Diversification Into Productive Activities

Diversification includes two aspects –

  • one relates to diversification of crop production and
  • the other relates to a shift of workforce from agriculture to other allied activities (livestock, poultry, fisheries etc.) and non-agriculture sector.

The need for diversification arises from the fact that there is greater risk in depending exclusively on farming for livelihood. Diversification towards new areas is necessary not only to reduce the risk from agriculture sector but also to provide productive sustainable livelihood options to rural people. Much of the agricultural employment activities are concentrated in the Kharif season. But during the Rabi season, in areas where there are inadequate irrigation facilities, it becomes difficult to find gainful employment. Therefore expansion into other sectors is essential to provide supplementary gainful employment and in realising higher levels of income for rural people to overcome poverty and other tribulations. Here the focus will be only on allied activities, non-farm employment and other emerging alternatives of livelihood, though there are many other options available for providing sustainable livelihoods in rural areas.

As agriculture is already overcrowded, a major proportion of the increasing labour force needs to find alternate employment opportunities in other non-farm sectors. Non-farm economy has several segments in it; some possess dynamic linkages that permit healthy growth while others are in subsistence, low productivity propositions. The dynamic sub-sectors include agro-processing industries, food processing industries, leather industry, tourism, etc. Those sectors which have the potential but seriously lack infrastructure and other support include traditional household-based industries like pottery, crafts, hand-looms etc. Though majority of rural women find employment in agriculture with men looking for non-farm employment, in recent times, women have also begun to look for non-farm jobs.

Tamil Nadu Women In Agriculture (TANWA)

Tamil Nadu Women in Agriculture (TANWA) is a project initiated in Tamil Nadu to train women in latest agricultural techniques. It induces women to actively participate in raising agricultural productivity and family income. At a Farm Women’s Group in Thiruchirapalli, run by Anthoniammal, trained women are successfully making and selling vermicompost and earning money from this venture. Many other Farm Women’s Groups are creating savings in their group by functioning like mini banks through a micro-credit system. With the accumulated savings, they promote small-scale household activities like mushroom cultivation, soap manufacture, doll making or other income generating activities.


Animal Husbandry

In India, the farming community uses the mixed crop-livestock farming system — cattle, goats, fowl are the widely held species. Livestock production provides increased stability in income, food security, transport, fuel and nutrition for the family without disrupting other food-producing activities. Today, livestock sector alone provides alternate livelihood options to over 70 million small and marginal farmers including landless labourers. A significant number of women also find employment in the livestock sector.


Above chart shows the distribution of livestock in India. Poultry accounts for the largest share with 42 per cent followed by others. Other animals which include camels, asses, horses, ponies and mules are in the lowest rung. India had about 287 million cattle, including 90 million buffaloes, in 1997. Performance of the Indian dairy sector over the last three decades has been quite impressive. Milk production in the country has increased by more than four times between 1960-2002. This can be attributed mainly to the successful implementation of ‘Operation Flood’ from 1966 onwards; it is a system whereby all the farmers can pool their milk produce according to different grading (based on quality) and the same is processed and marketed to urban centres through cooperatives. In this system the farmers are assured of a fair price and income from the supply of milk to urban markets. Gujarat state is held as a success story in the efficient implementation of milk cooperatives which has been emulated by many states. Meat, eggs, wool and other by-products are also emerging as important productive sectors for diversification.


The fishing community regards the water body as ‘mother’ or ‘provider’. The water bodies consisting of seas, oceans, rivers, lakes, natural aquatic ponds, streams etc. are, therefore, an integral and life-giving source for the fishing community.

In India, after progressive increase in budgetary allocations and introduction of new technologies in fisheries and aquaculture, the development of fisheries has come a long way.

  • Presently, fish production from inland sources contributes about 49 per cent to the total fish production and
  • the balance 51 per cent comes from the marine sector (seas and oceans).
  • Today total fish production accounts for 1.4 per cent of the total GDP.

Among states, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are the major producers of marine products. The overall socio-economic status of fishermen is comparatively lower than that of other backward sectors of our economy. Rampant underemployment, low per capita earnings, absence of mobility of labour to other sectors and a high rate of illiteracy and indebtedness are some of the major problems faced by these communities. Even though women are not involved in active fishing, about 60 per cent of the workforce in export marketing and 40 per cent in internal marketing are women. There is a need to increase credit facilities —cooperatives and SHGs — for fisher-women to meet the working capital requirements for marketing.


Blessed with a varying climate and soil conditions, India has adopted growing of diverse horticultural crops such as fruits, vegetables, tuber crops, flowers, medicinal and aromatic plants, spices and plantation crops. These crops play a vital role in providing food and nutrition, besides addressing employment concerns. The period between 1991-2003 is also called an effort to heralding a ‘Golden Revolution’ because during this period, the planned investment in horticulture became highly productive and the sector emerged as a sustainable livelihood option.

India has emerged as a world leader in producing a variety of fruits like mangoes, bananas, coconuts, cashew nuts and a number of spices and is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables.

Economic condition of many farmers engaged in horticulture has improved and it has become a means of improving livelihood for many unprivileged classes too. Flower harvesting, nursery maintenance, hybrid seed production and tissue culture, propagation of fruits and flowers and food processing are highly remunerative employment options for women in rural areas. It has been estimated that this sector provides employment to around 19 per cent of the total labour force.


Though, in terms of numbers, our livestock population is quite impressive but its productivity is quite low as compared to other countries. It requires improved technology and promotion of good breeds of animals to enhance productivity. Improved veterinary care and credit facilities to small and marginal farmers and landless labourers would enhance sustainable livelihood options through livestock production. Production of fisheries has already increased substantially.

However problems related to overfishing and pollution need to be regulated and controlled. Welfare programmes for the fishing community have to be reoriented in a manner which can provide long-term gains and sustenance of livelihoods. Horticulture has emerged as a successful sustainable livelihood option and needs to be encouraged significantly. Enhancing its role requires investment in infrastructure like electricity, cold storage systems, marketing linkages, small-scale processing units and technology improvement and dissemination.


Other Alternate Livelihood Options

IT has revolutionised many sectors in the Indian economy. There is broad consensus that IT will play a critical role in achieving sustainable development and food security in the twenty-first century.

Many examples justify this observation –

  • The ability of governments to predict areas of food insecurity and vulnerability using appropriate information and software tools so that action can be taken to prevent or reduce the likelihood of an emergency.
  • IT also has a positive impact on the agriculture sector as it disseminates information regarding emerging technologies and its applications, prices, weather and soil conditions for growing different crops etc.
  • Most importantly, IT has ushered in a knowledge economy that is a thousand times more powerful than the industrial revolution.

Though IT is, by itself, no catalyst of change but it can act as a tool for releasing the creative potential and knowledge embedded in our people. It also has potential of employment generation in rural areas. Experiments with IT and its application to rural development are carried out in different parts of India.

Every Village — A Knowledge Centre

M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, an institution located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, with support from Sri Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai, has established the Jamshedji Tata National Virtual Academy for Rural Prosperity. The Academy envisaged to identify a million grassroot knowledge workers who will be enlisted as Fellows of the Academy. The programme provides an info-kiosk (PC with Internet and video conferencing facility, scanner, photocopiers, etc.) at a low-cost and trains the kiosk owner; the owner then provides different services and tries to earn a reasonable income. The Government of India has decided to join the alliance by providing financial support of Rs 100 crore.


Bibliography : NCERT – Indian Economic Development



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