Reverse migration – shifting back to the agricultural sector | 31st December 2022 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the trend of reverse migration of labourers from manufacturing to the agricultural sector.


  • GS3: Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning, Mobilization of Resources, Growth, Development and Employment.


  • India still is one of the few examples left in the world of an enormous population still largely dependent on agriculture.
  • There has been a shift of the population away from agriculture towards industry and service employment.
  • A rapid shift from agriculture to non-farm employment resulted in a fall in the absolute number of poor by nearly 140 million between 2004 and 2012.
  • This process, however, is currently in reverse.
  • Workers are leaving the factories and non-farm employment and shifting back to agriculture again.
  • This has serious implications for living standards and merits policy intervention.
  • The latest National Statistical Office’s Periodic Labour Force Survey for 2020-21 (July-June) shows a significant increase in the share of employment in agriculture—at 46.5%, up from 44% in 2017-18.
  • This amounts to 39 million people back in agriculture.
  • Most of them came from manufacturing (mostly unorganised), transport, storage and communication activities in the towns and cities.

Reasons for the reverse migration:

  • The proximate causes include the weakening of economic growth since FY 18 to the Covid-related contraction of GDP in FY21.
  • At a time when organised sector employment growth is sluggish, if not contracting, the brunt of adjustment is borne by the low-paying unorganised or informal sector that includes self-employment and casual odd jobbing.
  • Manufacturing employment contracted from 2016 to 2019 for the first time in India’s post-1991 history.
  • Together with the lockdown, this triggered a massive reverse migration back to the farms.
  • Migration has not fully reverted back to the cities as the latest PLFS shows 9 million additional people working in agriculture.

Way Forward:

  • From a policy standpoint, focusing on an agenda to create more productive jobs out of agriculture, especially in labour-intensive manufacturing, should be a topmost priority as the growing numbers of people living off the land has adverse distributional outcomes.
  • The sector is passing through a crisis as the average size of land holdings is getting more fragmented over time due to the pressure of population.
  • Farming at the margin is getting more unviable. If fewer jobs are created outside agriculture, more will be forced to stay in this sector, increasing the pressure on land and lowering farmer incomes.
  • Social strains are bound to intensify if the process of structural transformation doesn’t get underway again

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