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Publication | 13 April 2021

Neither corporate, nor family: the Indian “patronal” farm

After the disappearance of socialist State farms and cooperatives, the diversity of farms in the world seemed to have been reduced to a simple dichotomy: family farms on the one hand and corporate farming on the other. The former category, the dominant model on the planet, includes undertakings where labour is provided by the family, while corporate farming that was long limited to South America, is exclusively based on hired labour. This reading grid however, turns out to be particularly problematic when looking at the Indian case. Despite their small size, the vast majority of Indian farms make use of a combination of family and hired labour. Based on an analysis of national statistics and fieldwork in thirteen small regions, this article characterises agricultural work and the ways in which family and hired labour function together on Indian farms. It shows that alongside family farms where wage labour (either hiring or being hired) serves to ensure full employment for family labour, we find another type of farm, called "patronal farms" where the aim of hiring agricultural labourers is to increase income produced by family labour. For these patronal farms to exist, the wage paid to the labourers must be lower than the total farm labour productivity, and this is systematically the case for irrigated agriculture. After describing the characteristics of this original model, the article discusses its coherence with India's political economy and questions its durability.

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