New Delhi: Small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land account for 86.2% of all farmers in India, but own just 47.3% of the crop area, according to provisional numbers from the 10th agriculture census 2015-16 released on Monday.

In comparison, semi-medium and medium land holding farmers owning between 2-10 hectares of land account for 13.2% of all farmers, but own 43.6% of crop area, the survey showed.

Overall, the survey showed that while Indian farms became more fragmented between 2010-11 and 2015-16, holdings continue to be inequitably distributed.

During this period the proportion of small and marginal farmers grew from 84.9% to 86.2%, while the total number of operational holdings grew from 138 million to 146 million.

The total area under farming, however, fell from 159.6 million hectares in 2010-11 to 157.14 million hectares in 2015-16.

The existence of a large number of small and marginal farmers, close to 126 million according to the survey, means it is challenging for the government’s extension arms to reach them with new technology and farm support schemes.

Further, these 126 million farmers together owned about 74.4 million hectares of land —or an average holding of just 0.6 hectares each—not enough to produce surpluses which can financially sustain their families, explaining the rising distress in Indian agriculture.

Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of small and marginal farms rose by about 9 million, the survey showed.

For all farmers put together, the size of average land holding declined from 1.15 hectares in 2010-11 to 1.08 hectares in 2015-16.

“The rise in the number of small and marginal farmers signifies that the rest of the economy is unable to absorb the surplus... India has to live with its small-sized farms for the next two decades and the way out is to provide them access to the best technology and markets, the way China did it," according to Ashok Gulati, an agriculture chair professor at the New Delhi-based Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations.

Gulati added that small farms can be economically viable through diversification into high-value crops and massive capital investments in value chains.

State-wise data from the survey showed that Uttar Pradesh accounted for the largest number of operational holdings or farmers at 23.8 million followed by Bihar (16.4 million) and Maharashtra (14.7 million).

Among operated or farmed areas, Rajasthan topped the list with 20.9 million hectares, followed by Maharashtra (19.9 million hectares) and Uttar Pradesh (17.45 million hectares).

The survey also showed that the proportion of farms that are operated by women rose from 12.8% in 2010-11 to 13.9% in 2015-16, signifying that more women are managing farm operations.

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