The ongoing 21-day nationwide lockdown in India to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the country's economy. With the nation in lockdown, millions of migrant workers from across the country who lost their livelihood due to the closure of factories, construction sites and more have been desperately trying to reach their villages in the hinterlands.
It is not just the urban economy that has been hit by the lockdown, the impact of it is much deeper, especially in the agriculture sector. With borders shut and markets closed, farmers across the country are looking at some tough days ahead. While they have been classified as essentials services, which have been exempted from the lockdown, the reality is that the supply chain has been broken - meaning that even if the farmers harvest their crops there is no way they can take it to the wholesalers and then to markets across the country.
In the past few days, there have been several instances from across the country where farmers were forced to abandon or throw away their produce due to the lack of demand. This includes poultry farmers, dairy farmers, tomato growers, rice and wheat growers, etc.
It is a double whammy for Uttar Pradesh farmers as they don't have farm machines and labourers to harvest the ripe crops of sugarcane and wheat and even if they somehow manage to do it they don't have a place to store it. Lakhs of hectares of sugarcane and wheat crops are just ready for harvest.
Agricultural expert Amokant said that the wheat crops are ready to harvest in the last week of March. But this time there are no labourers adding to the woes of farmers. Any delay in harvesting will lead to damage to crops because of forecast of rain. Farmers will suffer in all cases. Even harvesting machines are not allowed in the villages due to lockdown.
Harnam Verma, Uttar Pradesh president of Bhartiya Kisan Union, said, "The harvest of major rabi crops - wheat, chana,and mustard as well as vegetable crops including potato is already underway. Leaving the harvest mid-way will expose the ready crop to vagaries of the weather. Things will get bad if government does not intervene."
In Punjab and Haryana, wheat farmers are finding it difficult to harvest their crops of which the procurement begins from April 1 in both state that contributes over 70 per cent of the total foodgrain to the national kitty to run public distribution and welfare schemes.
Punjab had harvested a 20-year record bumper wheat crop last season with its production of 129.93 lakh tonnes, of which 128.38 lakh tonnes was procured by state agencies and the remaining by private traders. Haryana had procured 93.60 lakh tonnes of wheat in the last season.
This season, Punjab aims to reap 135 lakh tonnes of wheat and is expected to arrive in 1,850 mandis and nearly 1,700 procurement centres.
Four-five lakh daily-wage earners, mainly from Bihar and Jharkhand, are employed by the farmers. After the lockdown was announced a lot of them have left or are stuck. This could result in most of the farmers facing a shortage of manpower in the coming days.
"Most of the labourers normally start arriving in Punjab by mid of March. This time the coronavirus scare earlier slowed down their arrival from home. Now with the country-wide lockdown, a majority of migrant workers stuck there," Yuvraj Dhillon of Punjab's Khanna town said.
"We have a good crop this time but we are keeping the fingers crossed. If there is a delay in wheat procurement, it will certainly impact the next crop too owing to the delay," a farmer Amrik Singh of Zira in Punjab's Ferozepur district said.
For farmers who have grown potatoes in Punjab's Doaba region, which feeds potato markets across the country, the labour shortage is also spelling harvest troubles for them too. Potatoes are grown on about one lakh hectares in Punjab with a production of 25 lakh tonnes every year. The growers are demanding exemption from curfew to harvest the crop that has short shelf-life.
In Punjab, wheat is harvested in 35 lakh hectares, while rice is under cultivation under 29 lakh hectares with 25 per cent under Basmati crop. Out of 42 lakh hectares under crop in Punjab, the other crash crops are cotton, potato and sugarcane.
Haryana also largely depends on farm labourers from neighbouring states. The farmers are caught in a vicious time-cycle as they have to complete harvesting of wheat by mid of May and sow the next crop paddy by June 10.
Dairy farmer Ajaib Singh in Haryana's Karnal said the shortage of manpower is impacting dairy farming too. "Farm workers are not willing to come from to their native places in Bihar. This will certainly slow down not only the harvesting but also the procurement process,".
Even the shrimp and fish farmers are facing a tough time due to the coronavirus crisis. Aquaconnect, an aquaculture technology venture has launched an emergency helpline number to support Indian shrimp and fish farmers to offer on-call support for aquaculture farmers to provide information on lockdown regulations and farming related queries.
"As the summer culture is about to begin, they are worried about the transportation of important farm inputs such as seed and feed. Also, there is a lack of clarity on the market dynamics due to the lockdown, which we aim to bring through the launch of our helpline. We have industry experts who are constantly monitoring the Government orders and its implementation on the ground. We are partnering with veteran farm technicians, farmers and processors to gather information and share it with farmers thought the helpline service” Rajamanohar Somasundaram, CEO, Aquaconnect said.