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COVID-19 Impact On Indian Agriculture | Measures Taken By Indian Government

COVID-19 Impact On Indian Agriculture | Measures Taken By Indian Government

The ongoing health crisis around COVID19 has affected all walks of life. Protecting lives of people suffering from the disease as well as frontline health responders have been the priority of nations. Governments have swung into actions since the Corona virus attack created an unprecedented situation. India declared a three-week nation-wide lockdown till mid-April in the initial phase, which was subsequently extended for achieving satisfactory containment of the virus spread.

Indian Agricultural Crisis 

During these challenging times, how does Indian Agriculture respond to the crisis and how do government measures affect 140 million farm households across the country and thereafter impact the economy of a very important country in the developing world? We assess the immediate challenges that COVID19 has posed to the farm sector and suggest mitigation measures to ensure a sustainable food system in the post-crisis period.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has issued state-wise guidelines for farmers to be followed during the lockdown period. The advisory mentions specific practices during harvest and threshing of various rabi crops as well as post-harvest, storage and marketing of the farm produce.

The Reserve Bank of India has also announced specific measures that address the “burden of debt servicing” due to COVID19 pandemic. Agricultural term and crop loans have been granted a moratorium of three months (till May 31) by banking institutions with 3 percent concession on the interest rate of crop loans up to INR 300,000 for borrowers with good repayment behaviour.

Immediate Challenges

  • In spite of all these measures and in view of continuing restrictions on movements of people and vehicular traffic, concerns have been raised regarding negative implications of COVID19 pandemic on the farm economy. This is the peak of rabi season in India and crops like wheat, gram, lentil, mustard, etc. (including paddy in irrigated tracts) are at harvestable stage or almost reaching maturity.
  •  This is also the time when the farm harvests reach the mandis (market yards) for assured procurement operations by designated government agencies. Moreover, any severe disruption to the supply of perishable fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fish, etc. having mobilized to meet the increasing demand from a bulging middle class as well as urban and rural consumers, may create irreparable damage to all actors in the supply chain. 
  • The migration of workers from few parts to their native places has also triggered panic buttons, as they are crucial for both harvesting operations and post-harvest handling of produce in storage and marketing centers.

Making the food grains, fruits and vegetables and other essential items available to consumers, both in rural and urban areas, is the most critical challenge for Government machinery during the lockdown period. Smooth functioning of the supply chain, with adequate safety measures for the people involved, is of paramount importance. Transportation of public distribution system items to last mile delivery agents, by both rail and road, has to be ensured by respective Government agencies. Distribution of the commodities to vulnerable population, while maintaining prescribed guidelines and protocol, particularly of social distancing, must be effectively monitored.

Mitigation Measures

  • The poor sections of society are always the hardest hit in any disaster or pandemic situation. With about 85 percent of Indian farm households being small and marginal farmers, and a significant part of the population being landless farm laborers, welfare measures to contain any damage from COVID are definitely going to help them with sincere implementation. 
  • The focus of the Government therefore has to be to protect the lives of every citizen. However, people living on agriculture and allied activities, mostly those losing their income from informal employment at this lockdown period, have to be provided with alternative avenues (cash transfers) till the economy bounces back (when this health crisis is successfully overcome).
Good news is that Government of India has now increased its focus on nutrition (besides food)- security and raising farmers’ income (rather than enhancing farm productivity). Changing the consumer behaviour with suitable programs and incentives is already in the agenda. For all these to happen, the existing landscape of policy incentives that favour the two big staples of wheat and rice has to change. Designing agricultural policies, post-COVID19 scenario, must include these imperatives for a food systems transformation in India.