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Agrarian Structure and Agrarian

Relations in Orissa
Jagannath Ambagudia
Tata Ramakrishna*

Indian agrarian structure characterised by the dominance of small and

marginal farms, which are economically non-viable, cannot promote
agricultural development. This is essentially the outcome of the historical
events (Mahapatra and Das, 1993: 292-293; Jacob, 1995: 6-8). The
problem of Indian economy cannot be separated from the problems of
our national economy. The present agrarian situation is the outcome of
the politico-economic system established in the country by British
imperialism. The British created the pre-requisite for the capitalist
development of agriculture by introducing individual ownership over
land (i.e., peasant proprietorship) and large scale land ownership. It
destroyed the ‘self-sufficient village economy’ of India and established
the ‘commercial market economy’ though in a limited manner.
Agrarian structure is dualistic in nature, wherein the rich farmers of
well endowed regions flourish through modernised agriculture and the
resource poor small and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers
continue to languish in poverty. Orissa is no exception to this
phenomenon. For details, see National Council of Applied Economic
Research (2004), East India Human Development Report, New Delhi:
Oxford University Press, pp. 203, 206-207. The Planning Commission’s
report also substantiates this position. It shows that out of the total
rural poor families in Orissa, 87.36 per cent of rural poor families were
agricultural labourers, marginal farmers and small farmers. The district
level data analysis by the commission also suggests that in almost all
the districts, high concentration of small and marginal farmers and
agricultural labourers are living below the poverty line (Government of
India, 2002: 248-249).
Research Scholars, Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal
Nehru University, New Delhi-110 067, e-mail:

Among all the states in the country, Orissa has also the lowest total
household income (Rs.17,209) and per capita income (Rs.3,028), much
lower than the all India average of Rs.25,653 and Rs.4,485 respectively
(National Council of Applied Economic Research, 2004: 203). Like
many other states, Orissa has witnessed the slow process of agrarian
Within this backdrop, the aim of the paper is directed towards
understanding the agrarian structure of Orissa. The substance of this
paper is also a discussion of different indicators of agricultural
development. It also makes an attempt to explore the problems and
prospects for the development of agriculture in Orissa. The data base
for the paper is drawn from various reports on agricultural census,
population census and other documents prepared by the Directorate of
Economics and Statistics, Planning and Co-ordination Department,
Government of Orissa and other studies.

Agrarian Structure of Orissa

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood both in terms of employment
and income generation. On the basis of physical features and agro-
economic conditions, Orissa can be divided into four zones:
i. The northern plateau covering districts like old Mayurbhanj,
Keonjhar, Sundergarh and parts of Dhenkanal. It constitutes 23
per cent of the state’s total geographical area.
ii. The central river basin comprising districts like Old Bolangir,
Sambhalpur and parts of Dhenkanal. This part also accounts for
23 per cent of the state’s territory.
iii. The Eastern Ghat region comprising districts like Old Kalahandi,
Phulboni, Ganjam and Koraput. It constitutes 36 per cent of the
total geographical area of the state.
iv. The coastal plains, comprising districts like Old Balasore, Cuttack,
Puri and part of Ganjam. It accounts for the remaining 18 per
cent of the state’s area (Mearns and Sinha, 1999: 7).
Agriculture is most developed in the coastal plains followed by the
central river basin zone. Barring a few pockets, agriculture in the two
other zones is very backward. It should be noted that the agrarian
economy is interwoven with the economy based on forests, mines and
rivers or lakes in different pockets.

