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REDEFINING A FARMER

Focus: GS-III Agriculture

Introduction

  • The agriculture sector saw a slew of immediate and strategic stimuli under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ programme after a nationwide lockdown was declared in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The post COVID-19 responses in the sector range from investments in agri-infrastructure, logistics and capacity building to governance and administrative reforms.
  • The direct cash transfer scheme under PM-KISAN and the credit boost through PM Kisan Credit Cards have benefitted farmers both directly and indirectly.

Eligibility

  • Ownership of cultivable land as per land records is a mandatory criterion for being eligible under the PM-KISAN scheme.
  • However, there have been many debates about the definition of a ‘beneficiary’ under the plan.
  • Traditionally, land ownership is a mandatory criterion for availing benefits under various agricultural schemes in India.

Is land ownership the right way to define farmers?

  • According to the 2015-16 agricultural census, about 2.65 million operational holdings are either partially or wholly leased.
  • The impact of agrarian distress is felt disproportionately by tenant farmers.
  • The tenant farmer incurs the costs (including the rental payments) and faces the risks, while the owner receives the rent, subsidies and other support.
  • The lessees do not benefit from loan waivers, moratorium and institutional credit, and are forced to be at the mercy of moneylenders.
  • The distress is reflected in the fact that tenant farmers account for a majority of farmer suicides reported in the NCRB data.

Different Definitions

  • 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 stresses on ‘possession of land’ either owned or leased or otherwise possessed for defining ‘farmers’.
  • Delinking of land as the defining criterion for a ‘farmer’ was done in the 70th round of SAS carried out by the NSSO, wherein agricultural households were defined as those receiving some value of produce from agricultural activities during the previous one year.
  • Further, a minimum cut off value of ₹3,000 for agricultural produce in the last 365 days was fixed as an additional requirement. This was done to exclude households with insignificant shares of income obtained from agriculture.
  • The National Policy for Farmers, 2007 adopts a broad-based definition independent of ‘land ownership’ as well as ‘value of produce’. This definition includes everyone engaged in agriculture and allied activities to eke out a livelihood, including persons engaged in shifting cultivation and collection of non-timber forest produce.

Finalising on the definition?

  • It can be further refined to define a farmer as one who earns a major part of the income from farming.
  • The definition 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.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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