Usually, 90% of the wheat in
Punjab and neighbouring Haryana is harvested using combine harvester
machines. But with physical distancing norms in place now, for many small
farmers, that system has been thrown out of gear as they can’t jointly
hire the machine and the produce must be brought to the mandis through
commission agents so that people don’t congregate.
The major worry is how to
store this harvested produce during this extended period.
Unfortunately the Indian
Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast says a western disturbance is
likely to affect the western Himalayan region, which could bring scattered
rain and thunder showers over the region on April 17 and 18. Standing
crops and harvest stored in the open could face widespread damage.
The problem may be more acute
for those selling perishable crops such as fruits and vegetables.
The government in its initial
order did not specify fruit transport as an essential service. There was
confusion. It led to the destruction of fruit crop all over Maharashtra.
The impact of this virus is
much bigger than any drought.
harvest in India during these tough times in different regions
Wheat is the major rabi crop
in the winter farming season in India, and the only one bought by
government agencies at the pre-set minimum support price (MSP).
In western States such as
Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and even Rajasthan, warmer weather means that the
wheat harvest was already under way when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the
country, and is now largely over.
However, the bulk of the
country’s wheat is grown in Punjab and Haryana, an area known as the bread
basket of India. The prolonged winter delayed the maturing of the grain
and pushed harvesting dates by at least a week.
Punjab is expecting a bumper
wheat harvest crop this season with production likely to touch 182 lakh
The cash credit limit of
₹22,900 crore has already been approved by the Centre to ensure prompt and
seamless procurement operations in the State.
being done to help?
The long list was presented
to the States, via video conferencing due to the lockdown, along with
another long list of actions taken by the Centre to facilitate
All agricultural work was exempted from lockdown restrictions.
Mandis can function with at
least 50% of their workforce. Although migrant labour may have left, local
labour is available, so there is no need to panic. Anyway, most Punjabi
farmers use machines for harvesting.
To ensure that farmers get
their monetary return at the earliest, the amendment of the Agricultural
Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act has been notified to ensure that
farmers are paid electronically through commission agents within 48 hours
after the produce is lifted.
With each coupon a farmer
will be entitled to bring one trolley of about 50 to 70 quintals of wheat.
A farmer will be entitled to
take multiple coupons each day or on different days depending on space in
the purchase centre in order to avoid rush in the mandis.
As one coupon only allows
sale of 50 quintals, it will be a difficult task for farmers with big
landholdings to sell their produce.
Once a farmer uses up the
given coupon, until the next coupon is given, the harvest will be out in
the open due to lack of storage facilities and face risks. Also, fire
incidents during the harvesting season usually go up, which is a major
concern for crop safety.
The Centre announced a slew
of relaxations and support measures for agriculture in the first two weeks
of the lockdown.
All agricultural and
horticultural activities, markets, labour and transport were supposed to
be exempt from lockdown restrictions.
Subsidies on crop loans were
extended for late repayment. States were asked to relax regulations and
allow direct purchases by bulk buyers and retailers.
The digitally connected e-NAM
marketplace system was touted, along with a logistics module connecting
farmers and traders to a network of almost 8 lakh trucks and 2 lakh
The Railways introduced 67
routes for perishable produce. An “Agri-Transport” Call Centre
was set up to handle transport issues.
However, as farmers from
different parts of the country reported, many of these policies were not
uniformly implemented on the ground, especially in the first few weeks.
In many cases, the Centre’s
instructions have not percolated down to District Magistrates and
Superintendents of Police, resulting in the harassment of farmers and
agricultural traders, and supply chain disruptions
The lockdown has proved one
thing: agriculture is truly the backbone of the Indian economy.
Coronavirus or not, farm production goes on because the demand for food
will always be there.
But the cost to the farmer,
to agricultural workers, is not taken into account in that process.
Also, this reverse migration
proves that they were actually agricultural refugees, who left for the
cities only because they could not make a living in the fields
Everyone is talking about the
need to invest in public health once the COVID-19 crisis is over. Our
farmers, agricultural workers are also front line workers during this time
and they also deserve attention. If we can invest in agriculture and
overhaul it so it is profitable, then we will have actually learned
something from this crisis.