Written by an international team of young scholars, 'Rural India Facing the 21st Century' draws together a profound analysis of a broad range of issues to provide a masterly overview of overall rural development. Its highly original methodology and findings will be of considerable interest for development policy.
About the Author
Barbara Harriss-White is Director of Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University's Department of International Development. She is Professor of Development Studies and a Fellow of Wolfson College.
S. Janakarajan is a Fellow of the Madras Institute for Development Studies, Chennai. An experienced field economist, his interests are in rural markets and exchange and in irrigation and water management, on which he has published widely.
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Rural India Facing the 21st Century
By Barbara Harriss-White, S Janakarajan
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2004 Wimbledon Publishing Company
All rights reserved.
Introduction: Heavy Agriculture and Light Industry in South Indian Villages
Barbara Harriss-White, S Janakarajan and Diego Colatei
The 'Green Revolution was introduced to the Indian subcontinent about thirty years ago in the wake of an influential report from the Ford Foundation, followed by a period of experimentation and planned diffusion and then two years of serious, generalized drought. Its features are well known and combined a mixture of market incentives, heavily regulated market provision and state-administered, non-market distribution. This process of heavy agriculturalization required long -term state subsidies and coordinated planning. The transfer, adaptation and development of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice from Mexico and the Philippines to the plains of Punjab in the north and the rice deltas of the southeast required assured irrigation and consolidated plots large enough to take machinery; on top of which production credit, subsidized input prices, stable output prices and state-funded infrastructure (ranging from electricity and water to roads, market sites, research and development and extension) all had to be developed.
Of some 300 Indian districts, 20 were selected for intensive agriculture along lines that were later copied, with lags, idiosyncrasies and less abundant resources, in less advantaged regions. As a result, while the area cropped in India grew by 8 per cent between i960 and 1987, yields increased by 51 per cent and total production rose (by 81 per cent).
But by the mid-1990s it had become evident that this 'green revolution had faltered. While foodgrains production grew at 3.5 per cent per annum during the 1980s, it had decelerated to 1.5 per cent from 1990 to 1996 despite a run of very good, well distributed rainfall. This was lower than the rate of population growth (although that too is decelerating). The policy environment is a more likely candidate than the physical environment to account for this recent mediocre performance, although the physical environment is continually being modified by policy. In particular, the terms and conditions of fertilizer provision affect soil quality, and those of electricity affect the availability of irrigation water. It was in precisely these policy areas that the new era of liberalization was expected to define itself. The Indian state was poised to privatize state electricity boards and to remove the considerable subsidies for agricultural electrification. Meanwhile subsidies on fertilizer had been partially removed, and its price structure had been reorganized. Rural banking was to be deregulated and concessional credit more tightly targeted. The price bias against agricultural products, particularly the quiet taxation of rice, was being rectified, with increases in the prices at which food was purchased by state agencies, though there was little sign then of any more radical change in the provisioning role of the state.
In otherwise neglecting agriculture, the economic reforms reinforced reactionary agrarian politics and supported an anti-agricultural policy that is now difficult to reverse. An example of the former is the fact of increasing interregional disparities in absolute yields between the revolutionary heartlands of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh in the northwest, and the underdeveloped peripheries of Bihar, Orissa and Assam in the north and east, despite catch-up growth in the latter region. A 'reverse land reform' advocacy is another case in point. An influential body of opinion is now on record arguing for the lifting of land ceilings in the interest of efficiency' and corporate agrocommercial capital.
Examples of this anti-agricultural policy are the stagnation of state outlays on research and development and infrastructure (especially irrigation and other capital expenditure) and proposals to reduce other agricultural subsidies. Reforms affecting food and agriculture are administered outside the agriculture ministry and departments proper: for example irrigation works and rural roads, electricity, credit, rural development, food and social welfare. Cuts in any of these departmental budgets affect agriculture. And while the central government controls the food sector, each constituent state is constitutionally responsible for 'agriculture'. So state-level political forces independently affect agricultural policy. In many of the constituent states, the food and agricultural sector reforms have been strenuously resisted by the expedient of borrowing. By 1996, many states approached their credit limits.
