Development versus Livelihoods

The development of cities has a serious impact on farming, livestock and livelihoods of communities living in the peri-urban areas surrounding the city. To lessen the negative impact on the livelihoods of the poor living in the peri-urban areas, it is necessary that they be involved in the process of urban development.

Urban expansion generally results in the conversion of agricultural lands in the fringe areas to non-agricultural purposes. Such expansion is often associated with positive and negative effects on the population in the fringe areas. In the absence of any regulation, land alienation from agriculture happens much before (with a lag of decade or more) real urban development takes place. The result is that the primary stakeholders (the original farmers and land owners) are ignored, lose their livelihoods and are pushed into menial jobs as they lack skills to get into white-or blue collar jobs.

Recent years have seen conversion of large tracts of agricultural land for commercial and real estate purposes, particularly around the urban centers. These have a great impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people living in the peri-urban areas. To understand the impacts of development on agriculture and livelihoods of farmers, a study was undertaken in 2005-06 in periurban areas, Kondapur, Shameerpet and Maheshwaram of Ranga Reddy district surrounding Hyderabad. This article focuses on the issues in Maheswaram.

Maheswaram is a peri-urban area situated around 28 kms from Hyderabad. Consisting of around 3500 households, the livelihood of people in this place has been primarily dependent on agriculture and livestock. Around 500 acres is the net sown area. The main crops grown are paddy, vegetables, maize, jowar, castor and floriculture.

Shifting land uses

With the rapid expansion of the Hyderabad city, its impact was seen on many facets of life, especially on the prime resource – land in Maheswaram. The international airport, the proposed Fab city and the concept of Outer Ring Road (ORR) all led to enormous increase in land prices. With the increased demand for land for developmental activities and projects by the government, there was an increase in real estate business, resulting in boom in land prices. From the year 2004 onwards, there was a steady increase in land prices. Within a span of two years from 2004 to 2006, the land prices per acre increased from 1 lakh per acre to 1.30 crores per acre.

With increased land prices, farmers started selling their lands. Lack of sufficient supply of electricity and lack of access to irrigation had instigated the farmers to sell the land early. Decline in agriculture area started from 2005. Now, almost all the patta (registered) lands with clear titles have been sold out by the villagers. “Vyvasayam koddigananna labamunte, intha thondaraga ammakuntimi” (had the farming been a bit profitable, we would not have sold our land so early), says Kishan of Maheswaram.

However, not all those who sold could make a fortune out of this land sale. The lambada tribes in the hamlets of Maheswaram, who own sufficient amount of lands did not sell the lands initially. They were dependent on livestock for their livelihood. So naturally, to meet the fodder needs, they retained the land without selling in the early boom period. This has become a good fetching point for these families which helped them to get the enormous price for their lands in 2006 when compared to what their peers had obtained in the early stages of real estate activity in 2005. Due to early sale, farmers who cared the lands for ages have become relatively poorer when compared to the people to whom they have sold their land.

In the whole process of land transactions, middle men have made huge profits. No wonder, real estate brokering has become a prominent livelihood activity in the area.

All these lands were purchased by the private people for the purpose of construction of offices and apartments. Already 25% of the land has been converted to housing plots.

However, Scheduled tribe (S.Ts) people living in the Nagulthanda, Kothvalcheruvu thanda and Dayalkunda thanda, hamlets surrounding Maheswaram, still have some lands. These families were more keen on agriculture and did not rush to sell their lands. Also some of the dalit families who were given government lands were not entitled to sell the lands. Therefore agriculture still continues, though on a small scale. In the village, nearly 300 households still have 1-2 acres of land to sell. The remaining land is with the realtors.

Real estate brokering business and masonary have become prominent livelihoods for many families in peri-urban areas 

Impact on farming and farm livelihoods

Farming received a heavy blow in the process. Many farmers and agriculture labour were displaced from their livelihoods which they used to derive from agriculture. Now they have chosen new livelihoods. Some households have totally moved out of their previous livelihoods and the others have upgraded their livelihoods according to the demands of the area and opportunity. Hitherto, farming and agriculture labour used to be the main occupation of the villagers of these three study areas. Now farming takes a back seat. Real estate brokering business and masonary work have become prominent livelihoods for the substantial number of families.

The area under farming decreased drastically. Hitherto, Maheswaram village was internationally well known for the exemplary work done in the area of watershed development. This was a great model which inspired many villagers to take up such works in various villages across the state. Now all this has become history. Satyamma, an agriculture labourer says “Appudu kastapadi bathikinam, ippudu paisa puttuvadi undhikani,bayatapoyi chesukovali” (Hitherto we had a tough life, now there is more money in the market, but to earn it we need to go out of our village and work).

Peri-urban agriculture offers partial solutions to several problems created by rapid urban growth. Some villagers in all the study areas prefer to sell a portion of their land and construct houses for renting out. They find it as an easier option when compared to farming.

Impact on agro-biodiversity

The agricultural lands of the study villages used to sport a variety of crops with enormous agro-biodiversity. In 1996, a variety of crops were being grown – Paddy, Jowar, Wheat (Triticum aestivum), Pigeon pea, Black gram (Phaseolus mungo), Green gram, Aargulu (Paspalum scrobiculatum), Foxtail millet (Setaria italica), Field bean(Dolichus lablab), Bajra (Pennisettum americanum), Little millet (Panicum miliaceum), Groundnut (Arachis hypogea), Castor (Ricinus communis), Finger millet and vegetables. With the changing land use patterns, this has now reduced to 3-4 crops.

In addition to cultivated diversity, there has been a huge loss of uncultivated biodiversity. As per the women of the study villages, these uncultivated greens which used to grow as companion crops in the agriculture fields are inexpensive sources of many nutrients which are essential for growth and maintenance of human health. Hitherto, women and children of poorer households used to consume these freely available greens which they used to get home while returning from weeding operations in the agricultural fields.

Impact on livestock

In Maheswaram, hitherto, each family used to have 20-50 animals. But now they are declining. One of the major reasons for the decline in the cattle population is the reduction in common grazing land, which always played a key role in livestock production. “Meka meyadaniki jagaledhu” (there is no place for a single goat to graze now) says Hamsamma of backward community in Maheswaram. Common grazing lands in study villages have decreased due to real estate activity, fencing of purchased lands, fallow lands, encroachment, and construction of companies. Coupled with the changing land use, the decline in the area and productivity of common grazing lands will have a widespread change in the composition of the livestock.


There has been a significant increase in the land prices in the periurban areas of Hyderabad due to developmental projects of government. While some landowners benefitted with the steep rise in prices, agriculture and livestock have suffered affecting the livelihoods of agricultural labour and the landless. It is therefore necessary that the poor in the peri-urban areas be made partners in the decision making of developmental programmes aimed at them so that their real needs are met and their livelihoods are protected.


This paper is based on the larger study on “Sustainable Rural-Urban Linkages: Land Tenure and Rural Urban Water sharing” carried out by the first author while he was associated with Division of Resource Economics (RESS), Humboldt University, Berlin as free lance consultant. We are indebted to the farmers in the study villages, who contributed substantially to this effort.

B Suresh Reddy
Associate Professor
Research Unit for Livelihoods and Natural Resources,
Centre for Economic and Social Studies, N.O.Campus,
Begumpet, Hyderabad-500 016.

T Praveena
Advocacy Officer, Balasahayoga Project,
Hyderabad, Care India.


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