State of Rural and Agrarian India Report 2020: Rethinking Productivity and Populism through Alternative Approaches


This report was published by Network of Rural & Agrarian Studies (a nationwide collective of scholars, researchers, farmers, students and activists) on November 30, 2020. It aims to provide a critical overview of the state of agriculture in rural India.

The publication discusses current government policies and their implications on rural India’s residents, livelihoods and ecologies. It also presents alternative ideas and approaches to facilitate the implementation of policies in a way that is “…socially just, economically stable, ecologically sustainable and politically democratic.”

The 78-page report contains 15 chapters: an introduction (chapter 1); What are the Mainstream Approaches That Have Shaped Rural and Agrarian India? (chapter 2); What is the State of Agriculturists in India Today? (chapter 3); What are the Conditions of Artisans in India? (chapter 4); What Constitutes the Web of Risks in Agriculture? (chapter 5); What are the Perils of Populism and the State’s Role in this? (chapter 6); What are the implications of Corporate Control, Intellectual Property Regimes, and Datafication of Agriculture? (chapter 7); Alternative Visions for Rural India: Guiding Principles (chapter 8); What are the types of Climate Preparedness and Climate Resilient Initiatives? (chapter 9); How can We Revive and Strengthen Varied Rural Economies? (chapter 10); Why Produce and Consume Local? (chapter 11); How can Agricultural Marketing be made Accountable? (chapter 12); Why do Adivasi and Tribal Regions Require Special Attention? (chapter 13); What can be New Indices and Measurements for Evaluating Rural Economies? (chapter 14); and Conclusion: What Can Farmers and Others Do to Make the Rural Relevant? (chapter 15).


  1. Most agrarian policies tend to have an ‘extractive’ approach with an emphasis on increasing farm productivity. This is based on the assumption that natural resources are ever-present and can continually be used for economic growth. The report notes that applying the green revolution model – which entails using industrially-produced chemical inputs, hybrid seeds and advanced technology – across India has led to the ‘chemicalisation’ of the environment and adverse effects on farmers’ health.

  2. The report states that 12 crore hectares of India’s land – 38 per cent of the country’s total geographical area – suffers from degradation. (Land degradation refers to the deterioration or loss of the productive capacity of soil.)

  3. Over 70,000 varieties of rice have been found in the Indian subcontinent, most of which disappeared from cultivation in the 1970s, after India’s green revolution. Now, only 7,000 local varieties exist and a handful of these are cultivated.

  4. India’s declining biodiversity has resulted in an increasing number of pest attacks. From 1965 to 2009, the report notes, there has been a 500 per cent increase in pest attacks in rice fields. The 2015 whitefly epidemic in Punjab destroyed around 75 per cent of the Bt cotton crop that year.

  5. The report cites the results of a 2011 survey by the Delhi-based Central Groundwater Board, which says that 1,186 of the 6,881 groundwater units studied were ‘over-exploited’, 972 were ‘semi-critical’, 313 were ‘critical’ and 100 were ‘saline-affected’.

  6. The number of agricultural workers – cultivators as well as farm labourers – increased from 9.72 crores in 1951 to 26.3 crores in 2011. However, in 2011, the number of cultivators declined even as the amount of farm labourers increased. This could indicate that cultivators shifted to non-agricultural activities, or that they became landless labourers – the report states.

  7. The average size of landholding in India is 1.08 hectares (1.10 hectares for male and 0.9 for female farmers) – according to the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare’s Agriculture Census 2015-16.

  8. According to 2018 data from the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, 52 per cent of all the agricultural households in India are in some form of debt, and the average debt amount is Rs. 47,000.

  9. The report notes that the unemployment rate was 7.3 per cent in February and 8.4 per cent in March 2020. After the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in March, it went up to 23 per cent in the months of April and May.

  10. Census 2011 states that 65.1 per cent of the total female workforce in India was engaged in agriculture; of them, 24 per cent were cultivators and 41.1 per cent were farm labourers.

  11. ‘Agrarian populism’ in India takes the form of the State giving in to the demands of farmers who have medium or large landholdings, or who are from dominant castes and have political power – states the report.

  12. The multinational corporations Bayer-Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta, DowDuPont and BASF, control 70 per cent of the trade of farm inputs – such as commercial seeds – as well as a large proportion of agrochemicals in India.

  13. Scheduled Tribes (STs) form 8.6 per cent of India’s population. Yet STs constitute nearly 40 per cent of the people displaced or adversely affected by development projects between 1951 and 1990. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, government of India, estimates that nearly 85 lakh people belonging to STs have been displaced between 1951 and 1990, for development projects such as the construction of dams. Only 21 lakh of them have been compensated or rehabilitated.

    Focus and Factoids by Sayani Rakshit.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Richa Kumar, Nikhit Kumar Agrawal, P.S. Vijayshankar and A.R. Vasavi


Network of Rural & Agrarian Studies


30 Nov, 2020