The lockdown has severely disrupted India’s agricultural sector, starving it of buyers and migrant labourers as the restrictions halt people’s movements. With a sharp decline in takers for vegetables, fruits and flowers, farmers are looking to the government for help.
For the farmers, who were facing huge financial losses owing to untimely rain and hailstorms in January and February and even March, the lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak had proved a double whammy.The future was seemingly uncertain not only for those whose rabi crop was standing ready in the fields for harvesting but also lakhs of cane-growers in western UP, prepared with fields for sowing. All were clueless about reaching their fields as ban was imposed movement because of the pandemic and all were facing the acute dearth of agricultural labourers.
At this juncture, the timely personal intervention by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath brought a big respite to the community. Harvesting commenced in Uttar Pradesh on April 5 and is going on in full swing. To bring relief to farmers, the CM contacted the authorities concerned at the Centre seeking permission for allowing farmers and agri labourers to work in fields.
2.5 crore farmers and over three crore agriculture labourers are there in the state, which is the biggest producer of foodgrains, milk and vegetables.
The farmers were anticipating a good profit this year, but the lockdown has crippled their livelihoods. Farmers who cultivate cotton, onion, banana, flower and other cash crops were worst hit while the paddy farmers have slightly escaped from the lockdown impact.
Banana and flower farmers suffered huge losses as the nature of their produce requires timely sales.
Banana is a yearly crop. At many places, banana plantains have reached the harvesting stage now. But the farmers left the banana bunches to ripen in trees because of transport restrictions as most of the banana harvest is transported to states like Kerala.
15,000 acres of land see banana cultivation in Tiruchy district. At least 20 per cent of the banana bunches spoiled before the government cleared transport curbs, as per a farmer.
The lockdown has come as a major blow for Kerala farmers engaged in paddy cultivation and farming of perishable goods. Though initially, they found it hard, later the state government started procuring vegetables and paddy, in addition to a slew of market intervention measures. However, the huge mismatch between procurement and production has severely affected the farmers.
In the case of Vazhakkulam pineapple, the average daily production is 1200 tonnes as against the average daily procurement of 20 tonnes. Due to the restrictions imposed, stocks have been piling up in the markets.
200 TONNES: The average daily production of Muthalamada Mango, as against only three tonnes of average procurement by Horticorp.
Agricultural produce rates have drastically fallen. “Farmers had no option but to dump their produce. We have seen many viral videos of grapes growing and vegetable growing farmers are dumping their product,” said Vijay Jawandiya, an agriculture expert. He said that international cotton prices have declined, hurting domestic prices. “Even if the government lifts the lockdown, there is little hope for farmers.”
The government should reserve Rs 1 lakh crore - Rs 1.5 lakh crore and buy the produce at government declared prices. It should give crop loans to every farmer without looking at their past records
Vijay Jawandiya, an agriculture expert.
Rs 20,000 crore loss in perishable and nonperishable produce in the state due to the lockdown, according to estimates.
Over three weeks of lockdown in Madhya Pradesh have left the wheat and vegetable farmers in a deep crisis.
The wheat farmers are finding it difficult to harvest their crops owing to the absence of combined harvesters from Punjab, and the vegetable farmers are not even finding customers for distress sales for their produce owing to the closure of mandis.
Owing to untimely and massive rains which stretched up to September-October 2019, maximum food grain farmers switched over to wheat cultivation in Madhya Pradesh, which consequently saw the area of wheat cultivation in the state growing from the 77.22 lakh hectares last Rabi season to 101.84 lakh hectares this season.
But with the standing wheat crop ready for harvest, the absence of combined harvesters usually coming from Punjab and a high labour cost has emerged as a major hurdle for the harvest of wheat in major part of the state, including Sehore and Ashok Nagar districts, which are considered the rice bowl of the state.
Many farmers in Harda and districts of the Malwa-Nimar region own combined harvesters, but the movement of their harvesters to other districts of the state is impeded due to the lockdown.
Rs 1,600 price of A quintal of wheat in the state during the lockdown, which is around Rs 300 less than the 2020-21 minimum support price of Rs 1925 per quintal.
In Chhattisgarh, which is known as the central rice bowl of India, the paddy is not an issue as the process of procurement is already over across the state. “In our state Rabi crop not procured but the challenge remains more for horticulture and dairy. To facilitate the grain trade, all Mandis are kept open and direct purchase allowed and facilitated”, said Maninder Kaur Dwivedi, the principal secretary (Agriculture). Farmers growing mustard and pulses facing crop damage due to untimely and heavy rainfall recently are not able to fix their crops as most of the labourers have fled.
There would indeed be a long term impact. The worst affected as of now remain the vegetable growers who are neither getting farm labourers nor suitable means of transport on time KK Sahu, professor at Indira Gandhi University of Agriculture.
20% decline in prices of vegetables and fruits, according to Dr Sanket Thakur, an agriculture scientist.
Bengal’s agricultural sector, which suffered recently due to uneven monsoon, will face another blow because of the COVID-19 lockdown. As another harvest season approaches, farmers worry about their standing crops. Farmers growing wheat, mustards and pulses in the winter season, they are now facing a tough time as most of the labourers available returned to their homes amid lockdown.
The state government has already received reports that potatoes are lying in cold storages and godowns because of unavailability of labourers and problems that truck drivers are scared to face while transporting.
“A large part of the sowing zones will remain untouched because of unavailability of labourer,” said a professor of Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya.
