18 September 2009

Poverty and Agrarian Distress in Orissa

Poverty and Agrarian Distress in Orissa is the title of my recent working paper. A summary of the paper is given below.

The relatively lower reduction of poverty in Orissa, 0.2 percentage points per annum from 48.6 per cent in 1993-94 to 46.4 per cent in 2004-05, has been a matter of concern. The current exercise attempts to analyse whether part of the explanation lies in the state of affairs in agriculture.

An analysis for 2004-05 shows that incidence of poverty is 47 per cent for rural and 44 per cent for urban Orissa. The vulnerable sub-groups are southern (73 per cent rural, 55 per cent urban) and northern (59 per cent rural, 43 per cent urban) across National Sample Survey (NSS) regions, the scheduled tribes (76 per cent rural, 65 per cent urban) and scheduled castes (50 per cent rural, 75 per cent urban) across social groups, the agricultural labourers (65 per cent) and other labourers (52 per cent) in rural areas and casual labourers (56 per cent) in urban areas across household type, and marginal and small farmers (51 per cent) across size-class of land possessed in rural areas.

What is even worrying is a much greater incidence of calorie poor (79 per cent rural and 49 per cent urban). This reflects a gap in the poverty line and the calorie that it is supposed to represent and a seeming nutritional crisis even among the groups that resorts to hard labour that includes among others marginal and small farmers and landless households – the hands that grow food.

The agrarian scenario is in dire straits. Per capita per day returns from cultivation, based on the situation assessment survey of 2002-03, is less than four rupees, a pittance. What is more, in 1990s, agricultural value addition and growth in production has been negative across all crop groups and paddy production, the main crop, shows a decline in all districts. It is this poor showing in agriculture that does partly explain the slow reductions of poverty in the 1990s in Orissa.

The predominantly tribal southern region comprising the undivided Kalahandi, Koraput and Phulbani districts brings into mind the picture of starvation deaths, growing Naxalism and communal clashes. All these are independently important concerns, but their links with widespread poverty cannot be denied.

The regularity with which the state is exposed to natural calamities also needs further probing from the climate change perspective. The call of the hour is people-centric planning that revives the livelihood bases of the farmers and agricultural labourers.

Want to read more about the paper, read on IGIDR Working Paper Series: WP-2009-006. Your comments are welcome.

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