Prelims level : Economics - Agriculture. Mains level : GS-II Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States.
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Why in News?

  • Union Agriculture Minister has failed to answer the question regarding the definition of farmer, when it was asked in Parliament last week. This has raised a debate in the parliament regarding the issue.


  • In the discussion last week in parliament, MPs pointed out that the number of land holdings do not necessarily equate with the number of farming households.
  • It was noted that dairy farmers, fisher-folk, fruit and flower growers, as well as landless agricultural workers who cultivate the land belonging to others, would not fit into a narrow definition where farmers are linked to ownership of land alone.
  • The government’s ambiguity has serious implications for the design and beneficiaries of the schemes meant to help them, including its flagship PM-KISAN (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi).

Definition as per 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.
  • As per the 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.

Impact of Ambiguity:

  • The definition of a farmer is not merely a philosophical or semantic question, but rather has practical implications.
  • Most of the schemes meant for farmers’ welfare, including the procurement of wheat and paddy at minimum support prices, are effectively available only for land owners.
  • Even in death, those who work on the land may not be identified as farmers for the purposes of counting farmer suicides.
  • In practice, those who cultivate or work on the land but do not own it are excluded from access to agricultural credit and interest subvention for farm loans.
  • Crop insurance and loan waivers go to loaners so they are left out of that as well.
  • Access to subsidised crop inputs is difficult without identification as farmers. In the event of crop failure, compensation is only given to owners.
  • Direct income support schemes such as PM-KISAN are limited to owners
  • Tax exemption is usually claimed by owners who give an unverified affidavit that they cultivate the land.

Way Ahead:

  • S. Swaminathan Commission’s definition should be converted into a legal and actionable tool for identification.
  • Already, the revenue department is supposed to annually record who is actually cultivating each piece of land. So, the above step will be useful for this exercise too.
  • Apart from adding inclusion criteria other than land-ownership, the Centre must add exclusion criteria so absentee landlords are left out. Otherwise, the farmer who actually takes the risk gets no support, but those who treat land as an investment or speculation get all the benefits.
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