With 35% of the agricultural households having less than 1 acre of land, another 35% holding between 1 and 2.5 acres, and only 30% households with land more than 2.5 acres, the shrinking of agricultural land holdings in India is indeed a cause of concern. Since 1995-96, the average size land holding has decreased from 1.41 hectares to 1.15 hectares which accounts for the decrease of 30,000 hectares of cultivable land each year.
Total land mass and cultivable land
Out of the total land mass of 328 million hectares, about 60% or 181.95 million hectares is cultivable. But in 1988-89, we had 185.142 million hectares of cultivable land and what’s worse is that only 45 percent of land is under irrigation.
Land decreasing faster than population employed in it
India’s journey from being a food deficient country in 1960s to a food surplus one after the Green Revolution in 1970s has been a tale of success world over. But continuous shrinking in agricultural land in last three decades is certainly a cause of concern especially when our population has increased by a whopping 41 percent since 1981 with 54.61% of country’s workforce is employed in the agriculture sector. For example in 2001, almost 57 percent of India’s total work force was employed in agriculture sector whereas in 2011, 54.61 percent is employed in this sector.
Decrease in land per year
In India, the agricultural land is decreasing at a rate 0.03 million hectares per year (30,000 hectares), which for many isn’t alarming. But if we look at the larger picture, with problems like drought and floods in various states, one can begin to fathom the seriousness of the issue.
Although Sanjeev Balyan, the Minister of State for Agriculture has recently said that the shrinkage in cultivable land isn’t alarming, but we see compare it to the increase in population and the decrease in percentage of population dependent on agriculture, the situation begins to look grim.
That’s how Green Revolution changed our fortunes
Some say that despite shrinking of land holding, India has seen tremendous increase in production of food grains owing to the green revolution. For example India had produced 169.92 million tonnes of food grain in 1988-89 whereas in 2008-09, India produced 234.47 million tonnes of food grain marking a 38% increase.
Less than half of land is under irrigation
But with only 45 percent land under irrigation and with repeated droughts in key agricultural states, the production of food grain is bound to come down. For example, in last two years the food grain production in both Punjab and Haryana, the two major producers of wheat in India has decreased.
Empty land can be made cultivable
Various studies have also found that shrinking land holdings curbs the capacity of farmers to invest in their land which eventually leads to drop in production. However, the fallow land (agricultural land not being used) is a ray of hope in terms of increasing the cultivable land. The current fallow land is 15.25 million hectares and another 11 million fallow land, which is not cultivated for last five years, a total of 26 million hectares can be made cultivable by improving irrigation facilities.
But with increasing population and decrease in cultivable land area coupled with farmer suicides and drought, the future of agriculture in India doesn’t look bright. Unless the government takes serious measures in this direction.