Saving the harvest

Barely a fortnight in the past, rural India gave the impression to be brimming with hope and optimism. Rabi crops like wheat, pulses, oilseeds, greens and fruits comparable to grapes, pomegranates and even the early mangoes appeared prepared for a bumper harvest throughout the nation. Even the March rains and hailstorms in some areas in the north had not disheartened the farmers. Amid the slowdown, agriculture appeared to carry out a glimmer of hope for a revival of the financial system.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant nationwide lockdown put paid to all that. In a single day, that earthy rural optimism has dissipated into deep pessimism. The three week-long formally imposed lockdown–which has dropped at a screeching halt the motion of agricultural employees, non permanent farm migrants, and farm and associated equipment comparable to mix harvesters, threshers, tractors, vans and different equipmenthas set off panic in the villages and fears of a rural misery return. If the lockdown stays in place past April 14, the whole rabi crop in most states, dependent as it’s on migrant labour for procurement and farm equipment for harvesting, could be devastated. If the kharif sowing season in Might-June, which is 100 per cent depending on farm employees, finally ends up being disrupted because of the extension of the lockdown, the whole agricultural system in the nation could be on the brink of a catastrophe.

Perishables hit the hardest

Perishables like vegetables and fruit have taken the worst hit. The lockdown has completely destroyed the marketplace for these merchandise. There are merely no patrons. Discuss to the grape growers in Nashik in Maharashtra, 80 per cent of whom export their grapes, or the ones from Chikkaballapur in Karnataka; the mango farmers of the Konkan area; or the tomato and cucumber farmers of Nashik, the story is the similar, a chronicle of rotting produce and distress.

Agriculture in Maharashtra and Karnataka had already been affected by unseasonal rains and a delayed winter. And now got here the lockdown. February and March are when most farmers in the two states harvest crops like grapes, pomegranates and jowar. In grapes and pomegranates, preliminary estimates of losses are as excessive as 40 per cent of the produce. The person tales are gut-wrenching.

In Sinnar, Nashik, grape farmer Manoj Thete lastly destroyed his totally ripe crop as there aren’t any labourers, transport or marketplace for the produce. Thete had taken a mortgage of Rs 3.5 lakh to domesticate grapes on seven acres. He fears the funding has gone down the drain. It’s unattainable to get labourers to chop the grapes, says Thete. I transported a number of quintals to Uttar Pradesh, however they’re rotting in the vans there.

Satish Ugale, a farmer from Dindori in Nashik district, took 100 crates of juicy capsicum from his farm to the agriculture produce advertising and marketing committee (APMC) in Nashik metropolis on March 30. He was anticipating a minimum of Rs 100 for a crate (one crate holds 20 kgs). As a substitute, the dealer supplied him Rs 15 per crate. Because it didn’t even cowl his transportation price, Ugale distributed the capsicum free to the poor folks in the space. It was higher to feed the poor than the grasping dealer, says Ugale.

Augustine Varkey, a farmer in Chikka­ballapur, Karnataka, dumped the grapes from his winery straight into the compost pit after which took to Twitter to inform his tragic story. Rajaram Goverdhane, a farmer in Sanjegaon village of Igatpuri in Nashik, is feeding his cattle juicy tomatoes and contemporary cucumbers these days (see Let somebody eat it’).

Maharashtra’s mango market, together with the world-famous Alphonso selection, clocks an annual turnover of as much as Rs 3,500 crore. The perfect selection from Konkan’s Devgad taluka arrive by Akshay Tritiya, which is in direction of the finish of April. Farmers in a single taluka make round Rs 300 crore from exports. Until the lockdown eases, the losses to the mango crop could be unimaginable. With its largest markets, Europe and the US, now epicentres of the pandemic, there may be little hope for the fruit. Likewise, kokum processing is a serious small-scale trade for ladies in rural areas in the state. That commerce, too, could flip bitter now.

