Who is a farmer? What is the government’s definition of a farmer and how many farmers are there in India by that definition?
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar failed to answer that question when it was asked in Parliament recently. The question was posed in the Rajya Sabha by BJP MP Ajay Pratap Singh.
In a written response, the Agriculture Minister said agriculture is a State subject.
Definition Of A Farmer By The National Policy for Farmers
There is a clear and comprehensive definition available in the National Policy for Farmers, which was drafted by the National Commission of Farmers headed by M.S. Swaminathan and officially approved by the Centre in 2007 following consultations with the States.
It says, “For the purpose of this Policy, the term ‘FARMER’ will refer to a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities and will include all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers, as well as persons engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture and agro-forestry. The term will also include tribal families / persons engaged in shifting cultivation and in the collection, use and sale of minor and non-timber forest produce.”
Remember this: According to Census 2011, there are 11.8 crore cultivators and 14.4 crore agricultural workers.
Government’s Definition Of A Farmer: Some Important Points
- The agriculture sector saw some major boots under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ programme.
- All these measures were announced after a nationwide lockdown was declared on March 25 this year.
- These measures include investments in agri-infrastructure, logistics and capacity building to governance and administrative reforms.
- Farmers have benefitted immensely from the already existing measures such as the direct cash transfer scheme under PM-KISAN and the credit boost through PM Kisan Credit Cards.
- To avail of PM-KISAN scheme, farmers have to prove that they own cultivable land as per land records.
- Traditionally, land ownership is a mandatory criterion for availing benefits under various agricultural schemes in India.
- But is it an appropriate criterion for defining a ‘farmer’?
- Different states have different laws that govern land leasing.
- The Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act, 2016 was introduced to formalise land leasing based on the recommendation of an expert panel appointed by NITI Aayog.
- However, except a few States, a majority of State governments have not extended the scope of the Act to farmers.
- Government of India’s official data have multiple definitions for a ‘farmer’.
- The population census defines ‘cultivators’ as a person engaged in cultivation of land either ‘owned’ or held in kind or share.
- The 59th round of the Situation Assessment Survey (SAS) of farmers, conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), also considers possession of land as an important criterion to define a farmer. This possession of land can either be owned or leased.
- 70th round of Situation Assessment Survey, carried out by the NSSO, made an attempt to delink land as the defining criterion for a ‘farmer’.
- 70th round of SAS defined agricultural households as those receiving some value of produce from agricultural activities during the previous 365 days.
- A minimum cut off value of ₹3,000 for agricultural produce in the last 365 days was also fixed as an additional requirement.
- It was hopes that applying these criteria would exclude all those who don’t have significant shares of income obtained from agriculture.
- The definition adopted in the 70th Round of NSSO seems to be the best definition of farmers in India.
- It can be further refined to define a farmer as one who earns a major part of the income from farming.
- Most importantly, 70th Round of NSSO delinks agriculture production from land per se, and not just ownership.
- Access to land as a policy instrument in bringing about equitable growth of rural economies needs no further emphasis.