Even as clamour for farm loan waiver grows to afford temporary relief to farmers amid volatility in commodity prices and poor returns from farm produce, the state is facing a problem of increased fragmentation of agricultural land. Smaller plots not just bring down agricultural productivity, but also affects farmers’ economies adversely. According to the latest Agricultural Census of 2010-11, in Maharashtra — which is one of the fastest urbanising states — a total of 1.371 crore land holdings spread over 2 crore hectares of land have come down by 0.12 per cent to 1.369 crore.
The total agricultural land has also dipped by 1.18 per cent to 1.97 crore hectares of land. The troubling sign is the increasing fragmentation of agricultural land, that seems to be getting divided into smaller and smaller plots. The total number of land holdings spread over less than 0.5 hectares of land has grown by nearly 15.16 per cent from 31.65 lakh to 36.45 lakh.
Marginal farmers made up only 23.08 per cent of the state’s land holdings in 2005-05, they now constitute 26.61 per cent. Marginal and small farmers together made up 78.6 per cent of the state’s agricultural land holdings. Activists claim the increasing fragmentation of agricultural land hits marginal farmers the most, affecting their bargaining powers with traders as well as suppliers.
“The progressive fragmentation of land holdings, degrading natural resources base and emerging concerns of climate change will further escalate pressure on land and water,” the Ministry of Agriculture in its report on the ‘State of Indian Agriculture’ said.
Activists claims that there are a number of problems with fragmentation, including land wastage as well as the difficulty of using modern agricultural machinery on small plots. “Land fragmentation leads to reduction in land holding size, and makes it uneconomical for optimal farm operations, application of science and technology and mechanisation. Besides, fragmentation necessitates too many field boundaries and bunds, and leads to wastage of land,” the report states.
Activists claims the only way to tackle the problem is encourage share-cropping and contract farming. “The way to overcome these problems are people banding together to achieve economies of scale. We are seeing some producer cooperatives taking root to overcome these difficulties,” agricultural policy analyst Milind Murugkar said.