According to the State of World Population report, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and the number is steadily growing every year. India, where the majority of the population is still dependent on agriculture, is no exception to this trend. As per the census, the level of urbanization in India has increased from 27.81% in 2001 to 31.16% in 2011. Urbanization in India is a consequence of demographic explosion and poverty-induced rural-urban migration.
The Economic Survey of India 2017 estimates that the magnitude of inter-state migration in India was close to 9 million annually between 2011 and 2016, while Census 2011 pegs the total number of internal migrants in the country (accounting for inter- and intra-state movement) at a staggering 139 million. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the biggest source states, followed closely by Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal; the major destination states are Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka.
Vulnerabilities faced by seasonal migrants
Seasonal migrants dominate the low-paying, hazardous and informal market jobs in key sectors in urban destinations, such as construction, hotel, textile, manufacturing, transportation, services, domestic work etc.
They have poor access to health services, which results in very poor occupational health. Since they cannot afford private hospitals, they often go back to their villages once they fall sick. This affects their employment opportunities, as well as the loss of wages. A large number of migrants find work as unskilled laborers since they enter the job market at a very early age, experience no upward mobility and remain stuck in the most unskilled, poorly paid and hazardous jobs for their whole work-life span. As depicted in the graphic below detailing the economic lifestyle of migrant workers in south Rajasthan, this has severe inter-generational implications, transferring vulnerability, poor health and low level of skills from the parents to children.
Vulnerabilities of the migrant workforce
In an unorganized and chaotic labor market, migrant workers regularly face conflicts and disputes at worksites. The common issues they face are non-payment of wages, physical abuse, accidents, and even death. The existing legal machinery is not sensitive to the nature of legal disputes in the unorganized sector. Many informal sector disputes never make their way to labor courts or keep languishing in courts for lack of proof.
The cities were built on the hard labor and exploitation of migrant workers, but they never entered the consciousness of the architects; instead, they are considered part of the problem in cities. The political class ignores them because they don’t count as votes, especially in the case of inter-state migrants. Due to their mobile nature, they don’t find any place in the manifestos of trade unions. They spend their whole day on worksites and silently sneak into perilous shelters at night, without the cities even noticing them.
Agricultural production is critical for achieving food security since close to 99 percent of food consumed is supplied by agriculture. Agriculture, on the other hand, is already under stress from environmental degradation, climate change, and an increased conversion of land for non-agricultural activities. Furthermore, the shift in population centers arising from migration has accelerated the triple burden of malnutrition—the coexistence of hunger (insufficient caloric intake to meet dietary energy requirements), undernutrition (prolonged inadequate intake of macro- and micronutrients), and over-nutrition in the form of overweight and obesity. Migrants to urban centers face challenges around accessing nutritious food, adequate employment, social protection, housing and, water and sanitation facilities. This poses additional challenges to the government to ensure not only livelihood security for the population but also tackle challenges pertaining to food and nutrition security.
The consequence of migration also throws open opportunities for food security, sustainable agriculture, and rural development. For instance, loss in human capital and agricultural labor may have negative impacts on crop production and food availability. At the same time, traditional food value chains are being transformed to meet the demands from urban centers. Increased commercial flows of agricultural goods, diet transformation, and the evolution of commercial markets in meeting urban food demand are causing food value chains to evolve. The growing use of modern inputs, information and communication technologies, and linking rural producers to wealthy urban consumers are important aspects of these changing trends.
A sustainable solution to the issue of migration must focus on fostering rural-urban economic linkages; enhancing and diversifying rural employment opportunities, especially for women and youth; enabling the poor to better manage risks through social protection; and leveraging remittances for investments in the rural sector as viable means for improving livelihoods and alleviating distress- induced migration.
Sustainable agriculture and rural development offer us a way to tackle the root causes of migration including poverty, hunger, inequality, unemployment environmental degradation, and climate change, which together form a nexus. Keeping this in mind, Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) has been playing a catalytic role in partnering with international financing institutions and state governments assisting them to design agricultural and rural development projects that brings crucial investment, technologies, and knowledge sharing to rural areas of the country. With time, the population that continues to be employed in agriculture will also need to adapt to changing technologies and markets. As has been demonstrated widely, technology can greatly alleviate the hardship of farming, and also help farmers adapt to the demands of the markets. It is, therefore, necessary to increase incomes of the agriculture workforce and productivity by focusing on the specialization of their skills, both in the production and post-production stages, like storage, packaging, and transportation to reduce waste and to enhance food safety.
With the hardships that small and marginal farmers have to endure, it is not hard to explain the exodus of a large youth population to the and not carry on their inherited occupation. Unless the hardship in farming is reduced and issues pertaining to health and nutrition and other social and physical infrastructure are not addressed holistically, migration will occur due to distress and not as a prudent choice.
By: K S Ashok Kumar MAA Integrators