Rural livelihood still at subsistence level: study

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Oct 21 | Updated: Oct 22 2007, 04:31am hrs
In rural India less than half of the households do not own farmlands, but still there exists other options for subsistence livelihood.

A recent National Health Family Survey (NHFS-3) done by the Mumbai based International Institute for Population Studies with technical assistance from the US based Marco International found that 41.5% of Indian rural households do not own farmland. About 30% of the rural households own irrigated land, 20% own only non-irrigated farm land and 9% own both irrigated and non-irrigated farmland. Most of households that own land have parcels of land that are of five or less acres.

However, the survey found that two-thirds of rural population own a farm animal, an alternative source of subsistence livelihood.

India has a population of about 1.136 billion people and two-third of households live in rural areas. Farmer leaders have alleged that modern agriculture is not remunerative with the high costs for inputs like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, seeds and farm machinery. The policymakers thus faces the problem of providing alternative sources of better livelihood options or strengthening the prospects of the existing livelihood options which are at subsistence level.

Massive migration to urban areas may not be a viable solution as wide disparities already exist among urban population with growing number of slums. The survey noted that the proportion of the urban rich varied from state to state and region to region.

NHFS-3, commissioned by the Union ministry of health and family welfare, however did not deal with other off-farm traditional livelihood options still existing in rural area. The study selected some 33 household assets to construct a wealth index which is divided into 5 groups or quintiles. According to the index 7% of the rural population is in the highest quintile (rich) as compared to 48% in urban areas. It places 16% of rural population in the second top quintile as compared to 29% in urban areas. In the third top quintile, the index places 26% of rural population and 14% of urban population. The second and third quintiles obviously represents a large section of upper middle class.

In the fourth quintile, the index places 26% of rural population and 6% of urban population and in the last quintile (poor), it places 28% of rural population and 3% of urban population.

According to the survey in rural areas 2.9% women and 4% men employed in professional, technical, administrative and managerial jobs. About 2.3% women and 9% men operate as sales workers, while 2.9% women and 3.5% men are service workers. About 18.2% women and 31.9% men are skilled and unskilled production workers, while 72.7% women and 49% men are agricultural workers.

The study projects 56% rural households having power supply, 52% rural household without toilet facility and 85% of rural household using improved sources of drinking water.