Urbanisation: Pushing farmers out of fields

Various push and pull factors of urbanisation are driving the farmers in peri-urban Hyderabad out of their fields.
Agriculture is slowly vanishing from peri-urban areas. (Source: SaciWATERS)
Agriculture is slowly vanishing from peri-urban areas. (Source: SaciWATERS)

A dominant characteristic of a peri-urban site is its transition out of an agrarian economy due to industrialisation and urbanisation. This usually manifests in the form of agricultural land either left barren or sold for developmental activities and farmers and agricultural labourers looking for an alternative source of livelihood. One of our study villages, Mallampet presents a case in point.

The shift from agriculture is seen as a result of push or pull factors. In Mallampet, the shift has occurred through a combination of both. In the early 2000s, the Outer Ring Road (ORR) came up very close to Mallampet, with which came a flood of industrialisation and commercialisation in and around the village. At that point, a lot of farmers were enticed to sell their land for a lump sum. Considering farmers could take decades to make that amount of money through agriculture, it served as the strongest pull factor that attracted them out of agriculture.

An interview with a woman from an agricultural family revealed many causes for the decline in agriculture (also the push factors) as a domino effect of industrialisation and urbanisation. She said that the agriculture of the entire village was dependent on the lake--Kathua Cheruvu which they share with their neighbouring village Bowrampet--for irrigation. Soon after the ORR came up, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories set up a pharmaceutical unit in Mallampet. She says that in its initial days, this unit used to dispose its chemical waste into the lake. As a result, all the fish in the lake were poisoned. That year, nobody was able to produce any crop, although the land was cultivated the water completely burnt the saplings. After this incident, many more people started to sell their land to real estate ventures.

The same woman also talked about the various ways in which people were using their agricultural land. She said that a lot of farmers have given their land on lease, due to either the lack of finances to dig bore wells for irrigation or the lack of agricultural labour in the village. The individuals who take this land on lease, dig borewells and start extracting water to sell through tankers. This water is sold even outside the village to apartments and companies. There are a few plots of land from where people sell water, and these are adjacent to her agricultural land. Her perception is that ever since these people have begun selling water, the water in their borewells has also reduced. In addition to this, the panchayat had stopped releasing lake water for cultivation, as there are only a few parcels of land being cultivated currently in comparison to large chunks of vacant land sold to business ventures. She mentions that now they are finding it difficult to even sustain their agricultural practice. They have already shifted their cultivation from rice to maize, as maize requires less water. But even then, they are fighting a losing battle.

Agriculture for this family has now become a secondary source of livelihood and her husband and brother-in-law have already taken up jobs in private companies in order to make a stable income. They are of the opinion that the income from agriculture is absolutely insufficient to run their household. Hence, people are slowly moving out and just keeping their agricultural land as an asset.

This detour of the usage of water from agricultural to non-agricultural uses as an allied implication of state policy is inherently unjust. It serves as an impetus for the further privatisation of water on one hand and the phasing out of agriculture on the other. Water, which is essentially a public good, benefits a larger group of people when used as an input for food production. But its misappropriation towards uses that are benefitting only certain groups of people is transforming it into a private good. A secondary effect of this as observed in peri-urban areas is the marginalisation of the farming community and their employment in unskilled activities while dispossessing them of their access to land and water.

 

This is one from a series of blogs written by the researchers of SaciWATERs after their work on a two-and-a-half-year-long project titled "Ensuring Water Security in Metropolitan Hyderabad: A study of Hydrological Settings and Informal Institutional Dynamics" to understand the contribution of informal markets to the overall water security of metropolitan Hyderabad. 

 

 

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