Impact of COVID-19 on the Agricultural Sector And Initiatives Taken By Government To Assist the Agrarian Industry

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The current ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected people from all walks of life. It has affected everyone across all sectors from big business to small industries. Governments all over the world have taken various steps to fight the pandemic. According to the IMF, the growth outlook of the world economy for 2020 was ‘negative’. Like many countries, India also imposed a lockdown throughout the country. It resulted in a poor growth rate for March, April, and May 2020.

During this lockdown, the Government closed down all industries except essential services. The situation has improved as the Government lifted the lockdown since 1st June 2020. However, these challenging times have affected the agrarian industry as well. This article tries to find out how the agricultural industry responded to the crisis. How did government measures affect 140 million farm households across the country? What is the future of agriculture in India post COVID-19?

Agrarian produce in India before coronavirus

The Indian agrarian produce for the year was satisfactory. India’s foodgrain output was up by 2.4% and stood at 292 million tonnes in 2019. According to reports, the stocks of wheat and rice weighed 77.6 Million Metric Tonnes (MMT). This quantity was more than three times the minimum operational stock of 21.04 MMT.

The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) had 2.25 MMT of pulses. The supply situation of essential food items did not appear to be too worrisome in India. However, the lockdown caused problems in the supply and production of agricultural products. The agricultural industry faced many difficulties during the lockdown. It led to tremendous losses to the poor farmers of the country.

Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on the agrarian industry

The agricultural sector in India has faced many problems wherein the industry has suffered huge losses. It has also forced the common man to pay absurd prices due to supply bottlenecks. But it is the poor and marginal farmers who have suffered the most. Most farmers have sold their entire stock below MSP. Tomato growers in Maharashtra were selling their produce at Rs. 2 per kg during the lockdown. Grape growers are facing a loss of Rs. 1000 due to low demand. In Punjab, vegetables that were sold at Rs. 15/kg are reportedly being sold at Rs 1/kg. In Delhi and the surrounding areas, the average price of meat fell from Rs. 55/kg to Rs. 24/kg. In Tamil Nadu, egg prices are reported to have fallen from Rs. 4/egg to Rs. 1.95/egg.

Problems faced by the Farmers

The lockdown has caused the following problems to the industry:

  1. The biggest problem faced by farmers is harvesting. There are disruptions in the procurement of food gains by government agencies. A lot of farmers’ cooperative mandis have closed down. There is no labour to harvest crops. Shutdowns of retail, agricultural markets have also caused problems. These factors have led to low harvest of many crops, e.g. wheat, grapes, watermelons, bananas, etc.
  2. Another issue faced by farmers is the return of many migrant workers to their homes. This forced farm and dairy operations to function at 50% operational capacity. Some did use mechanical harvesters. However, there were no mechanics to fix or maintain the machines due to the lockdown. Labour shortages were also experienced in most cold storage units and warehouses. It has led to the destruction and improper storage of crops in godowns, causing huge losses.
  3. Another problem faced by the industry is the disruption of supply chains. The Government has permitted the transport of essentials throughout the country. Yet, there have been disruptions in the supply of agricultural products. The stoppage of inter-state travel and entry points to States has increased problems. These points saw piles of trucks unable to move forward. Drivers for lorry transport also faced shortages in many places. This leads to the slow movement of goods across the country.
  4. The availability of livestock feed was at an all-time low in many animal husbandry units. This issue led to the death of many birds at the farm, or farmers were undertaking panic selling at meagre prices. The fear of meat being a transmitter of the virus has also not helped the industry.

Initiative taken by the Government to help the agrarian industry

The lockdown has shone the spotlight on problems faced by the farmers. Low output and supply chain disruptions were causing havoc in agricultural marketing. The Government promised to ensure the untangling of the same. It also passed various financial measures to help farmers facing difficulties.

The Government immediately apprehended the issues and passed various directions to help them. The first was to announce that the Government will pay the first instalment of the PM-Kisan scheme of Rs. 2000, upfront to farmers. It also announced a hike of the wages under MGNREGS, from Rs.182 to Rs. 202 per day.

The RBI also provided much-needed relief to the farmers. It announced a three-month moratorium on agricultural term loans. The Minister for Cooperation S.T. Somashekhar also announced crop loans from cooperative institutions. These loans are worth Rs.13,000 crore and are for the current financial year. It was to help farmers who needed liquidity to ramp up production.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has also made various announcements. She stated that the focus would be on improving farmers’ income. She plans on doing this through long-term investments and changes. There would be less emphasis on short-term crop loans. Yet, there has been no announcement on an immediate economic stimulus for the sector.

Conclusion

The coronavirus lockdown has affected the farmers staggeringly. The sudden price hike in the cost of vegetables in cities and towns is a result of disruptions in the supply chain. However, it is the middlemen that earn due to these hikes. Farmers, as always are at the mercy of these middlemen, who leave no chance to exploit them. Lesser education and poor knowledge about government schemes have also been a hindrance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse for already impoverished farmers. Both the legislature and the bureaucracy are responsible. It is their onus to ensure proper implementation of relief measures. It is high time that the people of this country pay heed to men and women who provide us with our everyday subsistence.


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