‘Climate’ and Farmers

Bharat Dogra

India is largely known as a land of small farmers, but the latest census indicated that the number of farm workers is now higher than that of small farmers. In the 2001 census the number of farm workers was recorded at 106 million but the number of farmers was recorded at 127 million. However, by the (latest) census of 2011, the situation has reversed. The number of farm workers has been found to be higher (144 million) compared to farmers (118 million).

The two categories are not mutually exclusive, as many small farmers (those who own small land holdings) also toil as farm workers on the fields of others to make both ends meet. Many landless villagers also lease in the land of others as share croppers or on other terms (for example on a one time fixed payment).

Landless farm workers have the least food security as they have no land to grow food and fodder for their animals. Earlier one of the sources of obtaining bulk food open to them was to obtain crop harvesting wages in the form of a part of the crop, but with mechanization of harvesting work and other changes, this bulk food payment is not available now. Hence if climate change brings new livelihood, food and health problems, this group will be very vulnerable.

While farmers can hope to get some compensation for crops damaged due to adverse / erratic weather, floods or droughts, share croppers (or others who may be making a fixed payment to land owners) normally do not get such compensation payment. The reason is that compensation payments are made to the land owners according to the land registered in the name of owners. Hence share croppers and other small land leasers become more vulnerable to crops damaged by adverse weather conditions due to denial of compensation.

The most obvious way of reducing the vulnerability of landless peasants—now and in the more difficult years ahead of climate change—is to provide them some land. Unfortunately, however, land reforms based on providing at least some land to all landless peasants has not been getting adequate attention from the government in recent years. Of course there is overall land scarcity but if there is a strong determination, then at least some land can still be found for all the landless households and this, supported by some protective irrigation, can provide some food security to this most vulnerable group.

For one thing this group toils the hardest in fields, and when climate change brings more intense heat then this group will be highly vulnerable to increasing health problems. Strengthening rural health network is a must to cope with increasing and new health hazards. Rural health infrastructure in India is presently very weak.

When agricultural land is not available, forest land (which sometimes may be entirely devoid of trees) can be given to the landless for protecting a natural forest or growing indigenous trees in close imitation of a natural forest, in return for some wage payment in the initial stage while later they can be given the rights to harvest all non-timber forest produce.

This hard-working group is most capable of contributing to ecological regeneration and greening of land, if appropriate conditions, encouraging motivation and incentives can be created. So this could be a key group for climate change adaptation as well as mitigation work. The existing rural employment guarantee legislation can be used to provide suitable avenues and adequate employment for this group to work on land reclamation, land improvement, water and moisture conservation, protective irrigation and afforestation etc.

Vol. 48, No. 44, May 8 - 14, 2016