HIS village may be parched, but Balachandra Ambaji Payar’s banana trees are a vivid green. In the shade cast by their fronds, a few chilli plants add more colour—and income—to a region left blanched by two consecutive years of disappointing rain. Mr Payar is an advertisement for “drought-proofing”: a simple irrigation system installed last year brings water onto his land in western India from a nearby well, to be drip-fed to his crops through a perforated hose. It is just the sort of investment that rural India needs to escape problems far greater than the weather.

Some 850m Indians live in rural areas, and nearly 60% of them depend on farming for survival. For many, it is not much of a living. India has more people living in poverty than any other country—260m by the World Bank’s count—and 80% of them live in the countryside.

Farmers are poorer than urban folk the world over, but the difference in India is stark: the median annual wage for a farmer, at 19,250 rupees ($290) including the implied value of the food they consume, is barely two months’ minimum wage in Mumbai. Data from 2008 show the rural-urban wage gap at 45%,…Continue reading