As the world comes to a standstill and public life shuts down across the globe, all have their eyes on the healthcare systems which are buckled under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the lockdown anticipated to extend for some more time, there are now concerns rising over food supply and people are now scared. The potential negative impacts of Corona on agricultural production, market stability, food supply may now be seen from the surface but it is still difficult to predict quantify the exact damage accurately. However, viewing the current scenario and based on the floating news, here is an overview of the impact on agricultural production and economy.
As Rabi crop harvest season coincides with the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the ready to be harvested crops unabatedly stands in the fields, on account of the dearth of agricultural laborers. Already reeling under an unprecedented confluence of pressure, the agrarian economy is now struggling to keep its head above water. However, timely intervention by the center and state govt. has brought a big respite to the farmers of India.
The Center and State Governments are now working in harmony to redress the grievances of farmers by introducing a hantle of measures every day such as subsidies, including crop insurance to farmers, free flow of agricultural credit, unemployment allowance to rural landless/migrant workers under MANREGA, etc. The govt. is using every arrow in its quiver to ensure the health of farmers by continuously sensitizing the farmers about working in fields with covered faces while maintaining social distancing.
In order to reinforce a zero hurdle harvest season, the govt has exempted the movement of farm machinery from lockdown. But there are some discrepancies here, for instance, the farmers in Punjab and Haryana, the ‘food bowls’ of the country, await ‘combine harvesters’, the machinery to harvest the grain crop, while it remains stuck in Madhya Pradesh due to the lockdown. Despite enlisted as an essential service, the movement of combined harvesters has not been a smooth sailing operation. This is mainly because the order has not made its way to the people on the ground.
The absence of transport facilities clubbed with vigilant blocking roads has a limiting effect on the movement of migratory harvest labor and agri-machinery. Also, trucks and tractors are not inclusive of ‘farm machinery’ by definition. Although, many state governments have regulated the free movement of trucks, a nation-wide regulation is yet to be seen.
Currently, tractors are in high demand for sowing and land preparation for Kharif crops.
Due to a lack of transportation and logistics facilities, the produce remains to lie on the fields at the grace of Almighty. This leaves the crestfallen farmer with no alternative other than feeding the fresh produce to the cattle. Railways can play a turnkey role here by transporting farm inputs – including seeds, etc. from seed processing units to all states and farm output from the rural pockets to the cities.
The new features of National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) Platform launched by Shri Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj aims to strengthen agriculture marketing by reducing the need for farmers to physically access the wholesale mandis for selling their harvested produce; is a welcoming move to decongest mandis.
Although equipped with smartphones, the uneducated and naïve farmers are not able to reap the benefits of this ingenious measure. As a result, streamlining of crop procurement and mandi operations continues to be a challenge. NGOs can volunteer to educate the farmers on the usage of these new features of the National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) Platform.
Major destinations like China, the U.S, and Europe may grapple with COVID-19 for some coming months. As a result of global embargo and port hurdles, the exportable produce will also bear the brunt of low consumer demands. As industries pulled down their shutters, there has been a slump in the domestic demand as well. Most state governments are now buying their respective farm produce from the farmers on respective Support Price and above. Thus ensuring optimal prices for domestic and export produce and restoring farmer’s faith. This will further restore farmer’s interest in Kharif season and therefore food production will not be impacted.
To pump up the morale of the farmers, more such creative yet safe and pragmatic solutions are needed.
I urge my fellow citizens and media to come together to appreciate the farmers of India as much as the doctors and nurses, who are risking their lives to ensure that food reservoirs are well stacked amid the lockdown.
Amid border closures, quarantines, and market, supply chain and trade disruptions, the food reservoirs are not going to last forever. Despite a purported food crisis, the trial and error based experimental cooking are trending, causing enormous food wastages. At such a time when some people are running out of food and are on the brink of starvation due to the lockdown, it is our moral duty to restrict our diet to plain and simplistic food.
With a 16.5 percent contribution to GVA (Gross Value Added) and 43 percent population engaged, the food and agriculture sector has immense potential to wean India out of the economic crisis abyss. The incessant fast lane solutions and swift actions by the govt. to empower the farmers, will surely succor India in winning the war against the life and livelihood pulverising coronavirus pandemic.