In the Nilgiris tea gardens in Tamil Nadu, tea cultivators are a apprehensive lot. Hundreds of growers harvest inexperienced tea leaves between March and Might to produce to the tea factories in the area and are uncertain of how the lockdown will influence their produce. In the meantime, in Bengal and Assam, the Indian Tea Affiliation estimates the loss to the north Indian tea trade at Rs 14,000 crore (see We’ve taken an enormous hit’).

Even the excessive and mighty haven’t been spared. Nationalist Congress Occasion (NCP) boss Sharad Pawar, whose celebration is a part of the ruling coalition authorities in Maharashtra, can also be impacted by the lockdown. His banana crop on 10 acres is prepared for harvesting, however has discovered no takers. As there aren’t any labourers, the crop will rot, he mentioned in a Fb chat with folks on March 30. A optimistic signal: he additionally added that he was positive the authorities pays compensation to everybody for the loss.

Equally, floriculturists have a bountiful harvest of flowers however no takers,with celebrations and spiritual occasions being cancelled. In Chennai, the in any other case busy Koyambedu wholesale market, one in all Asia’s largest for perishable items, wears a abandoned look with enterprise mentioned to be down by half. That is regardless of the free motion of necessities throughout districts. In late March, Tamil Nadu shut its borders with Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala till month-end for all vehicular motion besides important items. Amongst the affected agricultural areas are areas which might be roughly 70 km from Bengaluru. The town absorbs nearly every part that grows in the border areas of Tamil Nadu. Lots of horticulture farmers are depending on Bengaluru for his or her gross sales, says Sudha Narayanan, growth economist at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Improvement Analysis (IGIDR), Mumbai. Six days after the statewide lockdown, the Tamil Nadu authorities relaxed restrictions for these engaged in the agricultural sector.

The Northern Discomfort

The identical doomsday story stalks the countryside throughout the northern states, a typical story whether or not you might be travelling via Punjab and Haryana, or the much less affluent Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.

The agricultural fortunes of the labour-exporting states of japanese India are interlocked with the labour-importing states of western India via a posh system of migration of labour. Whereas rabi harvesting and procurement undergo on account of extreme scarcity of labour in Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and different states, labour-exporting Bihar and UP, Odisha and Jharkhand undergo as a result of their landless poor don’t have any jobs and no remittances for his or her households again in the villages.

In truth, the labour-exporting states have been struck by a double whammy. Whereas the non permanent migrant labour, who journey in giant numbers throughout the rabi crop season and work primarily in procurement, are caught helplessly at house (see Migrating is their solely hope’), there’s a reverse migration of hundreds of thousands of city migrants from Delhi and different cities on. The visuals of them trudging on foot tons of of kilometres with their meagre belongings will add to the many extra in coming days, that of hungry folks, these with out jobs, with out meals, and now with the threat of neighborhood an infection too.

If the lockdown goes past April 14 and if there aren’t any critical authorities initiatives past the welfare packages already introduced, this might result in a famine-type scenario in Bihar and UP, with hunger deaths spiking together with deaths from the pandemic in the coming months, says Praveen Jha, labour migration skilled and professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru College in Delhi.

The outmigration from Bihar alone is wherever from 5-10 million per 12 months, out of the 123 million inhabitants in 2020, he provides, warning of the impact the swarming returnees may have on the state. Farmer chief Binod Anand pegs the determine even increased, at 20 million, or one-sixth of the state’s inhabitants (counting each the short-term non permanent migration and the long term everlasting migration).

Punjab’s burden

Punjab produces 13.5 million tonnes of wheat and 18 million tonnes of paddy annually. Each the crops and, certainly, the whole agriculture sector in the state are closely dependent (80 per cent) on Bihari employees. On high of that, a considerable amount of farm equipment used throughout harvesting and procurement in Punjab and Haryana is caught in MP and elsewhere as the central states started rabi harvesting earlier in February-March.

