COVID-19 impact on the livelihood of small and marginal farmers
By Manoj Dhakade*
In India, small and marginal farmers account for 86.2 percent of all farmers (Agriculture census 2015 – 2016) and produce about 60 percent of farm goods. Marginal farmers have less than one hectare of land and small farmers have more than one-hectare land but less than two hectares of land. The national lockdown was announced by honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi by 21 days from 25 March 2020 to 14 April 2020 and followed by 19 and 14-days respectively, lockdown extended until 17 may 2020 to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This lockdown period has severely affected the lives and livelihoods of farmers.
There is a need to help the affected lives, the central and state government also provide the necessary support to farmers. The Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced INR 1.7 trillion relief package, to protect the vulnerable sections (including farmers) from any adverse impacts of the Corona pandemic. The announcement, cash transfer of INR 2000 to bank accounts of 87 Million farmers as income support under PM-KISAN scheme in April. The Government also raised the wage rate from ₹182 to ₹202 per day for workers engaged under the MGNREGA, the world’s largest wage guarantee scheme. Under the special scheme to provide 5 kg rice or wheat to the vulnerable population, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, has been announced. Also, additional 1kg pluses allotments to beneficiaries were also announced for the next three months. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has declared guidelines for farmers during the lockdown period. The advisory guideline mentions specific practices during standing field crops, harvest and threshing of crops, and post-harvest, storage and marketing of the farm produce. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also announced a specific relief package due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government will continue the facility of 2 percent interest subvention and 3 percent PRI (prompt repayment incentive) to farmers for the extended period of repayment up to May 31, 2020, or the date of repayment, whichever is earlier, for short-term crop loans up to Rs 3 lakh per farmer
During these challenging times, the livelihoods of most of these workers and farmers have been severely impacted by the lockdown. Indian agriculture industry responds to the crisis and affect 140 million farm households across the country and thereafter impacts the economy of the country.
This is the peak season of harvesting of rabi crops (wheat, gram, lentil, mustard, etc.), but harvesting and threshing is delayed due to the non-availability of labours and machinery. And also lack of transport facilities and market shutdown, they are not able to sell their produce. Most of the farmers produce perishable products (fruits, vegetables and milk) in large quantities, and because of market shutdown they are suffering a great loss. Even if farmers managed to take their produce to the markets, there are fewer wholesale buyers and, therefore, farmers are selling it for a smaller price. There are also supply chains interrupt due to transportation problems and other issues. Prices for wheat, vegetables and other crops have declined, but customers still pay more.
Most of the farmers, who are mainly cash-driven, run out of money. There are no public transports to travel to banks in nearby towns to withdraw cash due to the lockdown. This season, the spring harvest, is generally a peak time for the employment of migrant workers. Instead, migrant workersare unemployed due to cash shortages and fear of viral spread. Under such situation, the lack of seeds and fertilizers will further disrupt transportation and impact the next Kharif sowing season.
SUGGESTIVE MEASURES • Establishment and management of an effective supply chain for a better price of farm produce. • Farmers must have continued access to markets with maintaining social distance. • To provide a quick marketing platform for selling perishable commodities. • Government must also provide necessary input for performing agriculture operation. • To provide relaxation against a previous loan or debt.
CONCLUSION Corona crisis is global concern. This extreme situation has an equal or higher economic effect on the more enterprising farmers growing high-value commodities like fruits, vegetables, dairy, fishery, etc. and hence they also need to be compensated. This lockdown may worsen the agrarian crisis if farmers are not assured a minimum income for the next few months and their losses compensated by appropriate measures
References Kumar, V. S., Yannam, P., Raghupathi, B., & Lakshmana, M. G. (2020). AgAcademy: A modal platform for scaling up e-learning in Indian Agriculture in covid times. AgriXiv. April, 14. Dev, S. M., & Sengupta, R. (2020). Covid-19: Impact on the Indian economy (No. 2020-013). Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, India.
Sahoo, P. P., & Rath, S. (2020). Potential Impact of Corona Virus on Agriculture Sector. Biotica Research Today, 2(4), 64-65.
*Author is pursuing masters in Agricultural Extension from Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University.
* Associate Editor, Food Marketing and Technology Magazine (Source available upon demand)