The economy of Orissa is predominantly agricultural. The Net State

Domestic Product (NSDP) is highly influenced by income generated
from the agriculture sector. The contribution of agricultural sector alone
to NSDP at constant (1980-1981) prices has declined to 45 per cent
from 47.5 per cent in the previous year, registering a decline of about
5.3 per cent in this sector (Mahapatra and Das, 1993: 298). The
contribution of agriculture to State income has further declined from
38.15 per cent in 1993-1994 to 28.13 per cent in 2001-2002 (Misra,
2003: 93). Despite the fact that the share of agriculture in NSDP of
Orissa has considerably declined, agriculture continues to be the mainstay
of State’s economy contributing about 22.09 per cent of the State’s
income during 2002-2003 (Government of Orissa, 2004a: 21/2).
The percentage dependent on agriculture was steadily increased from
1961-1991 (except 1981). For instance, the working population in agrarian
structure was 70.33 per cent in 1951, 73.83 per cent in 1961, 77.44 per
cent in 1971, 74.65 per cent in 1981 and 80 per cent in 1991 (Mahaptra
and Das, 1993: 296-297). This indicates the growing dependence of
more and more population on agricultural sector. Like the 1981 decade,
the percentage of population depending on agriculture declined in 2001.
According to the 2001 census, agriculture provides employment to
around 65 per cent of the workforce directly or indirectly (Government
of Orissa, 2004a: 21/2). The entire episode of agricultural structure in
Orissa reflects its problems and prospects as well.

Distribution of Operational Holdings in Orissa during 1995-96

The agricultural census of 1985-1986 indicates that in Orissa 55 per
cent are small farmers, 17 per cent semi-small and 0.6 large farmers
(Government of Orissa, 1986: 13-14). These figures have changed
over the years. During 1995-1996, marginal holdings (below 1 hectare)
represent 54 per cent of the total number and covers 21 per cent of the
total area. Small holdings (1-2 hectares) represent 28 per cent of the
total number and covers 29 per cent of the total area. Semi-medium
holdings (2-4 hectares) represent 14 per cent of the total number and
covers 28 per cent of the total area. Medium holdings (4-10 hectares)
represent 3.6 per cent of the total number and covers 17 per cent of
the total area. Large holdings (10 hectares and above) represent 0.4
per cent of the total number and covers 5 per cent of the total area.
The average size of holdings in the state is 1.30 hectares. The average

size of marginal holdings is 0.50 hectares. The average size of small

holdings is 1.38 hectares. The average size of semi-medium holdings is
2.67 hectares. The average size of medium holdings is 5.54 hectares.
The average size of large holdings is 15.96 hectares (Buxi, 2004).
Holdings owned by Scheduled Castes number 5.46 lakh (14 per cent of
the total holdings) and cover 4.89 lakh hectares. Average size of
Scheduled Caste holding is 0.9 hectares. Marginal and small holding
held by Scheduled Caste households constitute 68 per cent and 22 per
cent of the total households respectively, covering 34 per cent and 33
per cent respectively of the total area. Holdings owned by Scheduled
Tribes number 11.78 lakh (29 per cent of the total holdings) and cover
16.29 lakh hectares. The total number of operational holdings held by
women number 0.53 lakh (1.34 per cent of the total holdings),
accounting for 0.64 lakh hectares of land (1.24 per cent of the total
area). Marginal holdings held by women number 0.31 lakh (59 per cent
of the women cultivators) covering 0.15 lakh hectares (23 per cent of
the total land held by women). Small holdings held by women number
0.13 lakh (24.5 per cent of the women cultivators) covering 0.18 lakh
hectares (28.2 per cent of the total land held by women). Semi-medium,
medium and large holdings held by women constitute respectively 12.5
per cent, 3 per cent and 0.5 per cent of the women cultivators (Buxi,
2004). The total number of individual holdings number 39.49 lakh,
covering 50.85 lakh hectares. The per capita availability of the cultivated
land has declined from 0.39 hectare in 1950-1951 to 0.17 in 2001-2002
(Misra 2003: 94).

Land Holding Distribution by Social Groups (From 1980-81 to

The total number of holdings possessed by SCs increased from 4.05
lakh to 5.46 lakh and the area covered by them increased from 4.15
lakh hectares to 4.89 lakh hectares. The total number of holdings
possessed by STs increased from 9.18 lakh to 11.78 lakh and the area
covered by them increased from 15.79 lakh hectares to 16.29 lakh
hectares. The average size of holdings for SC holders has decreased
from 1.02 hectares to 0.90 hectares. The average size of holdings for
ST holders has decreased from 1.72 hectares to 1.38 hectares. The
average size of total holdings has declined from 1.9 hectares in 1970-
71 to 1.30 hectares in 1995-96 (Buxi, 2004).

