Agri Business

Farm sector faces lockdown heat

Rutam Vora KV Kurmanath TV Jayan Ahmedabad/New Delhi/Hyderabad | Updated on March 25, 2020

Farmers are finding it impossible to take the harvested produce to the mandis because of the lockdown   -  THE HINDU

Labour shortage hits harvest of rabi crops

The countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has triggered labour shortage in many areas, impacting the harvest and marketing of rabi crops such as mustard, wheat, pulses and paddy.

For farmers, who are in the midst of harvesting wheat, gram and mustard in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, the flight of migrant labourers back home has spelt hardship. Marketing of the produce is also becoming a challenge.

In Punjab and Haryana, wheat harvest is expected to begin in mid-April. For farmers who have grown potatoes, the labour shortage could spell harvest troubles.

Lockdown woes

“Farm labourers have gone home. If we somehow manage to arrange some labourers, the police is restricting their movement because of the lockdown. So, in most of the fields, harvesting is disrupted,” said Dalveer Singh, a mustard grower in Bharatpur, Rajasthan.

Gujarat, which hosts a large number of migrant farm labourers from neighbouring States, is also witnessing their mass exodus.

“Farm workers are moving back to their native places in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This will severely hamper the harvesting of crops,” said a district agriculture officer from central Gujarat. The shutdown of APMCs and public transport has created panic among the labourers.

“Farmers having large farms are taking care of their labourers and those workers stay put. But most of the farmers can’t afford to do it,” said a farmer from Chhota Udepur in central Gujarat.

The Gujarat government on Wednesday asked all APMCs to resume auctions to keep the supply chains of grains and pulses uninterrupted. “It is informed to all the APMCs engaged in the auctions of food, agri-commodities such as grains, pulses, oilseeds among others to resume their operations. For this, they are asked to maintain required safety measures, avoid overcrowding, and maintain hygiene prescribed by the government,” an official notification said.

Markets closed

In Madhya Pradesh, wheat arrivals have started but some markets remain closed. “Some markets are shut and there is no clarity on what to do with these crops,” said a district official of MP State Cooperative Marketing Federation in Ujjain.

Farmers are also finding it impossible to take the harvested produce to the mandis because of the lockdown.

Yadhuvir Singh, national general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union, said: “The lockdown has disrupted supply chains for most vegetables. Right now, there is enough stock in urban areas. So consumers, even though they are paying a bit more, are not worried. But, as the authorities are not allowing vehicles carrying produce, the supply chain is affected.”

“Once the supply chain is broken, it takes time to bring it back to normal. Since 99 per cent of the supply chain is managed by the private sector, they would be reluctant to get back to business unless there is clear signal from the authorities. Why could the Centre not give advance notice to those who are part of the supply chain, beginning with farmers. This is going to be more troublesome than what followed the demonetisation,” Singh added.

Wheat unaffected

“As of now wheat is not affected much. MP, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are already in the midst of harvesting, which may go for another 10 days. Haryana and Punjab will begin harvest by April 10. Since wheat harvest is mostly mechanised, labour shortage is not a big issue. But it can have an impact on potato harvest,” Ajay Vir Jakhar of Bharat Krishak Samaj said.

The States are realising that if the harvesting of fruits and vegetables is affected, it will lead to a sudden surge in prices. The Punjab government issued a notification on potatoes on Wednesday, allowing their harvest and transportation.

“The situation is chaotic right now. Each State government has to issue its own notification. They are in the process of doing that. Even though APMCs are not functioning in Punjab, its impact is limited as wheat hasn’t started arriving in mandis. But if the lockdown is prolonged, it can have an impact on procurement. Any delay in procurement will be problematic as rains can reduce the quality of grains,” Jakhar said.

Scene in Telangana

In Telangana, the Covid-19 crisis has shattered the dreams of the farmers who have grown paddy, maize and chillis. Their acreages were higher this year. Paddy acreage had more than doubled to 39 lakh acres against a normal of 17 lakh acres, while the maize area increased to 5.84 lakh acres against the normal 3.72 lakh acres.

Two weeks into the harvest season, farmers are at a loss as to how to complete the job as the government has imposed restrictions on vehicular movement and is asking people to stay home.

“In some areas where farmers grow the Sona Masuri variety of rice, millers buy only crops with a certain level of moisture. They expect the government to allow millers to buy the produce,” T Sagar, Secretary of the Telangana Rythu Sangham, said.

Exemption granted

Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has exempted agricultural activities from the lockdown restrictions. “There is a standing crop on 50 lakh acres. We should allow farmers complete the harvesting,” he said.

He asked the farmers not to come to the mandis to sell their produce. “We will have it bought in your villages. We will give you tokens informing you about the time and date of procurement and will remit the payments directly into your bank accounts,” he said.

With drivers and labourers staying home after police strictly enforcing the lockdown, farmers have complained of hardship in getting the crop harvested.

Published on March 25, 2020

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