International Year of Family Farming: New Bill in India May Combat Rural Poverty with Micro-Plots

A new bill in India could provide small parcels of farmland to rural landless families. (F. Fiondella (IRI/CCAFS) via CGIAR Climate)

The United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) to highlight the importance of family and smallholder farmers. Food Tank is partnering with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to commemorate IYFF, and will feature weekly posts and other media highlighting the innovations that family farmers are using to alleviate hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation along with the campaigns and policies that support them.

Currently, according to the National Service Scheme of India (NSS), approximately 15 million rural families in India have no land - instead, they are working as tenant farmers or crowding into another family's plot. A new bill on the table in India, the National Right to Homestead Bill, may provide micro-plots to many of India’s poorest rural citizens. 

Land ownership and access is linked with a number of positive outcomes, including improved nutrition and food security and increased income and social status. The converse is also known: rural poverty is principally influenced by lack of access to land, but that can be ameliorated even by a small parcel of land about one-tenth of an acre, popularly known as micro-plots. Micro-plots are not intended to provide for an entire family, but rather to be a supplemental source of income and food, as well as a boost in social status, especially for women. The Landesa Rural Development Institute, in partnership with the Indian national and state governments, has already undertaken an initiative to provide micro-plots for 2 million landless families in India.

Landesa’s founder, Roy L. Prosterman, recently wrote in The Times of India: Crest Edition that this bill is not classic land reform. The land that is provided would be mostly public land, and any private land will be purchased with cash at full market value. The total amount of land, 1.8 million acres, is less than one-half of one percent of farmable land in India. 

The socioeconomic benefits of micro-plots have been tested on a smaller scale in the Indian states of Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha, and Karnataka, with the help of Landesa.

India’s Union Cabinet is in the process of approving the National Right to Homestead Bill. If it is approved, it will be submitted to the Indian Parliament for another vote. If the bill succeeds and the program is enacted correctly, it could be a massive blow against poverty for India’s rural citizens.

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