Yet agriculture still directly provides the livelihoods of two thirds of the Indian population. If agriculture fails to release labour and capital, if it fails to provide food, other basic wage goods and industrial raw materials and if agrarian demand is not created for non-agricultural products, a wide-based economic development does not take place. Agriculture's nosedive down the policy agenda of the 1990s therefore has ramifications for the entire economy and polity.
In this introductory chapter, we summarize our main findings about the social impact of the transformative agricultural technologies from the early 1970s to the turn of the millennium in one region of northern Tamil Nadu, a rice-growing state in South India. Tamil Nadu governments have a long established, distinctive and competitive politics of rural development and welfarist redistribution. As outlined in the Preface, these have been tracked at close quarters since 1972 in a series of 3 studies of 11 villages. The history of the fieldwork and the selection of villages and households is summarized in Appendix 1. What follows are the highlights of our findings, divided into five sections: the impact of the Green Revolution; from Green Revolution to rural reaction; trends in real incomes and poverty; rural industrialization; and the rural impact of India's economic reforms. In the first section, some material on long-term changes which is not presented in other chapters of Part One is treated in greater detail than in a normal introduction. Conclusions have been italicized to help the busy reader, who is also directed to the introduction to parts Two and Three (i.e. Chapter 2-1) and to the concluding chapter (Chapter 4 — 1).
1. THE IMPACT OF THE GREEN REVOLUTION, 1972-94
The Coromandel Plains region lies squarely in the large agroclimatic zone of the semi-arid tropics, which constitutes about 42 per cent of India's area and accounts for the same proportion of its production of foodgrains. It is characterized by rainfall dependence and is subject to periodic droughts which may last for more than one year. Rainfall varies between 830 and 1,000 mm, distributed roughly equally between the southwest and northeast monsoons (though the latter precipitation is much more intense and concentrated than the former). Historically, the region's agricultural population has protected itself against the seasonal vagaries of rainfall and against longer periods of drought by systems of tank irrigation, collectively maintained, which also served to recharge underground aquifers. The latter were reached by open wells. In 1972-3 a significant minority of these were still operated by human (etram) or bullock (kavalai) power. A combination of investible agricultural surplus, nationalized bank credit and state-funded rural electrification had enabled these wells to be expanded in number, electrified and deepened. Maddumma Bandara writes of there already being 229,394 wells in the North Arcot District in 1971. This was among the highest density of wells in Tamil Nadu, which in turn had the highest density of open wells in India. Most of the army of electrified open wells was sited in the wetland, but the stark contrast in soils between the dark, sticky, anaerobic seru of the predominantly tank, and well-irrigated wetland and the lighter red alfisols of the predominantly rain-fed dry land, was beginning to be blurred as a result of the dispersion of pump sets out onto rain- fed watersheds.
Nevertheless, in the early 1970s agriculture was still quite highly seasonal, with. production concentrated in the rainy samba season (plantings in July/August; harvestings in December/January) and with the most rapid adoption of early high-yielding varieties of rice in the well-irrigated, hot and dry navarai season (plantings in December/January; harvestings in May). The third season, sornavari, with plantings in May/June and harvests in September under the less reliable rainfall distributions of the fading south-west monsoon, was of lesser importance (Table 1).
In other agrarian respects, the region was not very distinguished. Though land holdings were very far from being equal, North Arcot has always been known as a region of smallholder agriculture. In 1973, the average land holding in the plains region was 1.43 ha. Tenancy was rare, at 5 per cent of holdings. The rural population depended overwhelmingly on agriculture. Among rural households, 50 per cent were small-scale landed cultivators and 80 per cent of these cultivated two crops, paddy and groundnuts: paddy for subsistence — mainly on the wetland — and groundnuts as the cash crop — mainly on the dry land. A further 35 per cent of rural households had agricultural labour as their primary occupation. So the fortunes of 85 per cent of rural households were bound up with agriculture.