Indicators of Agricultural Development

The development of agricultural economy is the prime concern of
planners and economists and offers a challenge to them to find means
and ways to bring its overall reforms. The main aim of development of
agriculture is to achieve the required amount of agricultural production
and a high rate of economic growth in order to bring out a marked
improvement in the living standards of people. The development process
of economy is largely a reflection of the production structure. Meher
(1999) tries to calculate the development disparity among the 13
undivided districts of Orissa. To substantiate his position, he identifies
the following seven indicators for agricultural development in Orissa:
i. Percentage of cultivable land to total land area.
ii. Percentage of area sown to total cultivable area.
iii. Percentage of irrigated area to net area sown.
iv. Number of electric/diesel pump per 1,000 hectares sown.
v. Number of tractors per 1,000 hectares of area sown.
vi. Cropping intensity.
vii.Average yields of food grains per hectare.
In general, the agricultural development process depends on the following
1. Irrigation is the most important factor and key to agricultural
2. It is the obvious means of making the State’s agriculture relatively
independent of the vagarious of rains and of putting on a more
secure footing, the agricultural economy of the State on which to
a great extent the welfare and happiness of the larger section of
people in a predominantly agricultural State hinges. The proportion
of net area irrigated to net area sown in Orissa was 34.40 per
cent during 1999-2000 as against the all India level of 40.53 per
cent. It is greatly disheartening when we compare the percentage
of irrigated cultivable land with agriculturally advanced states like
Punjab (94.48 per cent), Haryana (81.31 per cent), and Tamil
Nadu (54.39 per cent). For this purpose, the State government
has undertaken a number of major and medium irrigation projects.

For instance, it has completed seven major irrigation projects and

eight projects are under construction. Similarly, it has completed
49 minimum irrigation projects, ten new projects are going and
three medium projects have been extended (Government of Orissa,
2004b: 44).
However, the government is committed to bring at least 50 per
cent of agricultural land under assured irrigation. Under the banner
of State Agricultural Policy 1996, the State has planned to provide
irrigation facilities to nearly 1,200,000 hectares of agricultural land.
The government has planned to cover 5.30 lakh hectares of
cultivable land under major and medium irrigation projects; 1.30
lakh hectares under utilization of ground water (for example, dug
well, shallow tube wells etc.); 3.00 lakh hectares under minor
irrigation projects (flow and light); and 2.00 lakh hectares of
agricultural land under the banner of water harvest operation etc.
(Government of Orissa, 2004b: 75).
3. The productivity of food grains in Orissa during 2001-2002 was
1,405 kg per hectare which is much lower compared to some
other more developed states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana,
Karnataka, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh. It is also below the
national average of 1,739 kg per hectare. So, the government has
promised to supply high yielding varieties and that will be increased
over the years (Government of Orissa, 2004b: 71).
4. Timely agricultural operation is the key to increase the productivity
in agriculture. To increase agricultural production, it is necessary
that chemical fertilizers are used adequately and in a balanced
manner. The consumption of fertilizer was 40.84 kg per hectare
during 2001-2002. It was much below the national average of
90.12 kg per hectare (Government of Orissa, 2004a: 21/3). In its
agricultural policy, the government has promised to increase the
use of chemical fertilizer (Government of Orissa, 2004b: 72). If
one goes to analyse the proportionate use of fertilizer ingredients,
the ineffectiveness of extension services are exposed. The desirable
norm of the use of fertilizer – Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and
Potash (K) – is recommended as 4:2:1 respectively (Diwakar,
2005: 6). The Government of Orissa is committed to maintain the
appropriate ratio of NPK along with the increased use.

