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Poverty decline, agricultural wages, and nonfarm employment in rural India: 1983-2004

  • Peter Lanjouw
  • Rinku Murgai

We analyze five rounds of National Sample Survey data covering 1983, 1987/1988, 1993/1994, 1999/2000, and 2004/2005 to explore the relationship between rural diversification and poverty. Poverty in rural India has declined at a modest rate during this time period. We provide region-level estimates that illustrate considerable geographic heterogeneity in this progress. Poverty estimates correlate well with region-level NSS data on changes in agricultural wage rates. Agricultural labor remains the preserve of the uneducated and also to a large extent of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. We show that while agricultural labor grew as a share of total economic activity over the first four rounds, it had fallen back to the levels observed at the beginning of our survey period by 2004. This all-India trajectory also masks widely varying trends across states. During this period, the rural nonfarm sector has grown modestly, mainly between the last two survey rounds. Regular nonfarm employment remains largely associated with education levels and social status that are rare among the poor. However, casual labor and self-employment in the nonfarm sector reveals greater involvement by disadvantaged groups in 2004 than in the preceding rounds. The implication of this for poverty is not immediately clear-the poor may be "pushed" into low-return casual nonfarm activities due to lack of opportunities in the agricultural sector rather than being "pulled" by high returns offered by the nonfarm sector. Econometric estimates reveal that expansion of the nonfarm sector is associated with falling poverty via two routes: a direct impact on poverty that is likely due to a pro-poor marginal incidence of nonfarm employment expansion; and an indirect impact attributable to the positive effect of nonfarm employment growth on agricultural wages. The analysis also confirms the important contribution to rural poverty reduction from agricultural productivity, availability of land, and consumption levels in proximate urban areas. Copyright (c) 2009 International Association of Agricultural Economists.

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Article provided by International Association of Agricultural Economists in its journal Agricultural Economics.

Volume (Year): 40 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2 (03)
Pages: 243-263

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Handle: RePEc:bla:agecon:v:40:y:2009:i:2:p:243-263
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  1. Ravallion, Martin & Datt, Gaurav, 1996. "How Important to India's Poor Is the Sectoral Composition of Economic Growth?," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(1), pages 1-25, January.
  2. Ravallion, Martin & Datt, Gaurav, 1999. "When is growth pro-poor? Evidence from the diverse experiences of India's states," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2263, The World Bank.
  3. Datt, Gaurav & Ravallion, Martin, 1998. "Why Have Some Indian States Done Better Than Others at Reducing Rural Poverty?," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 17-38, February.
  4. Ravallion, Martin & Datt, Gaurav, 2002. "Why has economic growth been more pro-poor in some states of India than others?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 381-400, August.
  5. Gaurav Datt & Valerie Kozel & Martin Ravallion, 2003. "A Model-Based Assessment of India's Progress in Reducing Poverty in the 1990s," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-32, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  6. (No last name available), Himanshu, 2013. "Poverty and Food Security in India," ADB Economics Working Paper Series 369, Asian Development Bank.
  7. Foster, Andrew D & Rosenzweig, Mark R, 2004. "Agricultural Productivity Growth, Rural Economic Diversity, and Economic Reforms: India, 1970-2000," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(3), pages 509-42, April.
  8. Yoko Kijima & Lanjouw, Peter, 2003. "Poverty in India during the1990s - a regional perspective," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3141, The World Bank.
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