The lockdown has introduced other forms of bother, too. Dilbag Singh, 45, a farmer in Punjab’s Jalalabad space, grows mustard on 9 acres and wheat on 16 acres. Punjab is underneath full curfew until April 24, so Dilbag and his brother Jaskaran, together with some native labour, harvested the mustard crop very early at daybreak to keep away from bother. Malkit Singh, a farmer in the Chamkaur Sahib space of Ropar district, says, There have been no clear directions from the district administration. After which social media was flooded with movies of the police beating up folks. We had no possibility however to harvest our chickpea crop throughout the wee hours.

Dilbag says wheat growers are luckier, as the showers in March and prolonged winter has pushed the harvest season by a minimum of a fortnight. The harvest season for rabi crops comparable to wheat, mustard and chickpeas in the north and central Indian states is normally round April 1. However this time, the harvest ought to be delayed, the crop won’t prepare earlier than April 15, says Siraj Hussain, former Union agriculture secretary. A delay in the harvest season and the lockdown being eased by April finish are the solely hope for farmers now. In any other case, the rabi crop is doomed in Punjab and Haryana, given the labour scarcity.

The Union ministry for agriculture anticipated this 12 months’s wheat crop to be round 109 million tonnes, some 6 per cent greater than the earlier 12 months’s output. We’re preserving a detailed watch. There shall be no hurt if the harvest season is scattered this time. In earlier years, we’ve got seen the harvest go on for 6-Eight weeks. This time, it might take an extra fortnight, says Ramesh Chand, member, NITI Aayog. A delayed schedule for central and state procurement must also assist mitigate a few of the ache.

A extra quick downside in Punjab is that the majority of the 39 COVID-19 optimistic instances have come from the villages. The state has already quarantined greater than 30 villages in the Doaba area, the place most of the migrant labour are conventionally engaged, together with the southeastern a part of Punjab (Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, Ropar district, and many others).

What subsequent?

The finance ministry is contemplating an improved disbursal mechanism for minimal help worth (MSP) to kickstart the rural financial system. It has allowed states to take public distribution system (PDS) provides for the subsequent three months on credit score and has allowed 750 million beneficiaries to take an extra three months PDS quota without spending a dime.

Earlier than the pandemic, the Meals Company of India (FCI) was clearing their foodgrains inventory by providing 12-15 per cent reductions. And now the further PDS provides ought to liberate extra space. The finance ministry sees this as a possibility to acquire further wheat this season. FCI procures wheat from three states, Punjab, Haryana and MP. All three states are actually searching for an extra bonus of Rs 100 per tonne for the farmer to battle the pandemic.

However these are all piecemeal measures, a coherent technique to take care of the impending disaster is but to emerge. Until final week, a vital fallout of the lockdown was a mix of confusion, uncertainty and nervousness for farmers and shoppers alike as to what lies in retailer in the coming weeks, says Narayanan. At this time, she admits the vital issue is scarcity of labour migrants, each in north in addition to south India.

The closure of APMC mandis in a number of states has left farmers haplessly caught with their harvests, largely of perishables, with none finish shoppers or trader-buyers. Farmers who normally promote their crops via established provide chains arrange by the APMCs are actually attempting to keep away from the market yards and promote produce from their doorstep. However earnings are nonetheless a great distance away as the whole rural market has come to a grinding halt. Experiences of police high-handedness and petty corruption whereas dealing with transporters and merchants, who they declare have been violating the lockdown, threw the whole items transportation community right into a tizzy. In a typical case of the state unleashing its coercive app­aratus, rural markets have been dropped at a screeching halt with numerous farmer producer organisations (FPOs) ending up cancelling and suspending their actions, says Narayanan.

The lockdown throughout the nation has turned the hope of a bumper rabi harvest into utter despair. The one saving grace will come from the delayed harvest and procurement, and the lockdown being both relaxed or lifted by April 14.

with Anilesh S. Mahajan, Kiran D. Tare and Aditi Pai

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