Covid-19 Pushes Indian Agriculture into Quarantine

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Covid-19 has impacted our economy badly. It has not only hit the secondary and tertiary sector, but also the ambitious dream of Modi Government of doubling the farmers’ income by 2020. Farmers are not just a segment or a sector; they are the ray of hope in this covid-19 for every citizen, who is staying home, walking miles to reach home, working day and night to treat the patients. Food is the utmost necessity for survival. Hence, every grain produced by a farmer is equal to gold. When the first lockdown was announced on March 23, people rushed to markets to get the food grains as it was the first thing needed for staying at home for a long period of time.

Shift of Indian Economy

UttamKrishi, MadhyamVyaparkanisthanaukri (Supreme is farming, mediocre is a trade, and most lowly is service), the ancient philosophy of the Indian economy is no more relevant now. Gandhi is still true that ‘India lives in villages.’ Agriculture is still the primary source of livelihood for about 58 percent of India’s population. The contribution of the agriculture and allied sectors is 17.1%, the industry sector is 29.6%, and the service sector is 54.3% (2016-17). Growth in Gross Value Added (GVA) by agriculture and allied sectors stood at 2.1 percent in FY 2019-20 (Indian agriculture and allied industries report, March 2020). Barclays report (2014)had estimated that 35% of the urban population could contribute 70%-75% of Indian GDP by 2020. Probably, it is not possible due to covid-19. The policy of the government has never been towards the majority population, which could contribute much more to the Indian economy.

 Reimagining Indian Economy

Rice

Aajeevika Bureau estimates 120 million people migrate from rural to urban space, and the biggest employers are the construction sector (40 million), domestic work (20 million), textile (11 million), Brick kiln (10 million) and others like mining, transportation, and agriculture. This population constitutes approx 11 % of India’s population. These migrants are especially from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odhisa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. They are ‘the GDP maker’ of the Indian economy for the secondary and tertiary sectors. They are the most affected population of the country due to covid-19. They have started coming back to their home, the rural space. As per many reports, the GDP contribution of secondary and tertiary are drastically damaged while the primary sector has got good production food grains in the rabi season. This reverse migration has resulted in unexpected/ unpredictable burden on the rural economy (especially on agriculture) due to no proper plan ever of the consecutive policymaker on govt. Once again, the covid-19 has made us realise the ancient philosophy of the Indian economy. Modi calls it ‘Aatmanirbhar,’ Gandhi calls it ‘Swaraj,’ Tagore calls it ‘completeness,’ Vivekananda calls it ‘self- reliant’ and so-called post-modern thinker may call it ‘Alternative to Development.’

Understanding the current scenario of agriculture

agriculture

In India, agriculture gets three seasons for cultivation; Kharif, Rabi, and Zaid, which starts with June- July and ends with May- June, respectively. If the meat and milk industry put aside, agriculture is a totally unorganized sector. This is the only sector in India, where new technology is the matter of controversy (Damodaran, 2016), and traditional technology are considered as a backword. One side, Green revolution in the 1970s and currently Genetic Modified (GM) crops are a matter of controversies; on the other hand, we are trying to believe in organic farming, bio-dynamic farming, and natural farming which we were master. Over the period of time, we are standing on the middle path. This situation has given the following adverse result to Indian agriculture due to unpredicted nobel covid-19

  1. Shortage of labour for harvesting rabi crops: March and April months are the harvesting months of rabi crops across India. Mahendra (IFPRI) writes that non-availability of migrant labour has interrupted harvesting activities of wheat (especially in Punjab, Haryana, and western UP), Pulses, and summer paddy. Arpan Mondal and Somen Jena say that non- availability of labour resulted in delayed harvesting, which led to crop loss in terms of quality as well as quantity due to unexpected rainfall in this season. Arpan and Somen belong to East Midnapore of West Bengal. As per the report of The Wire newspaper, some of the farmers of Punjab and Haryana do not expect to get the minimum support price for wheat.
  2. Problem in selling of perishable products: In one of the webinar discussion, Manas from Satara district of Maharashtra says they have got bumper production of Onion and Grapes. They are worried about export market, even inter-intrastate selling. They are dependent on the finger counted merchant, and they are purchasing such produces in their rate. The similar situation is being faced by commercial vegetable farmers of Ranchi districts, Jharkhand. The videos and photos are getting viral on social media of vegetable farmers, who are leaving theirs produces on the field. Tonnes of tomatoes have perished on my field, adds Mohan Kirade from Khargone districts of Madhya Pradesh. The economics time (March 19, 2020) reports that the bulk demand for perishable items has fallen hotels and restaurants, and also, the price of agriculture commodities has dropped 20-25% post-covid-19 outbreak.

Floriculture has a most affected sector of agriculture due to shut down of events, hotels, religious places. The flowers were damaged on the field due to the total lockdown of the supply- chain in this sector. Farmers did not get single rupees from his farm, adds Suresh, a PHD research scholar of RKMVU.

