Agriculture is a labor intensive production process, it depends on huge manpower and draft animal power. Nearly 55% of Indian labor force is engaged in agriculture who are contributing to the development of rural economy. Over the past couple of decades the farm labor has been decreasing in agriculture which was caused by occupational change, people mindset, government policies and reforms. As the share of agriculture to GDP has been declining the agriculture work force is also moving to non agriculture sectors.
The Labor scarcity is the biggest threat to Indian agriculture due to urbanized life style, low farm wages, irregular employment in villages and laborious nature of work. Lot of unemployed rural youth moving to other well-paid occupations since farming is a physical drudgery, also the farm work has prejudiced as low profile profession. So the traditional farmers are forced to discard the food crops due to non availability and high wages of farm workers, farmers are switching to less labor intensive farming like short term commercial crops and social forestry plantations.
The intention of rural employment schemes are good, they have been creating employment to rural work force with prevailing wages. But the small and marginal farmers are incapable to pay such a bargain wages which are equal to government schemes, sometimes the availability of the farm labor is less in the crop season since all of the rural work force have engaged in the scheme works.
I am not going to blame the NREG and Food for work programs for diverting the rural labor to public works or non farm work, but the works schedules should be planned according to village priorities. The rural employment schemes should be halted whenever the work force is required for agriculture needs, especially in Kharif and Rabi seasons, Grama panchayath intervention must be required to synchronize the rural labor force.
Farm equipment is also necessary to overcome the labor shortage problem. Large scale farmers are able to adopt the new technologies and equipments since they have large crop area and strong financial power, but the small and marginal farmers are still depend on manpower. The farm equipment manufacturers should produce small scale farm machines, technology awareness has to be created among the farmers. The banks have to give the long term loans to farmers to buy farm equipment and the government should promote the innovative farm equipment, subsidies should be granted to the farmers on such equipments.
Some people often think that the farm labor is dirt cheap, now it’s very expensive. May be in near future the Indian farm labor is also going to be organized by companies like how the security professionals or industrial labor supplied on contract basis in cities. In Americas and Europe, lot of agencies are offering farm services like planting, chemical spraying, harvesting and haying with modern equipment. We never know... it could happen in India also.