Villages without agriculture? The curious case of Bihar

26 Jul

‘Villages without agriculture’ is a term my friend from JNU, Rajnish, coined to describe his native village of Narharpur in Bihar. He was saying that agrarian distress in Bihar villages is so high that majority of people have diversified their sources of income. Share of agricultural income to total income is often quite small and it has a lot of do with the overall low profitability from agriculture.

We were in Rajnish’s village at that time and planning to commission a survey on groundwater economy in three neighboring villages.  Before a survey, we decided to do a complete house-listing of all households in our three study villages in Vaishali district. The idea was to use this census results for further sampling. The preliminary results of the census are just in and yes, agricultural incomes are indeed a relatively small share of total income. Our villages are perhaps not entirely representative, being only 40 km away from the state capital of Patna. So, what I say here may just not be true for rest of Bihar. With that caveat in mind, and that the results are only first cut, this is what we found.

We found that of the 5006 households in these three villages, 1972 households (or 40%) do not report any income from agriculture at all. Of the rest 60% of villagers who reported some income from agriculture, only 25% reported it as their most important source of income. With majority owning less than 20 kathas (1 bigha) of land, this is not surprising. Another 35% households said that daily wage earning was their main income source. We do not know if that daily wage income was from farm or non-farm sector, but proximity to towns of Hazipur and Patna makes non-farm wage income more probable. Another 17% of all households said that remittances were their main source of income. Not surprising again, given every third household reported that at least one family member had migrated to another place for a job.  I need to check what secondary data says, but prima facie, it looks like these villages are indeed ‘villages without agriculture’ or more like, ‘villages without much of agriculture’.

We will start our detailed survey soon where we will interview some 600 farmers. We are hoping to understand the current state of agriculture in much greater detail. We also want to see what role assured irrigation, especially groundwater irrigation, can play in rejuvenating Bihar’s agriculture.

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11 Responses to “Villages without agriculture? The curious case of Bihar”

  1. BHARAT SHARMA July 27, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    Dear Aditi,
    First sincerest appreciations for writing very interesting and thought provoking blogs.
    The title of this blog “Farms without agriculture” is very catchy, but may be little away from the reality. A recent visit to these villages showed that not a single plot worthy of cultivation (leave aside water congested areas) was left uncultivated- so agriculture was there. The main reason is that these tiny holdings can not support a teeming rural population. In a way it should be considerd a good sign that people are able to find some
    livelihoods beyond the small farms and augment the resources. In fact this trend should accelerate in a more sustainable and as a decent alternative.

    BHARAT SHARMA

  2. Doug Merrey July 27, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Sounds like groundwater is the least of the reasons for not much agriculture: it is more likely land tenure issues combined with the lack of profitable opportunities. In Africa (e.g. Kenya where I am this week) there are quite some programs focused on helping youth get into profitable market-oriented agricultural niches, using greenhouses, drip irrigation, and good market information on the demand for specific products. How much of this does one find in Bihar? I hope your survey will not start with any assumptions about groundwater access as the impediment, and examine other alternative or “prior” explanations for the low participation in agriculture.

  3. ChuiyerChu July 27, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Bharat Sharma – I assume your conclusions are from you visit and not based on what Aditi has written. I had two other issues – Point 1. :Our villages are perhaps not entirely representative, …. Of course they are not – not because they are 40 Kms away from Patna – i can show you plenty of villages near Patna which depend mostly on agriculture and for good reason too. When you choose 3 villages to arrive at a conclusion for Bihar which has 44,874 villages. One should safely conclude that “So, what I say here may just not be true for rest of Bihar.” – it is definitely not true for Bihar. Point 2: “We also want to see what role assured irrigation, especially groundwater irrigation, can play in rejuvenating Bihar’s agriculture. This is a no brainer – most irrigation in Indo-Gangetic plain – not just Bihar – but Eastern UP, Most of WB, Assam, and parts of other states are indeed dependent on groundwater irrigation required for assured irrigation in Rabi (Winter) and Zaid (Summer). So this is a no-brainer. What is the point of research on 600 farmers?

  4. aditimukherji July 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Thanks Dr. Sharma and Doug, it’s comments like yours that makes blogging worthwhile. Thanks to Chuiyerchu too, though that surely isn’t your real name, is it?

    1. When I say ‘villages without agriculture’, I don’t mean that there is no agriculture in those villages, I mean agriculture is a small component of total share of income. Yes, I agree, the main reason is stamp sized plots. Here my argument is that plot size is not much different between West Bengal and Bihar, yet, due to electric pumps ( even if they are only 1 Lakhs in number) farmers in Bengal can grow some amount of water intensive crops. In Bihar, lack of electrification and high cost of diesel pumps makes profits from agriculture next to nothing. Therefore, the need to depend on several sources of income.

    2. Chuiyerchu: Have you had the chance of seeing the 4th Minor irrigation Census yet, it is available for few states and we got preliminary estimates too. The official one should be out soon. If not MI Census, then check out Agricultural Census numbers of early 2000 and the latest one. It will show you that number of wells and tubewells have declined in absolute numbers in much of eastern India. In west Bengal according to MI Census , number has come down from 6.48 Lakhs to 5.2 Lakhs. Similar decline in Bihar and Jharkand and Assam. So, your no- brainer is actually not so no- brainer! Why are these numbers declining in eastern India ( and not in Punjab or Tamil Nadu or for that matter anywhere where there is a lot of over- exploitation) where there is a lot of groundwater (only 40% development) and therefore farmers should be using more of groundwater, but they are not! It’s because of lack of electric tubewells and irrigating with diesel is not worth it. I am sure if you have never come across energy- irrigation nexus writings, have you?

    • Gunnar Rundgren August 30, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

      A very interesting post!!! I also think we need to understand the realities in many rural areas better and not just assume that farming is always the most important occupation.

  5. drbausman April 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    Reblogged this on drbausman's Blog.

  6. Fervil September 19, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    Raising an awareness like this can be more interesting to call to attention of people in terms of aiding this problems about lack of agriculture in a certain place. It is evident how a certain place suffer when there is no means of farming/agriculture. Thus, this article could be a key to alleviate them from this problem. Kudos to you all!

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