Which shop did you rush to first as you heard of lockdown? Grocery shop, isn’t it? Who provides us with the raw materials of the groceries? Obviously, farmers. So, can you imagine your life without farmers? I cannot. Because farmers provide us with one of the most basic necessities of life i.e food.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started globally, one scene has been common everywhere—empty grocery store shelves as families rushed to stores preparing to settle for the long run. But as the shoppers and consumers buy food items, have they thought of the farmers that produce our food? Farmers that today are in the fields, in this coronavirus pandemic, often without sick pay or health insurance, planting and harvesting our nation’s food supply.
According to the Food and Agriculture organisation of United Nation, agriculture, with its allied sectors, is the largest source of livelihoods in India. 70 per cent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 per cent of farmers being small and marginal. Agriculture contributes some 16% to the country's GDP. Also, India is one of the world's largest producers of crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, vegetables and milk. Seeing these data, it is very clear that the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will drop the country’s struggling rural economy that supports nearly half its population into further distress.
India's farm activity is at its peak between April and June because this is when the winter crop - wheat, rice and pulses - is harvested and sold. And it is also the time when farmers begin sowing the summer rain-fed crops, such as- paddy, pulses, cotton and sugarcane. Around 60 per cent of India’s food supply and farmers’ incomes are dependent on the Kharif season. The lockdown has hit both these seasons. The coronavirus lockdown will adversely affect the agriculture sector and farmers in India. The sector is facing a lot of trouble with labourers and movement of the farm produced goods. Talking about ground reality, even if agriculture produce is exempted from lockdown directives, policemen are creating problems. Recently due to heavy rain, India’s agriculture sector faced disruptions and crop damage. And now it is facing another hit due to disruptions from the coronavirus. As Rabi harvest season approaches, farmers are worried about their standing crops as how to harvest. Several farm machines are not available for harvesting. Farmers growing wheat, mustard and pulses already got their crops damaged due to untimely heavy rainfall recently. Farmers were trying to fix this issue and then Coronavirus lockdown came up as disruption.
Another major issue faced by the agriculture sector in the lockdown is fleeing of farmers to their homes due to the fear of Coronavirus. Our food production also depends on the availability of human resources, farm inputs and free movement of agricultural produce. And all these are restricted at this time due to lockdown. These problems will lead to weak food production and high food price inflation due to Coronavirus lockdown. Also, if this continues for more days, food production would decrease later this year.
The above-mentioned issues yet arise a new dilemma among the farmers, who will harvest, process, store and transport Rabi wheat and other crops across the country in this lockdown?
SumArth, an agriculture-based non-profit organisation in Bihar is providing a one-stop solution for all these. Time of harvesting is at its peak but traditional harvesting culture of crops can accelerate covid19 spread in villages because they work together in the field without any physical distance. Therefore, SumArth is providing with technology-led harvesting tool to prevent farming community and villages from this health emergency in Magadh region of Bihar. They are providing sanitized reaper binder machine for the harvesting of crops in this season. These equipment are saving crops, farmers’ time and health. They are also providing enough fodder for livestock of villages in time of crisis. Their field officers are helping farmers in staying at relevant social distance in field. Logistics and supply chain of agricultural resources like fertilizers, pesticides and other materials are disturbed. Farmers have no access of these resources in lockdown and they are facing crop health issues in standing crops like onion, vegetables, fruits etc. Team SumArth is collaborating with local suppliers of agricultural resources and ensuring their delivery on farm and door of farmers.
Lockdown stopped the field activities training sessions in villages. But SumArth is using online tools to solve crop health complications. In these days, they are regularly calling the farmers to know the status of the crops. They identify the problems, delayed or wrong practices of farmers and then provide suggestions according to identified issues. They are reaching 40-50 farmers per day with this approach.
In this Coronavirus pandemic, SumArth is providing all necessary food items for healthy life in remote areas. Currently, spinach, bottle garden, mushroom, coriander, ladyfinger, drum stick, banana, papaya, strawberry etc are available on the genuine rate. They are also collaborating with government institutions and other development partners to support farmers and needy people.
I request you all to remember your farmers during the COVID-19 Crisis as we’ll need them all the time.
(Surabhi has formerly worked with India TV)