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Gujarat govt farm projects show bias against small, marginal, landless farmers

By Rajiv Shah 
A recent study on ascertaining the impact of watershed development project (WDP) and Krishi Mahotsav, the two important programmes by the Gujarat government to improve agricultural practices, suggest that they have benefited the rich farmers more than the marginal and poor farmers. The WDP is a flagship policy initiative for development of groundwater resources, especially in drought- and desert-prone districts in the state – has suggested that benefits of WDPs were confined mainly to landed households, despite a clear emphasis to include the landless as project beneficiaries. “Among the landed households, those with medium and large landholdings had a larger proportion of beneficiaries as compared to marginal and small farmers within a village”, the study, based on a sample of 6,458 beneficiaries, said.
Part of the chapter “High Growth Agriculture in Gujarat: An Enquiry into Inclusiveness and Sustainability”, by Amita Shah and Itishree Pattnaik, in the just-released book, “Growth or Development: Which Way is Gujarat Going”, the study says that the sample itself suggests Gujarat government bias towards the landed, as there were only two categories of beneficiaries – marginal and small farmers, and medium and large. The two categories accounted for 55 and 45 per cent of the total sample respectively. “This suggests some kind of bias towards relatively larger farmers to obtain benefits from the project—a phenomenon already observed in a number of studies pertaining to WDPs in Gujarat”, the study says. The survey was carried out in seven districts – Mehsana, Rajkot, Kutch, Patan, Panchmals, Valsad and Amreli.
The survey finds that “about 57 and 18 per cent of the beneficiary households reported having access to irrigation through wells and bore wells respectively. Access to these sources was found to be clearly tilted in favour of medium–large farmers; about 75 and 28 per cent of the medium-large farmers reported access to wells and bore wells respectively as compared to 42 and 11 per cent among the marginal-small farmers. While beneficiary farmers reported a substantial increase in crop yield, average net returns per hectare varied significantly across the seven districts covered by the survey, suggesting inter-regional variations.
The scholars say, “Irrigated area among the sample farmers increased by 461 ha during the study period. This works out to be about 0.32 ha per household having reported access to irrigation.” There was also “a massive expansion of wells (about 5,000) and bore/tube wells (about 2,620) since the beginning of 2000”. But this expansion of the irrigated area was “without corresponding improvement in water use efficiency”, which is likely to lead to unsustainable use of groundwater, often through competing extraction of water by farmers in the study villages.” The scholars suggest, only water intensive crops gained. “Cotton was found to be the most important crop accounting for about 42–43 per cent of the total cropped area during the kharif season for all the seven districts taken together. Similarly, wheat occupied between 89 and 96 per cent of the rabi area. The proportion has changed only marginally over the project period. Both the leading crops are water intensive, and grown in areas that are otherwise drought and desert prone as confirmed by the very selection of the village/micro watersheds to be covered under the project intervention.”
An effort was made by the authors to ascertain if the beneficiary farmers had adequate intake of some basic food items. “To our surprise about 32 and 23 per cent of the marginal-small and medium-large farmers respectively had reported in-sufficient intake of cereals. The insufficiency in milk was found to be in the range of 20-34 per cent and that in the case of pulses fruits and vegetables was found to be quite substantial, i.e. in the range of 60-80 per cent. Overall, the select evidence presented here suggest that whereas the project has brought significant benefits in terms of land productivity and income from crop cultivation, the benefits seem to have spread rather unevenly among farmers and districts with in the state”, the scholars say.

Krishi Mahotsav

The scholars found a similar picture emerging in their survey of the Krishi Mahotsav (KM), one of the most important initiatives by the Government of Gujarat to bridge the huge gap in extension services that has existed over a long period of time. Apart from good rainfall and groundwater development, accompanied by power sector reforms in the state, the KM programme, with almost universal outreach (covering all the villages) has been upheld as a critical factor driving Gujarat’s high growth rate in agriculture.
The survey covered 876 households spread over 15 districts in Gujarat – Gandhinagar, Mehsana, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Panchmahals, Bharuch, Dangs, Valsad, Surat, Narmada, Navsari, Tapi, Amreli, Rajkot and Surendranagar. The survey covered districts having access to irrigation through canal and/or groundwater. Nearly two-thirds of the sample households covered by the survey had access to irrigation from one or more sources. An attempt was made to capture awareness, participation, and perceptions about a range of important aspects of the programme.
The scholars say, “It was heartening to find that close to 70 per cent of the sample households reported that they knew about KM. The proportion was as large as 80 per cent among the large farmers, which declined along with the decline in the landholding size. The level of awareness was fairly low among landless households, which of course, is not unexpected.”
A similar pattern was observed with respect to awareness about the Krishi Rath (or mobile van) having actually come to their village. “While 60 per cent of the respondents replied positively, the proportion declined along with landholding size. In terms of participation, about 52 per cent of the respondents reported having visited the Krishi Rath when it came to their village, the proportion varied from about 70 per cent among large farmers to nearly 60 and 50 per cent among medium and small-marginal farmers respectively. This suggests that almost half of the small–marginal farmers had not visited the van”, say the scholars.
They underline, “The small-marginal farmers may face constraints due to social hierarchies and thereby exclusion within the village community. The exclusion was further reflected in terms of the relatively low level of attendance in gram sabha organized during the KM and active participation thereof. The proportion of small–marginal farmers attending and participating in the gram sabha would be even smaller if we specifically look at the sample within this category of households. The evidence suggests that interaction of the respondents with the state officials as well as scientists was far less than those having reported awareness about the programme and visit to the Krishi Rath when it visited the respective villages.”
Pointing out that access to irrigation, besides landholding size, is yet another important divide with respective to the outreach of the programme, the scholars say, “The awareness and participation among sample households is significantly higher among those having access to irrigation as compared to those without irrigation. Obviously, landless households are excluded. The survey results also highlighted the fact that the programme is yet to make an inroad into actual dissemination of information and adoption following that.” On information on the extent to which farmers know about technologies, inputs, and subsidies available in the region, the scholars say, “The proportion of farmers having reported positive response to a range of questions is fairly low even among large farmers.”
“It was observed that out of the 578 farmers having irrigation at the time of the survey, 206 farmers, that is, 35 per cent reported increase in irrigation (this also includes those who did not have irrigation in the initial period). Of the 206 farmers, 97 farmers reported investment in tube wells as the main source of increase in irrigation, whereas 62 farmers reported canals as the main source for the increase. Only 39 farmers reported that the area under irrigation had increased due to increased groundwater table; the rest eight farmers mentioned other sources”, say the scholars, adding, “Given the fact that a large proportion of farmers have access to irrigation, cultivation of Bt cotton appeared to be widespread. About one-third of the sample farmers reported that they had cultivated the crop at least once in the last seven years.”

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