2.B. The Impact of Technological Changes on the Land Tenure Situation

After a long period of relative stagnation in agriculture, the second half of the 1960s has brought about a technological change resulting in a considerably higher production. The "green revolution" was made possible by the development of new seed varieties with a high yield potential and their application together with other complementary inputs like water, fertilizers, insecticides, etc. The extent to which the different land tenure categories participated in this process, and the way they were influenced and underwent changes will be outlined in this chapter. At the beginning, however, it has to be stressed that this process has affected only part of the country, i.e. the irrigated areas which had the necessary water or could arrange for its supply. Therefore, the tenure categories are not affected on the whole but, primarily, only in those areas which participated in the green revolution. Of course, in time, a number of secondary changes also affected other regions to a certain degree.

The two categories of landlords, as long as their land was irrigated, participated rapidly in the green revolution. They had information, access to the inputs and - if at all necessary - to credit and were, as is usual for large farms, the early adopters of the new technologies, thereby increasing their production and income considerably. The first changes were followed by secondary ones which, especially in the category of "small landlords", brought about drastic and far reaching alterations involving a change of attitude towards agriculture which was no longer considered as a way of life but as a business. This process started with the construction of a large number of tubewells so as not to depend on canal water, and in order to supplement it, changes in the cropping pattern and mechanization of agriculture through the purchase of a tractor were included. After this change in factor proportions, it is only logical that a business-minded agriculturist had a look at his labour organization and found that the old batai system was expensive under the new input and yield situation. The result was a general tendency towards abolishing share cropping and increasing self-cultivation. The new business-minded "commercial1 and 'capitalistic1 farmers used most of their increased income to reinvest it in tubewells, tractors and, whenever possible, land. The new terms of trade caused even members of the urban upper class to invest in agriculture and share in the new profitable business. Improved income and the economic situation of landlords strengthened their traditional political power, and with their political influence they succeeded in ensuring the continuation of the landlord-biased agricultural policy: no taxation, favourable product prices, cheap inputs and reasonable terms for credit at the institutional credit market, to which they had access.

While these landlords have generally benefited from the technological changes their attitude to land changed considerably. Although their production has increased, their experiences are not altogether positive and they rightly claim that they had some difficulties and problems. These are mainly the result of imperfect conditions of the factor market and lack of change in the agro-business sector, the level of which is now much lower than that of agro-technology. In view of the high risk involved in modern technology and commercial farming, untimely supply of fertilizer, electricity breakdowns causing tubewells to stop functioning or sudden shortages of labour cause much more difficulties than in former times, and influence considerably the financial result of farm operations.

The family owner-cultivators (the same applies to many of the tenants of better standing) have fully participated in the green revolution. They first started doing so after a time lag of one or two years, partly due to limited access to information and inputs, and partly because they first wanted to see the results on the landlords' farms to be convinced. Soon after, there occurred a development similar to that involving smaller landlords: application of new seeds and fertizer, installation of tubewells and even purchase of tractors. Quite a number of them tried to increase their farm size by renting or purchasing land, they also made the investment profitable by selling water or working with the tractor on custom hire. By and large, the results - on a smaller scale - were the same as outlined for landlords, i.e. higher production resulting in increasing prosperity and a high degree of capital formation, to quite an extent by non-monetary means, thus converting labour into capital. These smaller cultivators, however, suffered much more from the market imperfections and the poor service structure. Difficulties in getting their share of canal water, untimely fertilizer supply, problems in obtaining credit, etc., are a real danger in view of the high monetary investment in modern agriculture and the limited ability to bear risks. Thus, even though their income has increased considerably, the security of this group is low, and they suffer much from the deficient service structure catering for their needs.

The share of the marginal owner-cultivators in the new technologies is negligible. Regardless of the fact that seed and fertilizer are divisible inputs and do not require minimum size, this category has neither means nor access to input and credit, has no risk-bearing capacity and sometimes no desire to use new seeds because they do not suit their home consumption needs. Even if they want to participate, there is usually no service structure that reaches these small cultivators with inputs, credit, etc. The fact that they hardly market anything raises the question of payment for initial investments and for repayment of credit, particularly in view of the risk involved* Their rather stagnant situation, as compared with the increasing prosperity of the categories discussed so far, causes frustration and disappointment.

