After 12 hours of hard work in a vegetable farm, Mihir, a farm worker based in a remote village in Kendrapara district, gets a daily wage of Rs. 200. Like him, there are more than seven lakh landless farm workers in Odisha who struggle to make ends meet.
Odisha’s agriculture sector continues to be a low productive sector. Despite employing more than 60% of the state’s total workforce, it contributes about 26% to the gross state domestic product. The reasons associated with low productivity are:
- small land holdings
- unscientific methods of cultivation
- rainfed nature of agriculture
- lack of innovation
- inadequate financing
- vicious circle of poverty
As per National Sample Survey Office’s Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017-18, an average farm worker in Odisha makes Rs. 202 per day. Odisha remains among the bottom five states and union territories (UTs) in wage earnings from casual work in the agricultural sector. The average daily wage of a male worker is Rs. 76 higher than his female counterpart – a male worker makes Rs. 215, while a female worker makes Rs. 139.
Kerala, with an average daily wage of Rs. 535 for farm workers, tops the list. Even though its wage rate is 2.65 times higher than Odisha, the gender gap in wage is huge. While a male worker makes Rs. 581 per day, a female worker makes Rs. 343.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands rank second with average daily wage of Rs. 500, followed by Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, and Nagaland with average daily wages at Rs. 388, Rs. 373, and Rs. 370 respectively.
Apart from Odisha, the bottom five states are Gujarat at Rs. 180, Maharashtra at Rs. 180, Dadra Nagar and Haveli at Rs. 175, and Chhattisgarh at Rs. 133.
The huge disparity in wages among states often results in the migration of unskilled and semi-skilled agricultural workers from the low-wage states to the high-wage ones.
How farm productivity and small farmers’ income can be enhanced?
There is a dire need to improve the farm productivity and increase the income of farmers in the state. Some of the ways to achieve that are:
Ramping up agriculture producing clusters: Many agriculture producing clusters (APCs) have been proposed in the state with the aim of doubling the current income of the farmers. Steps need to be taken to expedite the work so that they are completed on time and yield the intended benefits.
Greater thrust on micro irrigation projects: Odisha, being the third most rainfed state in India, needs conservation and proper use of the seasonal rainwater for higher yield. Facilities such as micro irrigation systems and rainwater harvesting techniques will produce better results for farmers.
More focus on organic farming areas: The state government needs to lay greater emphasis on the districts selected for organic farming, including Gajapati, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Keonjhar, Koraput, Mayurbhanj, Nayagarh, and Rayagada.
Comprehensive investment policy: There is a greater need for comprehensive investments in protective irrigation, soil health management, crop diversification, promotion of millets, research on agro-innovations, and livestock extension programmes.
Government initiatives for the farming community
Both the Union and the State governments have taken several initiatives to increase the income and productivity of the farm sector. Some of them are:
Target to double farmers’ income by 2022: A committee named Doubling Farmers’ Income Committee, led by Dr. Ashok Dalwai, has identified eight sources to boost productivity and farmers’ income:
- improvement in crop and livestock productivity
- efficiency in use of resources
- savings in the cost of production
- increase in the cropping intensity
- diversification towards high value crops
- value addition to raw farm produce
- improvement in real prices received by farmers
- shift from farm to non-farm occupations
Ordinances by the Union Government: On June 5, the central government promulgated three ordinances. The first Ordinance entitles agriculturists and traders to continue trade in agri produce outside a licensed Agricultural Produce Market Committee market. The second one establishes a framework for formalizing contract farming and the third one defines the limited circumstances under which the supply of agricultural produce may be regulated under the Essential Commodities Act.
Amendment of Essential Commodities Act: The Union Cabinet deregulated food items and removed cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion, and potatoes from the list of Essential Commodities Act. The aim of the move is to achieve economies of scale, attract foreign direct investment and private players into the farm sector, boost investment in cold storages, and modernize the food supply chain.
Contract farming to help farmers: With the aim of registering farmers with contract farming companies to improve production and productivity, the state government promulgated Odisha Agricultural Produce and Livestock Contract Farming and Services (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020. Additionally, it amended the Odisha Agricultural Produce Markets Amendment Act, 1957 to remove geographical restrictions on farm produce and livestock.
Odisha’s Agricultural Policy 2019: The state government’s fourth agricultural policy aims to increase farmers’ income and well-being by:
- interlinking inputs with production markets
- increasing paddy yields and diversifying to high value agriculture
- promoting efficient use of inputs
- creating value chains of vegetables, dairy and poultry
- leveraging data for planning and monitoring
- reducing wastages
- adapting to climate change
- leveraging Union Government schemes
Apart from the commendable initiatives in the recent past, the agriculture sector can benefit immensely from some more measures taken by the state government. Thereby it can increase farmers’ income as well as the minimum wage of landless farm workers.
As the rural population accounts for over 70% of the globe’s extreme poor, agriculture can help in poverty reduction and meeting the target of Sustainable Development Goal 1 – no poverty – than any other sector.