5. Agricultural credit has widened its horizons to facilitate the farmers

of Orissa. The State 1995 policy on exemption of interest against
repayment of agricultural loan has helped the farmers and they
have taken keen interest in repaying the loan. Besides co-operative
banks, commercial banks will be involved in short term agricultural
loan and medium term agricultural loan. These are approved
schemes of the National Bank of Agricultural and Rural
Development (NABARD) through which medium term loan for
agriculture can be availed. These are floriculture, fruit plantation,
irrigation projects, farm mechanisation unit, etc. For such projects,
commercial banks as well as the State Co-operative Agricultural
and Rural Development Bank can take up financing. In eligible
cases, they will be through Integrated Rural Development
Programmes (IRDP). Farmer’s organisations will also be promoted
for channelising credits.
6. There has been a growing realisation that infrastructure building is
one of the major segments to promote employment, growth and
quality of life. D. M. Diwakar classified infrastructure into three
broad categories: physical, social and financial (Diwakar, 2005:
7). Physical infrastructure which includes irrigation, power,
transport, etc. has been categorical to identify contribution in
reducing transaction cost of production and generating employment
income and growth of economy. Social infrastructure enhances
human capabilities through education, health, housing, recreation
facilities leading towards improvement in productivity of labour
and quality of life (Sen, 1997: 1959-1960). Financial infrastructure
like postal, banking and tax capacity of the people determines the
financial performance of the State. Together they constitute the
income generating capabilities of a State. On the contrary,
differential infrastructural facilities across the State are primarily
responsible for widening of income disparity (Ibid.).
7. Use of agricultural implements also indicate the development of
agriculture in Orissa. The number of ploughs used per 100
operational holdings is 163 for all sizes. This includes 145 wooden
ploughs and only 18 steel ploughs. The number of bullock carts
owned per 100 operational holdings is 24. The total number of
carts in the state is estimated at 10.57 lakh. And of total number

of pump-sets (diesel and electric) used per 100 operational holdings

is two for all sizes taken together. The number of tractors used
per 100 operational holdings is 1 only (Buxi, 2004).

Problems and Prospects

The above clearly indicates the constraints as well as prospects for
agricultural development in Orissa in the context of a given agrarian
structure. The problems and prospects of Orissa agriculture can be
discussed as follows:
1. In order to comprehend the growth process in an agrarian economy,
land has been the basis of productive organisation and rural masses.
So, the principal aim of land reforms measure was to bring about
radical change in the agrarian structure based on social justice. In
economic terms, the land reforms not only claims for greater
equity and social justice but also aims at providing an incentive to
the owners and tillers for increasing agricultural efficiency leading
to an increase in production. After independence, the Government
of Orissa emphasised on land reforms measures with the intention
to abolish intermediary tenures; security for tenants leading for
the greater number among them to accrual of ownership; regulation
of rent and enforcement of ceiling on land holdings and distribution
of surplus land. The measures were considered essential for freeing
the rural economy of its feudal vestiges and creating conditions
for steady growth of agriculture and agricultural produce.
Despite these measures, the iniquitous pattern of distribution of
land to the tillers still existed in Orissa (Barik, 1987: 440; Mahapatra
and Das, 1993: 299; Swain and Routray, 2001: 35; Mohanty, 1996:
86-87). Since land is the major means of production, its unequal
distribution maintains structural inequality and acts as hindrance to
remove rural poverty, adversely affecting the State economy. To
counter this problem, the State government enacted the Orissa
Land Reform Act of 1960 based on National Guidelines set out
by the Chief Minister’s conference in 1972. The ceiling unit was
a family of five persons (husband, wife and three children). Each
family unit was entitled to standard holding of ten acres and with
a provision of one additional acre for each member in excess of
five, subject to a limit of eighteen standard acres (Bhuyan and
Mohanty, 1995: 110).

