Farmers May not be Infected but are Certainly and Critically Affected

Background Context

The Agriculture and Allied sector has already taken a heavy toll due to recent virus outbreak throughout the world. Not only farmers but also the subclass (agriculture labour segment) is hit hard, and around 30 million daily wage workers, that live on daily income source are now out of work. This is tough to cope with such situations.

The scenario has been escalated into annoyance among the labour class, including parts of the country. Due to specialized farm practices in many parts of the country and most of the manual work is done by the migrant workers who travel far from their native places in search of the work.

Farmers in India affected due to Corona Virus COVID-19

The countrywide lockdown and reverse mass migration of labour force back to their native places would certainly have a disastrous and long-term impact on agriculture and allied sector. In parts of India is still miles away from technological advancement in agriculture and around 60% of the agriculture activities are still done manually. As a result, the lack of labour force would put India’s agriculture sector into a considerable setback for some time at least, if not permanent.

COVID-19 and Agriculture & Allied Sector 

Currently, the pandemic of COVID-19 is probably the biggest and imminent threat to human health that people across the world are facing. Lack of movement in all sectors, and global lockdown, the silently brewing challenge is the world economy.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently announced that the world had ventured into the economic death trap and this time it might see worst days than the 2009 economic depression.

Many countries are working tirelessly round the clock to save their countrymen through monetary help and financial packages to save their economics from free fall.

The panic starting from lockdown the impact is so severe that even India’s most fundamental supply chain relating to Agriculture has come to a halt and this definitely is not a good sign. These actions will put every Indian (regardless of their financial situation) into a situation to look for basic necessities.

record rise in inflation due to COVID-19

However, the lockdown is the only choice left with many countries to practice social distancing to curb the spreading of the disease and minimize the spread. Lack of appropriate policies, for effective lockdown and agriculture sector, may prove fatal and biggest blunder to the Indian economy.

Repercussions of COVID-19 on Agriculture: India’s Wheat and Maize

  1. The data from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) food price index, which is responsible to records and keeps track of changes & fluctuations in international prices of frequently and commonly-traded-food commodities, ruled180.5 points in the month of February, i.e. 1% lesser than in January.
  2. The fall in prices of the food items in the month of February 2020, is the first event in the last four months. 
  3. The COVID-19 outbreak will take us to witness the worst in the near future (no so far away), especially for India’s major crop wheat.
  4. Earlier to the virus outbreak, the prices received for the wheat were lower than regular due to well-balanced and consistent market supply.
  5. However, the lack of demands from the spread of the virus across the nation had further declined of the wheat prices in the Indian market, put farmers efforts and crops into jeopardy.
  6. This situation not welcomed among farmers community, because the total wheat production for the current year 2020, was expected to be approximately around 107 million tonnes.
  7. The reports from FAO also highlights that prices of the maize declined due to lack of demands from the feed sector. It is an unfortunate truth; the maize prices may further plummet or decline.
  8. Occurrences of bird flu, in some parts of the country, and rumours of the baseless and wrong belief that frequent consumption of meat may cause COVID-19 disease, may further push maize prices to the bottom.

Lockdown on Agriculture Trade (Lockdown Mandis) - Brewing of Post-Harvest Loss

  1. Historical data hints that amid pandemic outbreak and times of crises, the agriculture market, in particular, becomes less-stable and volatile and a platform of public outrage and protest.
  2. On the other hand, the prices of everyday perishable goods and vegetables are seeing an increase in prices. The price of the wholesale sector has fallen abruptly by 15%-20% due to lack of demands. 
  3. The hoarding and panic-buying of FMCG, in response to the announcement of the lockdown, has sharply spiked the prices of the vegetables up by 20%-30%. This sudden and spark increase in vegetable prices is accredited to the cost associated with logistics mgmt.
  4. Price rise in not suddenly very alarming but prices of perishable goods and Agri-Products may fetch more money fortnight or in a span of a month, due to its limited availability.
  5. Vegetable Mandis (marketplace) is severely impacted due to lockdown, as the speed required for the uploading, redistribution and movement of the perishable Agri-Products from farm to the retail vendor is been reduced and no longer feasible, as needed. 
  6. Azadpur Mandi (New Delhi): This fruit market in particular located in New Delhi witnessed around 23k to 25k transactions per day (collective of 5k to 8k trucks being loaded and unloaded) has now been halted and not process even 25% of its total capacity. In return this may create a shortage of undersupply in nearby urban areas and cities, their only source is the Mandi. 
  7. The nationwide lockdown of Fruit and Vegetable Mandis will increase the post-harvest losses due to delay in transaction processing, added by delay in supply. 
  8. Not only concerning economic losses but also the nutrition of the nation, as fruit and vegetables make around 30% of the total agriculture transactions.
  9. The first loss is incurred by the producer (farmer), which is miles away from Mandis and have no idea what could be the situation of mandis, still bearing the load of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Produces of Indian Solid in the Various States

  1. The ever-spreading pandemic, inflict lockdown are hampering the functional pillar of the agriculture produce course and movement, these are production by the farmers, collection and distribution by the mediators and the lastly the end consumer. The lockdown had directly impacted the supply chain and now the effect of the trucks stranded with loads of agriculture products can be seen or felt.
  2. The next wave of the heat from lockdown will be felt, as the trucks and goods transportation services will not reach the farm during the second harvest and once again farmer may miss their chance of delivering fresh produce to the marketplace.
  3. Reports and news from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are disturbing: Farmers are ready to harvest or some of them already harvested their wheat produce but it seems there are no buyers.
  4. The situation in Punjab are not different, most farmers ready with their wheat produces however the middleman/commission agents (popularly known, as arhatiys) not in a situation to accept the production and they suggest to stash the produce.
  5. The produce of Banana from the Bihar is already on the verge of a total loss, its only matter of a couple of days to take the situation from bad to worst.

Restrictions in Supply Chain Management Systems

Considering the current situation in India, the lockdown may extend further and it seems there aren’t any sign of protocols relaxation on closed mandis, farmers, and their products during the forthcoming acquirement or acquisition season of wheat, post lockdown circumstances.

Entities on a broader scale such as, Supply chain management, collection & distribution, procurements, to which farmers are loosely coupled or least attached are hampering the farmers the most.

Hence the farmer of India may or may not necessarily get infected with COVID-19 but they are critically and deeply affected from the broader perspective of the supply chain.

Conclusion

Situations after lockdown are unpredictable, however, once the lockdown is relaxed and farmers still won’t have much to put forward except agonising pain of loan and empty bank accounts.

It's obvious, the COVID-19 has to be blamed for the current situation, however, if we sabotage or weaken the agriculture sector and farmers then the government will be critically be judged upon for the disastrous situation in near future.

Taking into account the loses of farmers, it is a meagre sum. The need of the time is the, to make alternative arrangement for continuous and consistent agriculture operations to avoid the forthcoming food and nutrition insecurity.

Urgent actions plan and effective policies are needed in order to uplift the farmers for uninterrupted agriculture process. These relief efforts are needed well before the lockdown is relaxed.

Source: The Hindu

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