The only state in India till the last agriculture census (2005-10) where size of operational holdings was increasing, number of small and marginal landholdings in Punjab have jumped by 42000 in the new agriculture census (2010-11) released last month by the Punjab agriculture department. While number of marginal landholdings (up to 1 hectare) have jumped from 1.34 lakh to 1.64 lakh, small landholdings (1 to 2 hectares) in the state have shot up from 1.8 lakh to 1.95 lakh in 2010-11 as farms divide between families.
Unlike the all-India trend of a declining average size in operated holdings, small and marginal farmers were leaving agriculture in Punjab by either selling their land or leasing it out. The number of operational landholdings which was 12 lakh in 1990s, fell to 10 lakh over a decade as two lakh farmers left farming. This trend of reverse tenancy continued in the last decade. But in 2010-11 census, joint landholdings have fallen drastically by 74 per cent, from 6387 in 2005-06 to 1620 in 2010-11 and institutional by 35 per cent, from 1449 to 934 while individual landholdings have jumped by 5 per cent to 10.5 lakh. Within individual holdings, the number of large landholdings (10 hectares and above) have fallen from 70960 to 68642 during these five years. Of the total 10.5 lakh landholdings, just 9679 are held by women. In case of joint and institutional landholdings, there are none.
Punjab State Farmers Commission attributes the new trend to fragmentation of farms. “The earlier trend was to buy more land. Now it is being divided within families. The operational ownership — those actually farming on the land — was 18 to 19 lakh which reflects many farms are still owned jointly. The fall in large and joint landholdings explains the jump in number of small and marginal landholdings,” says Rangi.
But smaller landholdings and low income having been attributed for state’s agrarian crisis. Many of those who left farms did so unable to repay debts. According to additional secretary, union ministry of agriculture, Shiraz Husssain, other than Punjab’s diversification efforts, it needs to enable private