The purpose of the ceiling was to acquire the ceiling surplus land
and to distribute it to the marginal, sub-marginal farmers and to
the landless. This commitment of the Orissa government is mere
tokenism. This has resulted in disputes in Orissa. In many cases,
the land owners are reluctant to part with their land even after
distribution is effected. The beneficiaries occupy the land in name
only. The study of Bhuyan and Mohanty (1995) shows that such
cases are rampant in Bargarh and Attabira tehasil of Sambalpur
district of Orissa.
2. Insufficient irrigation appears to be the major drawback of
agricultural development in Orissa. A major proportion of the total
water available comes from the rainfall during the monsoon months
between July and mid-October. Rest of the months remain dry.
Winter paddy which is the main crop of Orissa is harvested in
December and after that the land remains fallow. The low irrigation
potentiality has restricted the growth of intensive cash crop
production and use of chemical fertilizers (Barik, 1987:439). The
government is also not making serious efforts. For instance, it
targeted 50 per cent of the cultivable land to provide irrigation
facility. Further due to improper maintenance of the canals and
dug wells, drainage canals, etc. there exists a wide gap between
the official record of irrigation potential created in the State and
effective coverage of land under irrigation (Misra, 2003: 95).
3. The total population of the State has more than doubled between
1961 and 2001 (the population of Orissa was 17,548,846 in 1961
and the population in 2001 is 36,706,920), indicating an urgent
need for augmenting output/productivity of food grains. The
available land for cultivation will not be able to meet the food
demands of the increasing population. This cannot be solved either
by various subsidies or by credits. The solution, perhaps, lies with
drawing permanently or temporarily a size of population out of
agriculture and offering it permanent employment in allied sectors
like fisheries and animal husbandries. This alternative can also
provide additional income and employment to the rural people of
4. The future of Orissa’s agriculture depends on how best we can
help the small and marginal farmers to become a viable entity in

the agrarian economy. Research efforts need to be focussed

much more on efficient use of land and water resources.
Technology packages should suggest diversification of farm
enterprises taking a holistic view of farming as a system rather
than emphasising crop husbandry only.
5. For planned growth of agriculture, the government must formulate
a uniform policy all over the State. This can be ensured by bringing
the tiller of the land closer to the government and by having a
uniform system of agrarian relations. If the tillers are made the
owners of the land, they will operate with the authorities in
implementation of schemes formulated for their benefit. Effective
implementation of these schemes will ensure planned growth of
agriculture all over the State.
6. The thrust areas of strategy for achieving the objectives of the
New Agricultural Policy are production and supply of quality seeds,
efficient distribution of fertilizers, production of bio-fertilizers, supply
of soil health cards to each farmer, involvement of private sector
for production of agricultural implements, giving more attention to
commercial crops, reclamation of problematic soils, provision of
adequate agricultural extension services and taking up several
programmes for fisheries and animal resources development
(Government of Orissa, 2004a: 21/3).
7. Lack of awareness among the farmers about the desirable
proportionate use of NPK symbolises the problem of agricultural
development in Orissa. As the majority of the farmers are from
rural background and belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes, they are not fully aware of the rational use of NPK. The
imbalanced use of fertilizers has affected the fertility of soil
adversely and environmental problems have also cropped up. There
is an urgent need to address this issue to restore environmental
balance in agriculture.
8. Small credit and saving groups should be formed at the village
level to provide credit to farmers. This will reduce the dependency
of the farmers on the local moneylenders and middle-men for
credit who charge usurious interest rates. The role and the
functions of the existing government rural financial institutions like

Agricultural Credit Co-operative Societies should be re-addressed

to cater to the needs of the small and marginal farmers.
9. An increasing number of small and marginal holdings on the one
hand and the expanding commercialisation of agriculture on the
other indicate the need for fine tuning of institutional support and
services so as to meet the needs of changing agriculture.
10. The slow growth of agriculture in Orissa is severely affected by
an unprecedented climatic condition and vagaries of nature.
Frequent occurrence of cyclones, floods, drought and complete
wash out of standing crops leave the farmers at the border line of
survival. They adversely affect their purchasing power and
expansion of home market, let alone national and international
markets. There should be effective measures to control these
natural calamities.

To sum up, the economy of the poor people is principally dependent on
agriculture in Orissa. At the same time, the land ownership structure in
Orissa is highly unequal. The highly unequal distribution of means of
production and land-man ratio, inadequate investment in agricultural
infrastructure and industry and slow agricultural modernisation followed
by near stagnation of agriculture have resulted in the slow economic
growth, abject poverty and starvation in Orissa. Therefore, there is
always a need to address the agricultural problems at the micro-level,
more particularly the issue of small, marginal poor farmers and
agricultural labourers. At the same time, unless infrastructural facilities
are adequately developed and provided at the time of need, we cannot
envisage any development for agricultural sector in Orissa. This can be
possible through more viable and radical agrarian reforms in Orissa. A
major objective of agricultural policy must be to provide the maximum
technical and institutional support to the small farmers.

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