Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Most of SL still live in rural areas, but only 10% of heads of households are farmers


I am making a broad statement here and in order to back it up, I must define who a farmer is. In the context of this article, a farmer is one who derives 75% of his income from agriculture, where he is able to sell a good proportion of what he grows in order to receive this income. It has come as a complete surprise to me that while the statisticians define most people in rural areas as farmers, I maintain that less than 10% fall into the above definition that I have stated.

The primary reason being, and I use my Govi Sangvidanaya (Farmers Association) as an example, that most of the members have other sources of income, which are greater than that of farming. There are households where the primary income is from a state sector job such as teaching, administrative, hospital, postal, police and forces etc. Others are lottery ticket sellers, fish vendors, veda mahattayas (native doctors) work in shops in the nearest town, or in banks and other financial institutions such as insurance and leasing, or are drug reps, or reps of the pesticide selling companies, and many young men are 3wheel drivers, the latter being the most unproductive ones, just to quote a few examples.

If one takes the example of Japan, a highly industrialized country, the government there has taken a policy decision to help their rural paddy farmer, by banning imports of rice, and where the price of rice is 10times that of the world market. Despite that the household income of those farmers is mainly derived from non-agricultural employment as their plots are as small as they are in Sri Lanka.

Admittedly, there is a significant number of people falling into the rural poor, and in the latest analysis I was told that the bottom 10% of the population earn less than 1% of National Income and most of these people are in rural areas, and the top 10% of the population enjoy 40% of the National Income and mainly live in urban areas.

The followers of my blogs will note that the current system of land ownership, division and direction of the political agenda, will forever keep the rural people poor, and the system will perpetuate poverty, until some radical change takes place in the psyche of the people to explore a more meaningful avenue of income and status. What I mean by this is in order to productively engage in farming, the future would be one in which larger land extents are encouraged, and farmers given the tools, in land ownership laws, research, education, finance, irrigation, equipment and market congruent with this.

People have become landless, after generations of division of property, where they sell the balance of farmland to pay off debts. These people then want to work as paid labor. However there is a fixed wage scale, which in my area is Rs550 a day with lunch thrown in and two tea breaks with buns or some such eat! No farmer can get productive income from such wage rates unless he is heavily mechanized, and so only hire them very infrequently for the odd job which then leaves these the truly poor, with only a couple of days of paid labor a month (the underemployed) As their home is in the village they don’t want to relocate to places with better prospects due these rigid ownership rules making labor mobility difficult. I will cover the land ownership issue in a future blog entry.

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