Farm Household Differentiation until the End of the Century

Today, farm households can be differentiated according to the following types: (4)

  1. Households with enough land to enable them to earn their living by land cultivation. The members usually concentrate their efforts on farming and take advantage of the possibilities offered by the new technologies. They try to increase their income by practising good cultivation and good husbandry. This group consists of :
    – large landowners (landlords),
    – ‘progressive farmers,’
    – ‘economic holdings.’
  2. Households which do not have enough land to be able to earn their living by cultivating the land. The members try to improve their condition by taking up non-agricultural activities, but are often not successful. Their goal is to achieve a better income by using all of the resources at their disposal – land, labour and, sometimes, some capital. Their interest in agriculture is sometimes limited, often imposed by a lack of alternatives, and the younger generation in particular often looks forward to a life outside agriculture. This groups consists of:
    – households with multiple employment,
    – households with household production,
    – holdings of older people,
    – marginal existences.

In detail, the different types can be characterized as follows:

  1. Households with sufficient land

    • large landowners (landlords)
    The size of the land available to them decreased considerably due to inheritance, land reforms and preventative measures to limit the impact of future reforms. The wish to maintain their standard of living even after the reduction of the size of their land led to the employment of modern technologies and the intensified land use. Many petty landlords became ‘progressive farmers’ although it is still possible to find feudalistic landlords of the old type who have hardly been influenced by the developments around them.

    • ‘progressive farmers’
    This group emerged as a new phenomenon at the point when the technology introduced by the ‘green revolution’ made it possible to earn a high income by practising modern market integrated agriculture on adequate land. They recruit themselves from the higher strata from among landlords whose estates have become too small in the course of the inheritance process, and from below from among the active family farmers (or their sons) who try to increase the size of their farms by renting land and practising modern farming, often successfully. Their economic power frequently led to political power, and this group has many representatives in district and provincial assemblies.

    • ‘economic holdings’
    These family farms, which have sufficient land at their disposal, experienced considerable increase in income brought about by the opportunities made available by the new crop cultivation technologies and, partly, by engaging in modern market-integrated animal husbandry. Household members are frequently interested in farming along modern lines, which is considered to offer perspectives for the future. When they eventually realize that only a farm size which provides sufficient land can guarantee a decent income, it is not unusual for the second son to take up training with a view to obtaining a non-agricultural job.
  2. Households with insufficient land to provide a living

    The number of households in this group increased considerably in the past, mainly because of reduced farm size following partition in the course of the inheritance process. The members have to earn additional income, often by activities outside agriculture. Hence, the households do not employ all of their labour on the farm and live off the farm proceeds, i.e., they lack the characteristics of a typical small family farm.
  3. • Households practising multiple employment
    Differences in the family and farm structure, in resource endowment in the region and the level of economic development have brought about different types of multiple employment:

    - Individual Income Combination
    In this case, the cultivator himself takes up non-agricultural work as a main ore side-line occupation, or works as an agricultural labourer on other farms. This type is necessary if there are no children in the family who are old enough to work. Difficulties are particularly due to the daily care that livestock needs. Hence it is only possible to take up a second job locally in areas in which job opportunities are limited, with the exception of the vicinity of cities. An alternative would be to give up husbandry and change to using hired draught power.

    - Household Income Combination
    One or more sons – and/or daughters in some societies – take up non-agricultural employment, or work as agricultural labourers. The job can be local, or in a distant place – even abroad – on a permanent basis, or whenever work is available.
    In other cases, the working life of the people is divided into two stages. Until the age of about 45, the men work outside the village, while their father manages the small farm. When their father becomes too old, the son takes over the farm. By this time, however, the son’s children have reached working age. This form can be found in remote areas in particular where it is difficult to find employment. In quite a number of cases, men have long-term contracts with the army and receive severance pay, or a pension later on. A precondition for this type of household is the fact that the children are willing to donate at least part of their income to their family, which is frequently the case. The amount they give varies greatly.

    - Extended Family Economy
    Nuclear families maintain close social and economic ties even after they have migrated. A network of cooperating families emerges with the farm at the centre. The urban branches of the extended family receive food from their parent’s farm as a form of support, or for sentimental reasons. The urban families sometimes let the pre-school children live on the farm in order to save rent in the city, and they have the right to return to the farm, an important form of security. In return, they offer their services as help during the harvest, or they remit money to their parents. This does not have to take place regularly, but rather whenever money is needed for investments or repairs.

    • Households with Household Production
    It is not possible for everybody to find a non-agricultural job, and sometimes there is no suitable person in the family. The strategy for improving income is then to produce whatever is possible within the household, using all available resources, in order to satisfy the family’s own needs and sell the other products. This may comprise the production of charcoal, gathering firewood, weaving mats, renting out animals, producing ropes, collecting herbs and honey. The families also avoid expenses by doing maintenance and repair work themselves rather than hire paid workers. The activities the women carry out such as processing, food preparation, tailoring and mending clothing play an important role in such cases. The income is generally rather low, and the cultivation of the land has, therefore, to be extensive. Many households experience a downward trend.

    • Holdings of Older People
    It is not unusual for all of the children of smallholders who have little land to migrate from remote dry areas to towns in order to find a better living. The head of the household, the father, tries to cultivate his land as long as possible and adjusts his work to suit his capacity by renting out land, or be practising more extensive cultivation, often accompanied by considerably reversing investments. In the absence of other forms of old age security, he has to continue cultivating the land in order to secure his subsistence.
    The ‘holdings of older people’ are residual farms. They do not exist because the owners are primarily interested in farming, but rather because they are the only form of social security they have. The income they earn only has to suffice for an older couple, not for a family. The cultivation is extensive, and modern technology is not employed. The number of such holdings is small, but it is growing with the increasing mobility and industrialization.

    • Marginal Existences
    Some households that do not have sufficient land cannot find any means of earning additional income. Remote locations or personal circumstances such as illness or disability play a role. These households live in extreme poverty and often have to gradually sell their land. The land is cultivated without any investments being made, and the yields are low.


    next: 6. Implications for Development Policies

    (4) Kuhnen, Frithjof, “What is Agriculture? Need for a New Paradigm?” in: Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture, 30, 1991, pp. 191–199.
    Slarer, Richard, From Farm to Frm, Diversification in the Asian Countryside, Aldershot 1991.