  • Worst affected animal husbandry sector: The animal husbandry sector has been largely affected by the effect of covid-19. There has been a sharp decline in the demand for chicken and meat since the outbreak as there have been various rumors amongst the people that virus can spread through the animal’s meat and chicken. As per the ResearchAndMarkets.com report (April 22, 2020), the US, China, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, UK, and India are affected significantly due to covid-19 in dairy, meat, poultry, and aquaculture. In India, Holi is one of the largest festivals in India, where meat consumption is so high. Due to Covid-19, the demand for poultry was negligible inspite of low rate INR 25/poultry of 2-3 kgs. News of poultry farmers killing the chicken and dumping went viral. The demand for meat goes high from Feb-June in India due to the marriage season, Covid-19 has affected it badly. Mahendra (IFPRI) says poultry farmers have badly affected by misleading social media reports; The economics time reports the same (March 19, 2020). The demand for milk has sharply fallen due to lockdown. Medha and Sudha dairies are procuring milk one time only in Ranchi.
  • Hike in agricultural input costsThe cost of fertilizer and seeds has gone up due to dried up in the supply chain of the agricultural inputs market. On April 16, we procured bleaching powder for fish farming on 1.5 times the price. My father did not find the desired seeds of sweet corn for sowing in mid- April. The cost of animal feeds has risen due to lockdown in factories and its lack of distribution.

Functional flaws

The agricultural system is exposed in the agriculture sector. It has failed to support the savior of humankind. The situation of agriculture is fully dependent on the physical market, which seems to pay high in pandemic like covid-19.

  1. Technological gap: India files its name in information technology in the world, but its fussed in the agriculture sector. Govt promises to have an online platform for an agricultural transaction, at the same time district collector of Ranchi tweets on behalf of farmers to sell tonnes of pumpkin. There is no e-commerce platform, which maintains supply and demand in agriculture. There are some e- platforms for the farmers to sell online, but farmers hardly equipped to manage such.
  2. Lack of capacity building: In India, Farmers still follow the traditional way of agricultural transactions. If govt launches any schemes, it needs to bring at the farmer’s doorstep—the agricultural govt. Functionaries need to be activated at ground level. Farmers need to revive their own knowledge system of agriculture aligned with new technologies. 
  3.  Lack of promotion of collectives: India is far behind promoting collectives in the agricultural sector if we put aside a few states like Maharashtra etc. Lack of collectives has left the farmers in a vulnerable stage in terms of inflow and outflow of agricultural goods and services.
  4. Hanging with risk: Indian agriculture has slowly shifted to mono cropping due to commercialization to get maximum profit. It enhances the percentage of uncertainty in terms of crop loss and price fixation. The covid-19 situation has found many such shreds of evidence, as discussed above, where either less market demand or production loss. Mix cropping could be the way to distribute risk in terms of both crop loss and incentive gain.
  5. Knowledge dilemma: Farmers are fully dependent on the market now for everything from seeds to pesticides etc. In covid-19, the market has stopped functioning. On the one hand, Farmers are on the verge of forgetting their traditional knowledge system, and on the other hand, they are not equipped with technology. They do not have traditional seeds to grows; they hardly remember the traditional process of cultivation like pesticide control, etc. if the market does not supply inputs in such a pandemic situation, the whole agriculture sector will collapse.

Kharif on alarming edge

Lockdown has put Kharif season in a stage where fear grows faster than covid-19. Kharif season starts from mid-June. This is the season where the maximum agriculture field are cropped in India. The rainfed state, like Jharkhand, grows staple food paddy in all three types of land. India needs 250 lacs quintals of seeds for the Kharif season. Seeds production ecosystem is the complex phenomena, which stars from March-May, as per IndraShekhar Singh to the Hindu Business Line (April 3, 2020). As per him, the agri-input ecosystem is collapsed right now due to its dependency on packaging units and paper units. One side, the cost of seeds would go up due to different factors and other side, farmers are away from financial transaction due to lock down on covid-19. The fertilizer and pesticide industries are shut down till May 31, 2020. Labours are busy returning back their home. The production of agriculture inputs could affect. This has put the agricultural community in a super panic situation. I remembered this time last year and backward, paddy seeds use to come in the market, but this year handful amount of seeds has reached the outlets. If the situation remains the same, seed companies’ monopoly will dominate the market (Indra Shekhar). This situation would get worse if the supply chain of other inputs like fertilizer and pesticides dried up.

Conclusion

Both the burden and expectation of agriculture have increased due to covid-19 and reverse migration. The most neglected sector has become the top priority sector for everyone in the country. Due to Covid-19, farmers have faced and still facing difficulties in terms of backword-forward linkages. The situation in livestock, horticulture, and floriculture sectors is worse, as non-veg, fruit, vegetable, and flower growers are unable to find markets due to restrictions in movement and fall in demand. The supply chain of agriculture is not so smooth that it should be. Post covid-19 policy of the country has a great role in defining Indian agriculture, where still more than 50% work forces are employed.  

Co author

Neha Kumari

PG diploma in Rural Management

Alumni: XISS (2014-16), Gold Medalist Alumni

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