Poverty and Agrarian Distress in Orissa

Srijit Mishra
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The relatively lower reduction of poverty in Orissa, 0.2 percentage points per annum from 48.6% in 1993-94 to 46.4% in 2004-05, has been a matter of concern. The current exercise attempts to analyse whether part of the explanation lies in the state of affairs in agriculture. An analysis for 2004-05 shows that incidence of poverty is 47% for rural and 44% for urban Orissa. The vulnerable sub-groups are southern (73% rural, 55% urban) and northern (59% rural, 43% urban) across National Sample Survey (NSS) regions, the scheduled tribes (76% rural, 65% urban) and scheduled castes (50% rural, 75% urban) across social groups, the agricultural labourers (65%) and other labourers (52%) in rural areas and casual labourers (56%) in urban areas across household type, and marginal and small farmers (51%) across size-class of land possessed in rural areas. What is even worrying is a much greater incidence of calorie poor (79% rural and 49% urban). This reflects a gap in the poverty line and the calorie that it is supposed to represent and a seeming nutritional crisis even among the groups that resorts to hard labour that includes among others marginal and small farmers and landless households the hands that grow food. The agrarian scenario is in dire straits. Per capita per day returns from cultivation, based on the situation assessment survey of 2002-03, is less than four rupees, a pittance. What is more, in 1990s, agricultural value addition and growth in production has been negative across all crop groups and paddy production, the main crop, shows a decline in all districts. It is this poor showing in agriculture that does partly explain the slow reductions of poverty in the 1990s in Orissa. The call of the hour is people-centric planning that revives the livelihood bases of the farmers and agricultural labourers.