The region provided 10 per cent of Tamil Nadu's rice: half a million tonnes. Yields were comparatively low. The agricultural economy was simple: rice was grown on 32 per cent of the total cropped area and groundnut on 32 per cent. The main objective of the first phase of this long-term research project was to investigate the rate — and the socio-economic context - of adoption of the generation of high-yielding varieties (HYV) of rice which emanated from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. The rate of adoption was revealed to be low (covering 13 per cent of cropped area), much lower than suggested by official estimates (39 per cent). The reasons were not to do with yields and returns, for HYV yields, though low compared with their apparent potential, were higher than those of local varieties, as were their financial returns.
The main constraints on adoption were rather — at the 'meso' level — the non-availability of varieties appropriate to the rainy and pesty conditions of the samba season when post -harvest prices were lower (because the samba harvest provides the main marketing glut); and — at the micro level - the non-availability of assured water and fertilizer supplies.
Paddy yields in 1973-4 are found in Table 2, which shows that the average weighed in at 2.7 tonnes per hectare. HYV yields were 45 per cent greater than those of local varieties, and average yields even for the navarai and sornavari seasons were 10 per cent greater than the three-season, all-variety average. In 1973-4 there was a rainfall of 732 mm: 35 per cent below average, a serious drought in fact.
As early as 1976, both of the technical constraints identified in 1973 -4 had been relaxed. The short supply phase of the fertilizer 'hog cycle' was over and a set of IRRI rices (IR8 and 20) was found appropriate to the samba season. By the time of the second survey in 1982-4 there had been a rapid rise in fertilizer use, particularly on HYVs and in the navarai season. New IRRI varieties had been adopted: IR36 and 30 and a generation of IRRI/TNAU crosses were widely available. Adoption had spread to small producers and the social extent of HYV adoption was no longer an interesting question. Over the decade from 1973-4 to 1983-4 rice production had increased by 38 per cent.
For the most part this was due to yields, which appeared to have increased by 30 per cent (see Table 3). While Chinnappa disaggregated yields by season, Hazell and Ramasamy disaggregated yield by farm size, distinguishing those under and those over one hectare. Their findings are very interesting. While the yields of small farmers had increased by 43 per cent from 2.1 to 3.04 tonnes per hectare (tph) in the nine years from 1973-4 to 1982 — 3, those of producers with more than one ha had increased only by 7 per cent, bringing them up to the same average level. Indeed the aggregate increase recorded by Hazell and Ramasamy may be misleadingly large because 1982-3 was the third year of another notorious drought (with 731 mm in 1982-3), such that paddy production was confined to well-irrigated land and the two highest yielding minor seasons. In the following year, when rainfall (1,272 mm) was above the average, another survey of a subset of the five villages most affected by drought showed much lower paddy yields: 2.7 tph for small farmers and 2.2 tph for those over one hectare.
Hazell and Ramasamy also recorded groundnut yields in the same way. Groundnuts were still overwhelmingly rain-fed in the early 1980s. Unsurprisingly Hazell and Ramasamy found that there were small class differences in the yields in 1973-4 (favouring those operating with wage labour on a larger scale). These differences were maintained nine years later, but yields in 1982-3 were substantially lower. By contrast, in the recovery year they showed a 38 per cent expansion over the decade on smallholdings but a 13 per cent decline on larger farms.
