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the great rural land grab

For the longest time, the price of farmland in Vadicherla stayed below Rs 20,000 an acre.Ten years ago, that began to change. “In 2003, an acre cost Rs 25,000. By 2006-07, it had climbed to Rs 2 lakhs,” says Byru Veeraiah, sarpanch of this village in Andhra Pradesh’s Mehbubnagar district, “By 2010, an acre cost Rs 3 lakh. And Rs 12 lakh by 2012.” It was a puzzling spike. This village with its 700-odd families is nowhere near big cities. Warangal, the nearest big town, is 50 kilometres away. Nor is it close to any highway. The Vijayawada-Hyderabad highway is a good 15 kilometres away. Nor is any farmland in the village or its vicinity being acquired by the government or companies.

Vadicherla is not alone. In the last ten years, the price of an acre in Ramavarapadu, a village next to Vijayawada, has leapt from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 7 crore. Or take Mardi, 15 kilometres off Solapur, Maharashtra. The price of an acre in this village, says Prakash Arjun Kate, a local, has “climbed from Rs 20,000-25,000 ten years ago to Rs 10 lakh now.”

Ramavarapadu, Vadicherla and Mardi are not isolated instances. Microstudies and anecdotal information suggest almost all of rural India is seeing a similar climb in farmland prices. If the trend suggested by the villages — and the microstudies and other anecdotal inputs — is indeed correct, then a large change is playing out in rural areas — their farmland markets are getting activated.

And the question is: Why now? And why are markets across the country waking up at the same time? And what does this mean for food security, rural livelihoods, migration patterns, you name it?

For all that, see story one: on the reasons for this spike, and its implications for farmers, food production and suchlike.

(Also see the next post: story two, on the quantum of land leaving agriculture)

ps – while on the question about the fallouts of such escalations on village india, i cannot help remembering my year at tihi (see this and this), a village in malwa, madhya pradesh, near indore, studying the village level impact of itc’s e-choupal project. it was an enlightening time. in part because tihi was a village in flux. it was close to the industrial cluster of pithampur. it was close to indore, one of the major industrial cities in madhya pradesh. abutting, as it did, the road linking pithampur and indore, tihi was seeing a lot of schools, factories, what have you, coming up on that road. what amplified those trends for the village were two other factors. one, the bombay-agra bypass was cutting thru the village fields to the north-west. and then, there was a proposed rail line for cargo. between them all, land rates in the village were rising fast. they stood at about Rs 44 lakhs to a bigha when i got to tihi. A couple of years later, they stood at a crore.

this change had epic impacts on the village. the younger son of the richest farmer in the village became a land broker. other villagers, especially the youngsters, began trying to copy his example. and began talking to other villagers asking them if they wanted to sell land. with each kid telling farmers to come to them if they wanted to sell. “i will get you a good rate”, etc. there were other changes. villagers confused by the rapid changes around them began yielding to what their kids — more in sync with the processes at work if foolhardy and impulsive about the desire to sell land — said. households began diversifying their livelihoods. working as labour in pithampur, etc. this was, of course, as contract labour. which suggested an uncertain future. i remember how suspicious some villagers were towards me — some right till the end, suspecting i was there to buy land for the company or something.

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