Rethinking agrarian crisis in India

South Asian University
International Institute of Social Studies
Start date

Thursday, 10 Oct 2019, 16:00

End date

Thursday, 10 Oct 2019, 17:30

Room 4.39
International Institute of Social Studies
Spoken Language
Anirban Dasgupta

On 10 October 2019, Anirban Dasgupta will give a lecture under the auspices of the Political Ecology research group entitled 'Rethinking agrarian crisis in India: The surplus population and capital accumulation'

About the lecture

In his lecture he will analyse some salient features of Indian agriculture which are key in foregrounding any serious discussion on the subject.

The Lewis trap zone

First, based on the framework proposed by Dorin ( 2013, 2017), India is shown to be a country in the so-called Lewis trap zone with simultaneous increase in agricultural population (albeit at a decreasing rate) and a growing divergence in income between agriculture and  the non-agricultural sector over the last fifty years.

It is argued that this phenomenon can be understood as one of ‘perverse’ structural transformation in opposition to the ‘virtuous’ Lewisian path that is based on the historical trajectory of Western European economies.

India - a food surplus country

Second, despite the persistence of low levels of productivity in most segments of agriculture, India has emerged in recent years as a food-surplus country in a net sense with significant food exports. As mentioned above, this self-sufficiency in food production has been achieved in a period when the majority of the farming community has undergone severe impoverishment due to the economic unviability of crop production.

Rethinking the role of agriculture

Based on the above two observations, Dasgupta argues for a fundamental rethink of the role that agriculture can and should play in the long term process of development in a labour surplus economy like India.

Unlike the classical/Lewisian process of structural transformation which is predicated on a rapid rate of labour transfer out of agriculture in combination with a corresponding increase in agricultural productivity, agriculture in countries like India are likely to play a critical role in providing the means of social reproduction for a large mass of ‘surplus’ humanity in foreseeable future.

This livelihood function of agriculture along with its essential role in supplying food for the rest of the economy (which is in line with the Mellor-Johnston thesis) constitute the defining elements of the future of agriculture in typical labour abundant economies like India.

The challenge however, is to improve the economic and ecological conditions under which agrarian livelihoods are reproduced. This will involve a fundamental change in society’s recognition and valuation of the functions that farming performs and remunerating farmers appropriately for these functions. This transfer of resources to agriculture should not be seen as a mere subsidy for agriculture but as fair compensation for its essential economic and ecological services.

About the speaker

Anirban Dasgupta is a development economist trained in Calcutta University and the University of California, Riverside where he received his PhD in 2006. Before joining the South Asian University in January 2011, he was a faculty member of the International Institute of Social Studies.

His teaching interests include poverty and inequality, development strategy and inclusive growth, and issues in agricultural development.

His research has so far focussed on agrarian reforms in India and Bolivia, structural change and land use in China as well as the problem of inclusive growth.

He has published articles in Journal of Peasant Studies, European Journal of Development Research, Development and Change (forthcoming) and Conservation and Society (forthcoming). He is also the co-editor of the volume Development, Equity and Poverty: Essays in Honour of Azizur Rahman Khan published by Macmillan India in 2010.