MGNREGS had significant impact on agricultural productivity: Expert

The programme increased the wage significantly without crowding out private employment, said World Bank expert Klaus Deininger

GN Bureau | August 28, 2017


#MGNREGA   #employment   #agriculture   #World Bank   #wages  
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)

Results indicate that Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) had a significant impact on agricultural productivity, in part by supporting diversification, said World Bank expert Klaus Deininger.
 
“Evidence suggests that the program led to greater use of machinery and fertilizers, a shift beyond rice and wheat toward riskier crops not covered by government-imposed floor prices, and an increase in the intensity of cultivation (the number of seasons in which crops are grown during a year). Some of these effects may be explained by the program’s effects in in­creasing farmers’ liquidity. In addition, the rehabilitation of infrastructure and construction of new small-scale water conservation structures may have helped support more intensive land use, particularly the planting of a second or third crop beyond wheat or paddy,” wrote Deininger in a World Bank blog.
 
The blog “Understanding the effects of the world’s largest workfare program” said that MGNREGS impacts on agriculture have been relatively neglected. A recent paper by Deininger, Nagarajan, and Singh addresses this gap by focusing on the program’s effects on agricultural productivity as well as labor market outcomes.
 
 
Evidence on how workfare affects agricultural productivity matters not only for a better understanding of the MGNREGS intervention. It also has implications for the broader debate on the comparative merits of this type of approach. Workfare programs rely on work requirements as a screening device based on the assumption that such screening makes these programs a more cost-effective tool for social protection than, say, unconditional cash transfers. But such programs would be less desirable if they displaced existing workers rather than generating new jobs, if supply-side constraints were to reduce the ef­fectiveness of self-targeting, or if the work done had no productive value. Concerns have been raised about MGNREGS in each of these areas, said the blog
 
The programme offers unskilled employment, for up to 100 days a year per household, in projects to provide local productivity-enhancing infrastructure. Wages are set by statute, at rates that are equal for men and women and, it is hoped, not attractive enough to pre­vent effective self-targeting.
 
Workfare programs like MGNREGS can affect agricultural productivity through several channels. By using labor, they can affect wage rates and employment levels in the short term and produc­ers’ choice of technology and the capital intensity of production in the medium to long term. By providing implicit insurance against downside risk, in the form of predictable wage payments, they may allow poor farmers to increase investment or adopt crop portfolios with higher risk-return profiles. And by constructing or im­proving local infrastructure, they may increase agricultural productivity and thus boost returns to land and labor, the main assets of small farmers and the rural poor.
 
 
Results suggest that the program increased the wage significantly without crowding out private employment. Most of this increase can be attributed to higher wages in agriculture, which affected men and women about equally. Women also experienced an increase in nonagricultural wages, wrote Deininger who is lead economist, development research group, at the World Bank.
 
Analysis of the extent to which wage changes affected labor allocation points to insignificant impacts on agricultural wage work in the aggregate. While a significant increase in nonfarm casual work may be attributed to the aggregation of NREGS and other work, there is also evidence of a program-induced increase in on-farm self-employment. But while men increased their labor supply to the agricultural sector, women shifted away from farm to nonfarm employment and to some extent salaried work.
 
The blog went on to say that increases in labour supply to the non-farm sector were concentrated among landless and small to medium-size farmers, suggesting effective self-targeting. Increases in labour supply to agricultural self-employment emerged only for small and, to some degree, medium-size farmers, possibly because some MGNREGS investment can be performed on farms. There is also some evidence of a reduction in nonfarm self-employment and an in­crease in salaried work by the largest landowners.
 
 

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