The Agricultural Crisis is a Jobs Crisis

“Hey, the prime minister just announced that India will double farmers’ incomes by 2022. How can that be achieved?”

I put this question to a farmer friend a few months ago. His response came instantly:

“By reducing the number of farmers by half.”

He might have been flippant, but the underlying logic behind the response is not merely mathematically sound, it is also economically sound. For almost 140 years, it has been clear to India’s policymakers that—as Salil Tripathi put it in an earlier issue of Pragati—“there are too many people pretending to be farmers.” J Krishnamurty quotesthe Famine Commission of 1880 noting that in large parts of the country, people “greatly in excess for what is really required for the thorough cultivation of land” were occupied with agriculture, and that it was necessary to introduce a “diversity of occupations” including manufacturing.

Four decades later in 1918, BR Ambedkar argued that the “industrialisation of India is the soundest remedy for the agricultural problems of India.” He was clear that getting people out of agriculture will not only save them from predation, but create economic surpluses in other industries and accumulate capital. Both he and VKRV Rao in 1938 assessed that getting surplus labour out of agriculture would not affect agricultural output but indeed help create surpluses in industry. It was in 1954 that these ideas came into international attention thanks to Arthur Lewis, a Saint Lucian economist, who later won a Nobel Prize for his labours.

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