70% of the state’s farm output is rice during the Kharif season. The crop production will be affected due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Farmers in drought-prone districts like Anantapur and Kadapa are now crestfallen as they are finding it difficult to sell their produce. Banana production in Andhra Pradesh during the rabi season is expected to be around 27 lakh metric tonnes and 70 per cent of the produce is exported to other states, with Delhi, Lucknow and other cities in northern states being the main markets. However, with the lockdown, almost all the markets are now closed. “On our part, to minimise the losses of horticulture farmers, the state government has procured 80,000 metric tonnes and will continue to do so in the coming days,” said Chiranjeevi Chowdary, horticulture commissioner.
Due to lack of farmhands, I have not harvested the crop and now with no market, I am looking at losses of Rs 1.5 lakh. I took loans of Rs 1 lakh and now I might not be in a position to repay Gowtha, a farmer in Nutimadugu village, Anantapur district.
59 lakh metric tonnes is the expected yield of paddy in the state. About 47% of the major food crop has been harvested so far.
It is a mixed bag for the agriculture sector in the state during the lockdown — a loss for fruits and vegetable farmers and luck for paddy and maize farmers.
As there are no transportation facilities, the vegetables in some places and sweet lime in Nalgonda were thrown on roads by farmers.
For example, in Siddipet, represented by Finance Minister T Harish Rao, the tomato farmers are resorting to distress sales. The price of 1 kg tomatoes was just Rs 6 in some places.
"After the initiatives taken by [Finance Minister] Harish Rao, some traders from Hyderabad are also coming to Gajwel to purchase the vegetables. Now, the situation is not as bad as it was a few days ago," Pala Sairam, Gajwel Agriculture Market Committee chairman.
Rs 25,000 crore loan the Civil Supplies Corporation can raise for purchasing paddy, the government has approved.
The COVID-19 lockdown and excessive restrictions on movements of farmers and farm goods have taken a heavy toll on the rural economy.
With a bumper yield of vegetables and cash crops like pulses and oilseeds, farmers are desperately looking for government help to sell their produce at least in the local markets at whatever prices.
Clouds come floating into the life of Basanta Barik, a progressive farmer of Balasore district in coastal Odisha with 20 acres of agricultural land, as he is staring at a huge loss due to rotting of his ripened vegetables.50% fall in the price of brinjal in Bhubaneswar amid a bumper yield in the state.
"One or 2 quintals of pumpkins are getting waste every day and I am helpless to do anything without transportation," said Samrendra Singh, pumpkin farmer with 40 tonnes in stock.
The lockdown has compounded the problems of the farmers in Rajasthan. The lack of labour has impacted the harvesting process. Moreover, transporting and selling the crop in the market has been a serious concern as 125 major grain markets out of a total of 247 are hardly functional.
Also the farmers are themselves apprehensive of visiting these markets fearing Corona infection. Lack of storage and availability of pesticides at some places has further raised complications. The State Government has initiated some steps to help the farmers.
The rabi crops such as wheat, mustard and barley are ready for harvesting. Many migrant workers from UP and Bihar have left due to the lockdown and other farmers are managing the workload by themselves. But it has also meant a delay in the cutting of wheat crops.
CM Ashok Gehlot said, “We are providing tractors to farmers along with different equipment. We will give 1.5 kg seed kits free to 10 lakh small and marginal farmers.”
The farmers had started harvesting wheat, but with markets not open, the storage became a problem. If sold in the open, the buyers are not giving a fair price. The farmers were not getting more than Rs. 1600 per quintal.
"Farmers are finding it tough to get the crop cut, cleaned and sell. They also need people for grading of the crops. Currently, they are helping each other as 40-45% of labourers have gone back to their home states," said Babulal Gupta, Chairman of Rajasthan Khadya Padarth Vyapar Sanghat Jaipur Anaaj Mandi.
1.02 lakh tonnes of wheat and 32 lakh tonne mustard and 18 lakh tonne barley — it has been a season of bumper crops in the state.
With the ongoing lockdown, farmers in Uttarakhand are facing losses as they are unable to sell their produce in markets available prior to lockdown. Most of their produce, especially which has a short shelf life and perishes within a week’s time such as fruits and vegetables. Harvest of crops like wheat, barely, gram, mustard and vegetables like cauliflower, tomato, capsicum and onion have also been affected adversely.
70% of vegetables is being wasted as there are no buyers or transport, a farmer from Nainital district said.
"With lockdown going on and extension insight, we are unable to find workers and machine to deploy for the harvest. I hope there will be some measures to provide respite to the farmers," Hemant Rawat, a farmer from Udham Singh Nagar district.
Summer paddy crops in some 15 taluks of Tungabhadra region are all set for harvest but with neither labour nor transport nor promise of procurement available farmers are a worried lot. With places of worship closed and ban on all cultural, traditional or religious ceremonies over COVID19, there are no takers for flowers. With government procurement centres shut, transportation becoming a challenge and heavy restrictions imposed on APMC yards sale of fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses have all taken a hit landing farmers in heavy losses running into crores. With unseasonal rains already beginning, procurement of seeds and fertilisers in time for sowing is a new challenge.
"15,000 hectares of plantain cultivation in the state. The fruit is not being sold We may soon see an increase in price since farmers may not grow vegetables anymore," said Kurbur Shanthakumar, a farmer.
The state government has decided to commence the wheat procurement of 135 lakh tonnes from April 15 but the problem is a lack of labour and space. Puneet Singh Thind, National Director of Vegetable Growers Association of India, said, “The farmers who have grown green chillies, cucumber, capsicum, cabbage, onion are facing major losses as their produce has been dumped at the vegetable markets. Wholesale buyers (hotel, restaurant and caterers) are not purchasing the produce as many establishments are shut. Only retail vendors or hawkers are buying the produce which is just 20 per cent of the total.”
50 per cent fall in prices of vegetables such as cabbage.
Due to misinformation on social media, the public is not buying vegetables and this has exacerbated the situationPuneet Singh Thind, National Director of Vegetable Growers Association of India.