How and why farmers lose their land

Bharat Dogra

In many countries with varying levels of development, a large number of farmers have been losing their land , sometimes to the extent of even losing their status as independent landowning farmers. Various economic, technological, social, political, legal and other factors are involved, and one is hesitant to generalize or oversimplify a complex situation. Nevertheless this much can be stated without fear of contradiction that economic and technological factors pushed by big business and exploiter elements are often responsible as a very important reason for small and medium farmers losing their land.
In India according to the census of 2001 there were 127.3 million ( 1273 lakh) landowning farmers. According to 2011 census there were 118.7 million farmers. In other words in a decade’s time the number of landowning farmers in India decreased by 8.6 million ( 86 lakh). This is a huge decline. As in other countries several factors are responsible, but a big role is that of exploiters of farmers as well as the big business and imperialist interests which manipulate government policy to suit their interests and impose such technologies and systems which are most likely to increase costs, risks, debts and dependence of farmers, pushing them towards parting with their land.
This is of course never stated in any policy document that farmers have to give up their land, but the most likely impact of what is pushed by big business, imperialist and exploiter elements is that a large number of farmers end up parting with their land due to the debts and other pressures created for farmers, related to wrong technologies and policies imposed on them by clever talk and manipulation.
This should be kept in mind while discussing some controversies relating to three highly debated farm laws in India recently. These laws together prepare the ground for a big increase of big business grip on farming and food system of India. However the government has stated , strongly and rightly, that there is no specific clause of these laws which asks for taking over the land of any farmer and in fact it is even clarified in law that takeover of land of farmer is not intended in the new law, for example law relating to contract farming. However when TV interviewers ask protesting ordinary farmers about their objections to the new laws some of them frequently say that their land is threatened.
These objections and fears of ordinary farmers need to be understood in the context of the wider threats that increased dominance of big business interests on farming and food systems bring. These generate pressures which create conditions, over a period of time, for farmers losing their land. What farmers are saying is that the factors which led to the loss of land by 8.6 million farmers ( 86 lakh ) farmers within 10 years or 3650 days, are likely to be accentuated and strengthened with the three recent controversial farm laws which increase greatly the grip of big trader and big business interests over the farming and food system in India. This is how the fears and grievances of farmers in this particular context have to be understood, but this understanding is not possible in a clause to clause reading of the three laws, and therefore comprehensive wider understanding of such issues, as emphasized by farmers’ organizations and supported by several public-spirited experts, is needed.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His reporting from rural areas has received several awards. His recent books include ‘Man Over Machine’ and ‘Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and The Struggle Against Tehri Dam Project in Garhwal Himalaya.