The themes of mediocre, 'unrevolutionary growth' and instability were confirmed by the analysis of growth rates over the 23-year period from 1961/2, which showed a yield-driven growth of 1.3 per cent per year in production of paddy and an area-driven growth of 1.04 per cent per year in groundnut production. Paddy production had declined between 1973-4 and 1982-3 (by 5 per cent on smallholdings and 33 per cent on larger farms). At the district level there was a 42 per cent decline, caused by drought, which made evaluation of the medium-term trends in production difficult. If the data are compared over the decade from 1973-4, then smallholder production had increased by 82 per cent (due mainly to yield) while larger farm production had increased by 143 per cent, due to area expansion. What the drought of the early 1980s highlighted was, firstly, an instability in production and, secondly, the brisk substitution of paddy for groundnut production and vice versa according to rainfall conditions. But Hazell and Ramasamy conclude that paddy and groundnut still, on trend, occupied a third of total cropped area each.
In the village agrarian economy of the early 1980s, 58 per cent of gross cultivated area was irrigated. 71,722 wells had been dug between 1971 and 1982, bringing their number for the North Arcot District to 301,116. These were increasingly greedy of electricity as well depth was extended downwards, bringing electricity into sharp focus in agrarian politics; yet they demonstrably could not protect production against drought. Significantly, the average holding size had declined to 1 ha (though mobility matrices revealed contradictory upward and downward trends in land holdings and indicated a combination of both concentration and pauperization.
The regional accounts showed 'manufacturing' at 20 per cent of net domestic regional product, while agriculture registered 40 per cent. While the ratio of agricultural labourers to cultivators in the villages had risen (from7 to 10 in the 1970s to 9.5 to 10 in the 1980s - (33 per cent being landless labourers and 35 per cent of households being cultivators in 1982-3), 10 per cent of rural households had manufacturing as their primary occupation. This rural region was witnessing expansion in agroprocessing, leather tanneries, silk and cotton textiles and metal working. To analyse the technologies and social relations of the agricultural sector alone risks giving an increasingly incomplete and arbitrary account of the region s development.
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Table of Contents
List of Tables; List of Figures; Preface, Acknowledgements and Dedication; PART ONE: LONG-TERM CHANGE: 1-1 Introduction: Heavy Agriculture and Light Industry in South Indian Villages; Appendix 1: The Selection of Villages and Sampled Households; Appendix 2: Production Statistics; 1-2 Irrigation: The Development of an Agro-Ecological Crisis; 1-3 Time and Space: Intervillage Variation in the Nort Arcot Region and Its Dynamics, 1973-95; Appendix: Analysis of Clusters; 1-4 Social Stratification and Rural Households; 1-5 Labour, Gender Relations and the Rural Economy; 1-6 Social Institutions and the Structural Transformation of the Non-Farm Economy; PART TWO: PRODUCTION PPOLICY AND PILLAGE PERSPECTIVES: 2-1 Policy and the Agricultural Development Agenda; 2-2 Rural Infrastructure and Local Utilities: Institutions and Access; 2-3 Populism and Electricity in Rural Tamil Nadu; 2-4 Rural Credit and the Collateral Question; 2-5 Fertilizer Reforms and Nutrient Balances; Appendix 1; Appendix 2; PART THREE: SOCIAL WELFARE IN THE VILLAGES: 3-1 Introduction: Village Studies and Welfare; 3-2 Antipoverty Policy: Targeting and Screening for Eligibility; Appendix: Deatils of Class Probability Tree Analysis; 3-3 Life Chances: Development and Female Disadvantage; 3-4 Incapacity and Disability; 3-5 Food, Nutrition and the State in Northern Tamil Nadu; Appendix 1: Nutrition Data 1973-4 to 1982-4; Appendix 2: Income, Price and Household Factors in Household-level Calorie Availability, 1994; Appendix 3: The Public Distribution Scheme (PDS); Appendix 4: Noon Meal Scheme (NMS); 3-6 No End to the Betrayal? Primary Education in Its Social Context: Evidence from Rural Tamil Nadu; Appendix: Summary Statistics for Probit Model Variables; 3-7 Socially Inclusive Social Security: Social Assistance in the Villages; 3-8 So What for Policy? The Rural Development in a Poor State; Notes; References; Index