RURAL non-farming activities comprise an important chunk of income for the rural community, particularly given the seasonal dependency of agricultural employment.
The sector has significant potential to contribute towards non-farm economy in terms of employment, and development of rural areas.
A recent study, titled, ‘Gender dimensions of non-farm employment in Pakistan’ by Social Policy and Development Centre has highlighted the dynamics of rural non-farming activities, particularly with regards to gender participation and its eventual impact on poverty alleviation and empowerment.
The research has taken into account randomly selected 1200 rural households across the country and has made an attempt at understanding “the economic, social and behavioural aspects that affect non-farm work participation”.
The survey reported that between 32 and 35 per cent of the rural male labour force is involved in non-farming activities in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded 48 per cent. In contrast, only four per cent of rural women on average participate in non-farm employment, with Punjab recording the highest (5.37 per cent) and Balochistan the lowest (0.59 per cent).
A majority of them (men: 83 per cent, women: 63 per cent) work for private sector (manufacturing, construction, trade and services), while 15 per cent on the whole is involved in public sector.
On average, eight per cent of the men and three per cent of the women are self-employed. While women are mostly involved in the production and sales of homemade products, men earn their living in various fields, like wholesale and retail trade, personal and household services and transport. Punjab, once again, recorded the highest percentage of self-employed men (11.45 per cent), whereas most number of self-employed women was found in Sindh (6.75 per cent). Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa noted minimum participation in this respect.
The survey found a significant disparity in terms of wages between men and women, the latter is generally underpaid, or given low-paid (unskilled) jobs, particularly in private sector. Male employees, on the other hand, are paid three to four times higher on average. The gap narrows when it comes to agricultural labourers.
A noteworthy finding was that women who participated in non-farm activities were considerably more empowered, “according to their perceptions and opinions in decisions related to economic, social and other aspects”.
Out of a total score of 45, these women managed 26 points, as compared to 16 points scored by their non-participating counterparts. Those employed in non-agricultural activities were more vocal about the lack of, or inadequate, infrastructure and amenities that prove to be a hurdle in their work. They also complained of illiteracy, lack of vocational training and financial resources and bad economic governance, all of which have a negative impact on their jobs.
The study also established certain factors that determine the incentives and barriers to non-farm work. Accordingly, factors which promote participation include age, schooling, electricity and landlessness. Issues that have a negative impact include land ownership, tenant household, number of crops and road infrastructure. The survey also indicates that all agro-zones are distinct in terms of offering avenues of non-farm income generation.
In light of these findings, the research suggests a number of measures to supplement and increase household income in rural areas. These include change in policies keeping in view the individual dynamics of each agro-climatic zone. The policies should take into account the available agricultural endowments, human resources and extent of dynamism and commercialisation of agriculture, the report said.
The report also stressed on the need for existence of small or cottage industries in rural areas which will increases the size of non-farm rural economy. Small entrepreneurs should be lured to set up “labour intensive agro-based industries” through tax and other incentives.
With particular focus on Punjab (which already has developed agricultural zones) the research suggests that policies which promote self-employment should be implemented.
Financial resource and vocational training will also help in rural income growth of the province. Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on the other hand, suffer from poor infrastructure, which should be addressed in order to develop non-farming employment, particularly among women. Illiteracy is another factor that should be dealt with.
Other obstacles in developing non-farming activities in rural areas included load-shedding, water shortage, corruption and law and order situation. The report urged that these issues need to be tackled as well.