.
Dr. William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), says, “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.”
In India, boosting the productivity of agricultural sector has long relied on low-wage, surplus labour in the world’s second populous country, and it requires sustainable and inclusive labour-saving technologies and farm mechanisation.
Echoing Dr. Dar’s view, his colleague at ICRISAT, Dr. Cynthia Bantilan, says, “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.” Bantilan is the research programme director at this crop research organisation.
Stressing further, Dr. Bantilan says, this shortage in farm labour actually creates a potentially vast opportunity in making farming a more profitable business and 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.
Emphasising on farm mechanisation, Riulini Alessio, Director - sales and marketing at Mashchio Gaspardo, an Italian tillage and seeding machinery company, operating in India says, “Seed drilling machines increase 30-40 percent of yield from traditional sowing and save fertiliser also.” He sees a good scope of mechanisation due to shortage of labour.
The Union Ministry of Agriculture, is promoting a new strategy for farm mechanisation through its various schemes and programmes. A dedicated sub-mission on farm mechanisation has been set up in the 12th Plan which includes custom-hiring facilities for agricultural machinery as one of its major components. The sub-mission aims at catalysing an accelerated but inclusive growth of agricultural mechanisation in India. It focuses on increasing the access of small and marginal farmers to machineries.
Custom hiring of farm machinery envisages promoting establishment of farm machinery banks for custom-hiring by way of providing financial assistance to individual self-help groups or farmers’ co-operatives since the prohibitive cost of hi-tech and high productive equipments renders it difficult for individual ownership.
Mechanisation can be the solution in Indian agriculture sector in the shortage of labour and increasing wages. It not only minimises the use of manual labour, but it saves time, money and gives higher yield. However, employment generation by non-farm sector is encouraging for over all rural economy.