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Land Fragmentation: The Core Issue In Agriculture

Land fragmentation is an issue because it decreases agricultural productivity and diminishes the economic opportunities available.

Photo Credit : Bivash Banerjee


Fragmented landholding has been an issue since India gained independence. The arable plot size is decreasing with each successive generation, mainly due to inheritance laws. The land owned by the parent is inherited by his/her wards and gets divided into fragments. These lands eventually become economically unviable in terms of agricultural produce. After 75 years of independence, we are now left with 0.2 hectares of land per person in a rural household.

Since the first agriculture census 45 years ago, the number of farms has doubled from 70 million in 1970 to 145 million in 2015 and counting. This implies a greater number of people in an ever-shrinking land holding, leading to increased population pressure, and rampant underemployment. The issue of small landholdings is rampant in areas with dense populations, especially in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal where the average landholdings are abysmally low.

Land fragmentation is an issue because it decreases agricultural productivity and diminishes the economic opportunities available. A small piece of land usually produces just about enough for the farmer and his family. To sell the excess, if any, the farmer has to invest in appropriate infrastructure. The return on such an investment is usually insufficient and may even drive the farmer of a small landholding into a loss. A lot of times, farmers suffer from inefficiencies in the transportation system. This makes them dependent on middlemen, which eats into any profit they make. 

Further, the variety of crops a farmer can produce is severely limited due to the small piece of land. The farmland does not get appropriate time to recuperate from the ongoing crop season, leaving little scope for harvest after each cycle. Also, one cannot practice effective cultivation methods such as inter-cropping, livestock farming, and commercial plantation, unless they hold a reasonably large piece of land. Today, large landholdings are only 9% of the total productive area, leaving little scope for the marginalized farmer.

Besides the cultivation issues, there are hurdles the farmer has to face outside the field. One of which is litigation due to fragmentation, which is a fairly common form of a property dispute. About 25% of all cases decided by the Supreme Court are centered around land disputes. Again, 66% of all civil cases in India are related to land disputes. Not only do these issues further burden the already burdened judiciary system, but the expensive litigation process drains the farmer of any earning he or she may have. 

Lastly, the land dispute has had many social repercussions as well. The constant disputes and bickering can lead to the breaking down of the joint family system. Not only this, the lack of revenue can force the farmer to take up excessive loans, leading to rural indebtedness, which is a primary cause for farmer suicides in India. 

These issues must be tackled by the government step by step. Firstly, there is an urgent need is to consolidate the existing land records, through digitization. Secondly, the small farms can be combined and leased out to producers and corporates. NGOs must step in to educate, coordinate with the farmers, and find a way out from unproductive landholdings. The farmers can also be made aware of the existing solutions such as cooperative farming, and pooling in multiple lands together, etc. India also needs to invest in agriculture rural infrastructure, and alternative sources of income to prevent over-crowding and underemployment.

For any land-related scheme of government to succeed, the core issue of inadequate land availability must be tackled. Unless concrete steps are taken to address the ever-prevalent issue of landholding, the government agenda of doubling farmers' income will not fructify into reality.

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Land Fragmentation agriculture