Copyright@shravan charity mission

Livelihood is the means by which a person or household makes a decent living over a period of time. ‘Livelihood Security’ has been defined differently by various institutions, entities, and scholars. In a broad sense, it implies dignity, in a secure and just society. Being able to withstand stresses of death, disease, natural disasters or even economic slumps.

It means adequate and sustainable access to income and resources to meet basic needs. Including adequate access to food, potable water, health facilities, educational opportunities, housing and time for community participation and social integration. As said by W. Somerset Maugham, ‘There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one’s means of livelihood.’

Swaminathan (1991) has defined sustainable livelihood security as, ‘livelihood options that are ecologically secure, economically efficient and socially equitable in order to underscore three aspects- ecology, economics and equity.’

In simple terms, job and income are the most critical components of ‘Livelihoods.’


With 60% of India’s population employed in the agriculture sector, that contributes only 15% to India’s currently sulking GDP, challenges of livelihood security in India are getting more and more complex each day. Farm based jobs have remained stagnant due to structural changes in the Indian economy. The share of primary sector in GDP has progressively declined from 26% to 15% between 1998 and 2013. While, the share of the rural population, which was dependent on this sector, has reduced only marginally. This means India’s development models have to be robust enough to deliver dignity of life and sustainability of livelihoods at a scale. And in a pluralistic context that cannot be compared to any other country in the world.


India is a land of small farmers. According to Agri-Census 2000-01. Out of around 120 million total land households in the country, there are an estimated 98 million small and marginal holdings. The average size of small holdings is 1.4 ha which has squared down from 2.3 ha in 1971-72. The small holding character of Indian agriculture is much more prominent today than ever before. Though from efficiency point of view, small holdings are equal or better than large holdings. Poverty for small holding farmers is much higher than other farmers as small holdings do not raise enough agricultural income, so as to lift the marginal and small farm households above poverty level.


Education and skills are important for improving farming practices, investment and productivity. The low level of farmers’ education limits public dissemination of knowledge. The NSS Farmers’ survey shows that awareness about bio-fertilizers, minimum support prices and WTO is associated with education levels.

The literacy rate and mean years of education for unorganized farm workers is 53.4% compared to national average literacy of 74%.


Access to finance is critical for empowerment of rural communities. Though various initiatives have been taken by the Government and civil society organizations to mobilize the poor into self help groups (SHGs) and provide micro credit, much needs to be achieved. And as per the NSSO 59th round results:

  • 4% of farmer households are financially excluded from both formal and informal sources.
  • Overall, 73% of farmer households have no access to formal sources of credit.


Increasing globalization has added to the problems faced by the small holding agriculture. The policies of huge subsidies and protection policies by developed countries have negative effects on small holding farmers in developing countries.


Out of the estimated 70 million rural below poverty line (BPL) households, 45 million households still need to be organized into SHGs. A significant number of these households are extremely vulnerable. In the absence of aggregate institutions for the poor, such as SHG federations, the poor households could not access higher order support services for productivity enhancement, marketing linkage, risk management among others. Most of the SHGs remain crowded in low productivity and primary sector activities.


ICT can play a significant role in taking best livelihood practices to the rural poor. However, absorption of technology remains poor in the countryside primarily due to lack of basic IT infrastructure, poor penetration of the internet and lack of awareness. Though mobile penetration has been robust, rural internet penetration has been estimated at just 6.7% in December 2013. There is a huge scope for open source software technology suitable for low resource settings especially for the under privileged communities.


There are 400 million women who constitute 33% of the total population of India as per Census of India 2011. Land, in a rural agrarian economy is the source of food security, income and credit power. On the other hand, Indian agriculture is being progressively feminized with women doing the bulk of work. While 63% of India’s rural male work force is engaged in agriculture, the figure is as high as 79% for women. Women are increasingly engaging in pre-production, production and post-production activities abandoning the taboo associated with women ploughing the fields. Average farm labour by women in rural production is 55-66% of the total labour.

In contrast to the large proportion of farm labour contributed by women, only 9.3% of rural women actually own land. In most of the landless and semi-landless families, women and children suffer from acute poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. 83% of women engaged in agriculture don’t own the land. Since women don’t own land, they are not recognized as ‘farmers’ in Indian agricultural policy even though they are working on it full time- thus labour on their own land.


There is extreme dearth of qualified professionals willing to work in livelihood programs. Though management graduates can develop competency to handle livelihood projects. They are generally wired towards running businesses rather than managing livelihood issues which are connected with heterogeneous stakeholders and participants. Therefore, a special thrust to entice skilled professionals to work in this field will be a key challenge for the Government.


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