In this article we will discuss about the problems of agricultural labour.

Agricultural labour constitutes the bulk; of the unorganised rural labour in India. Out of an estimated total workforce of 245 million the unorganised labour constitutes 115 million with an annual rate of increase of 2.5 percent an agricultural labour according to the national commission on labour, “is one who is basically unskilled and unorganized and has little for his livelihood other than personal labour.”

Persons whose main sources of income are wage employment come under this category. This may also include the attached labourers, casual labourers, share cropper and lease holders. As a community, the agricultural labourers are extremely poor everywhere.

Their wages are much lower than that of industrial labour. Though in money terms, the wages of an agricultural labour have increased by 50 to 65 percent in the last one decade the real wage has actually declined by about 10 to 20 percent because of the rise in the prices of essential commodities.


The seasonal character of employment where a casual male labourer is employed on waged for about 150 days in a year, a female labourer for 130 days. Further reduces the yearly income of these households resulting society the agricultural labourers are economically weak and politically powerless, and as a result they fail to reap the benefits of growth due to them, while this situation facilitates the rich to exploit and grow at the cost of the poor.

During the Post-independence period the ranks of agricultural labour continued to swell. They were 27.5 million in 1961 and 31.5 million in 1961. According to censes of 1971 the number of agricultural workers was 47.5 million which increased to 55.5 million in 1981. The number of agricultural labourers further rose to 66.0 million in 1991 and 106.8 million in 2001.

The proportion of agricultural workers to the total number of workers is not uniform throughout the country. Against the all India average of 25.16 percent of the proportion of agricultural workers to total workers was as small as 0.86 percent in major part of agricultural workers do not possess any land.

As per the 32nd round of the NSS about 51.37 percent of agricultural labour households are landless. Agricultural labour remains unemployed for a major part of the year. The household income and con­sumption expenditure of an average agricultural households are precariously balanced, and that too when it finds some work. The money wages of agricultural labour are extremely low. The standard of living of agricultural labour is degrading.


There are number of factors responsible for the continuous and enormous increase in the number of agricultural labours in India, Agriculture constitute a large section of the rural population in India.

They are drawn from the socially and economically backward classes and constitute the poorest section of the rural hierarchy. They are also a less articulate section of the workers mainly due to lack of organization and low levels of education. There has been a large increase in the number and proportion of agricultural in the rural work force and of agricultural labour households among all rural households.

In the post-independence India, the primary impetus to the growth in the ranks of agricultural labourers has come from the land reform programme. The net effect of the implementation of land reform laws on the labouring class has been, as Utsa Patnaik puts it, “to perpetuate the old, semi-feudal forms of bonded and attached labour or an increasingly more monetised basis while providing an impetus towards capitalistic production and profit.”

Among the other causes that account for the rapid multiplication in the ranks of agricultural labour and their present degrading economic situation the following factors are responsible.


A rapid growth of populations is the primary cause. However, development has produced at a slow pace and it has not been possible to provide employment to the increasing population in areas other than agricultural.

The increasing indebtedness of small farmer in rural areas is also responsible for increasing the number of agricultural labourers. The process of subdivision and fragmentation of holding has continued unabated for a long period of time.

This has rendered a large number of holdings uneconomic and they are forced to work on the farms of zamidars as agricultural laborers to supplement their income from land. The decline of village handicraft and cottage industries has rendered many craftsman jobless and they were forced to seek employment as agricultural labourers in the country-side.

In the last three decades many developments in farm sector were given boost to capitalistic type of farming in the country. The gains of green revolution, availability of cheap co-operative credit, government price support and so on have all created conditions favourable to the development of capitalistic farming. This has to wage employment for those who find no other source of livelihood.

In-fact in some of the prosperous states development of capitalist farming has led to large scale migration of agricultural labour from relatively back ward states or the country.

The possibility cannot be ruled out that in the future development of capitalist farming may force more and more tenants to leave land and start working as agricultural labourers. The increased share of agricultural labour households is not due to pauperization of peasantry, but is more due to shift unpaid workers from small cultivator families to better paid agricultural labour.