The impact of the green revolution on the tenante-at-wi11 depended initially on the landlord's willingness to apply the new technologies. Because of the limited availability of inputs, he often used them only on his self-cultivated land* Even later, the tenants played a more passive role as they were cultivating according to the landlord1s instructions. Soon, however, the situation and size of this cateogry underwent considerable change. The introduction of tubewells caused landlords to change the partition ratio for produce, sometimes rather arbitrarily. Even if the new ratio was justified, it caused unrest among the tenants. After buying a tractor the landlord no longer had need of the tenant's bullocks for cultivation, but considered the traditional batai system to be an expensive kind of labour and frequently dismissed his tenants. In this process a large number of tenants lost their tenancy status and had to join the ranks of casual rural labourers, a process which was accompanied by much frustration, unrest and radicalism.

There is no general agreement on the impact of the green revolution on rural labourers. The usual interpretation is that some improved their situation by becoming technical specialists like tubewell operators, tractor drivers, etc., while the general increase in labour demand and wages was limited. On a closer look, the impact seems to be more far-reaching and varies among the different groups of labourers.

The traditional bondage of kammis to their cultivators, resulting in inability to accept work from outside, is no longer functioning. More demand for technical skill, increased number of workshops in mandi 3/ towns, etc., have opened alternatives for the kammi as compared to exclusive work for the village cultivators, and the latter had to agree to their kammis working outside in order to secure their presence in the village at all. Today, a kammi may do his sep work in the evenings against the old traditional remuneration, and during the day may seek work in towns. Social services connected with kammis have diminished too. With more work outside the village, they could improve their income considerably.

The permanent labourers also improved their situation by occupying the new posts of specialists. Landlords depend on their skill and, as these specialists are not numerous, the result is not only higher wages but also a certain degree of freedom.

The impact of the technological changes on the casual labourers is very complex. The ranks of this always mobile and discontented group have been further filled by the dismissed tenants. After the changes, quarrels with landlords about new wage rates sometimes caused strikes during harvest time and this was an indication of the more tense relationship. On the other hand, some developments were favourable to those casual labourers. The price increase now makes it possible to earn a living with a pair of buffaloes by selling milk and ghee, and most of the fodder consists of weeds collected by family members at roadsides. Sometimes, getting more fodder is a greater incentive to work than the wage. This new situation gives these people a degree of freedom which, so far, has been unknown to them. Besides, it seems that the secondary employment effects of the green revolution have created a larger number of jobs than generally assumed. Another point is that the general outlook of these people has changed and they do not just sit idly waiting for work; an increasing mobility of this group is noticeable. Altogether, the result of this is that cultivators experience difficulties in getting enough hired labour during the season. This, to be sure, is a matter of the wage offered, but wages have already increased more than inflation and the high supply price of labour indicates that they no longer need to accept whatever is offered.

Summarizing the impact of the new technologies from the point of view of agricultural production, one can say that, during the process, production has greatly increased because of a fuller utilization of the potential in the better sectors of agriculture, i.e. the better irrigated lands and the large farms. It is an undisputable fact that the rural upper class benefited much from the green revolution because the existing service structure sufficed to meet their needs while the necessary services were not available for smaller farms. The prosperity of the large farmers and the given incentive structure with emphasis on private enterprise and development of capitalistic agriculture caused a dualism in the agricultural sector with larger farms developing more and more, while small farms remained more or less stagnant, thus widening the gap. This dualism, which has serious social and political consequences, has the biased organization of rural service structure as one of its main causes.

After discussing the impact of technological changes on different land tenure groups, a few comments seem to be indicated to place the arguments in proper perspective. As has been stated, the impact varies considerably in that some groups benefited much and increased their income notably while others hardly have a share and are forced into occupational mobility with its risks and manifold frictions. These widening disparities among different groups of the population have been given much publicity in recent years, and this is a correct interpretation of the facts. However, it seems that a much more serious aspect is the increasing regional disparity between irrigated areas where application of the new technologies is possible and usually done to the utmost extent, and other regions which lack the necessary water and which, therefore, cannot participate in the green revolution. The latter tend to stagnate at the technological level of the 1950s with obvious consequences for income and prosperity. While the income disparity between population groups can be overcome by institutional changes and policy measures like taxation, change of ownership structure, rural industrialization and welfare measures, no solution is in sight for the dry areas and their agricultural development. There, everybody, from landlord and cultivator to tenant and labourer is locked in the stagnant structure of traditional agriculture.


3/ Small market town for agricultural produce.