When looking up any research or facts about about farming in India, one often come across comments about the smallness of farms in India. So I wanted to understand how small is small. Here is some statistics from National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO):
In 2003, the average farm size (what NSSO calls operational landholding) was about 1 hectare, which equals the area of a 100m x 100m plot. 70% of farmers have plots sizes smaller than a hectare.
Next I looked into historical farm sizes and discovered that in the last 30 years, the average farm size has halved. That is, the average farm size in 2003 was 48% of the farm size in 1971.
So the same farm that supported a single family in 1971 now has to support two families.
I suspect the halving of farm sizes within 30 years has much to do with splitting of farms among male offspring of farmers. With no substantial employment or income-generating opportunities besides farming in rural areas, it is no wonder that splitting of farms is common practice, ultimately making the farms too small to support a family. [See back-of-the-envelope calculations in my previous post on the topic]
[Update: See new post with GOI data on historical trends in farm sizes in India]
This leads to another line of thought: What is the average income of a farming family in India?
Here also NSSO comes to the rescue and provides us detailed data. The average farming household’s income from all activities is apparently Rs. 2115 per month. The breakup of this income is as follows:
- From cultivation: 969
- From animals: 91
- From wage labour: 819
- From non-farm activities: 236
- Total household income: 2115
The average family size in rural India (per census data) is 5.4. So the Rs. 2115 per month translates into Rs. 13/day per capita, well below the poverty line. [Update Nov 2017: The above data is now out of date. See blog post with more recent data: How much to farmers earn?]
This begs the question: Is small-scale farming a sustainable economic activity?