COVID-19 and the Agricultural Crisis
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Covid-19 has struck at a time when hunger or undernourishment keeps rising. According to the latest UN Estimates, at a minimum, an additional 83 million people, and possibly as many as 132 million, may go hungry in 2020 as a result of the economic recession triggered by the pandemic.
The main issue is identified to be a lack of access to food, soaring unemployment rates, and the rise of food prices along with the inability of food access. The Recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis points to a worrying deterioration of acute food security in countries already suffering from other crises. China, the country which was the first to see the implications and effects of the Corona-virus, is majorly suffering a loss in the agricultural sector due to the massive lockdown measures, snapping of transport links, and restrictions in the major agricultural production houses.
A recent study led by Zhang Hongyu, vice director of the China Institute for Rural Studies, Tsinghua University, showed that the Covid-19 crisis has generated chain reactions through the rural economy. The livestock and poultry sectors were the first to feel the impact of transport restrictions imposed to contain the outbreak. Food distribution, migrant farm employment, and agricultural trade have all been impacted. As a result, increasing the income of farmers as part of the national targets for poverty alleviation will be more difficult to achieve. Similarly, the US farm Sector has also faced major fluctuations in the meat, ethanol, corn, and dairy production also facing issues due to lockdown measures, transport links, and a spike in food prices. India also has faced several issues, as the agricultural economy in India is observed to be the most resilient out of all economies.
Being an agrarian country, the Indian agriculture sector has proven to be the backbone of its economy. With almost 60-70% of our population depending on this sector, it got majorly impacted due to the lockdowns enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From agricultural production, market stability, and food supply, the virus impacted all the necessary functions to make a fruitful harvest this year. On the one hand, where the Rabi crops could not be harvested due to the acute dearth of the agricultural laborers, on the other hand, farmers in Uttar Pradesh faced major financial losses owing to the untimely rains and hailstorms in January, February, and March.
In Tamil Nadu, this year’s banana sales took a huge hit due to the transport restrictions while farmers in Kerala suffered due to a mismatch in the procurement and production rates. The mismatch has eventually led to the produce piling up in the market without being consumed.
The decline in the international cotton prices, due to the pandemic, has impacted the domestic cotton prices in Maharashtra and farmers can be seen openly dumping their produce instead of selling it off in the markets. The rice bowl of India, Chhattisgarh, a 20% decline is observed in the sale of fruits and vegetables and is expected to have a long term impact on the farmers of the state.
In the states of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, the crops remain standing on the field due to the shortage of agriculture laborers as well as the unavailability of truck drivers for the transport of the produce to the markets. Rajasthan suffers equally to the unavailability of pesticides and proper storage units for the product while in Punjab, the product is only being bought by the retail vendors and hawkers for having them sold in the market.
At situations like these, the ill-fated farmer has been looking out towards the respective state governments to offer them financial relief and the following steps have been taken by the government so far to give some relaxation to them:
1. Provision of financial subsidies
The central and the state governments are working hand-in-hand to sensitize the farmers about working in the fields with covered faces and by maintaining social distancing. They have also offered financial subsidies to the farmers, including crop insurance and free flow financial credit. Under the MANREGA scheme, unemployment allowance benefits are being offered to rural landless/ migrant workers.
2. Harvest Procurement at government rates
Since the farmers are unable to transport and sell their harvests in the market, the state governments have been procuring these crops from the farmers at subsidy rates and storing/ selling them in the markets. Although there is a heavy mismatch in the procurement rates, yet every little help offered to these farmers count, since fresh harvest is going to waste.
3. National Agriculture Market (e-NAM)
Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj recently launched this online platform to reduce a farmer’s physical presence in the wholesale mandis to sell off the harvest produce. However, although equipped with smartphones, due to the lack of operational skills, the farmers are unable to reap the benefits of such initiatives and remain in a miserable state.
The need of the hour is for us as consumers, is to show compassion and give out help in whatever little way we can, as the agricultural sector is huge and the government may have provided provisions, but we as common people can help our wonderful farmers in their time of crisis.
1. Donating to NGOs - giving out donations to NGOs like Manuvikasa and haritika, can help our farmers as monetary funds are the biggest way of help.local and state governments must empower social organisations, NGOs and different civil society members (including RWAs) to be allowed direct procurement of supplies from local farmers/farmer producer organisations (FPOs) and then ensure a more orderly, localised distribution of cooked/pre-cooked food in/across communities to avoid any possibilities of human starvation, or lack of adequate nutritional supplies.
2. Compassion - Bickering with the local vendors over the prices of the fruits and vegetables sold should be thoroughly avoided as well because they’re in a time of severe crisis as well!
3. Vocal for Local - To avoid the rush, buy local vegetables from hawkers, vendors and stores other than just wholesale mandis. This way, farm produce could reach out to the local markets on unsubsidized rates and shall reduce the heavy transportation costs required to transport farm goods to wholesale mandis at higher rates.
by - Roohani and Meenal
Graphic by - Gayathri Nair