Lockdown, agriculture and farmer distress

Lockdown might bring India’s agrarian economy to a grinding halt. Currently, the government’s plans and packages are not farsighted and are only efforts to mitigate the losses in the near future. 

lockdown

Gauri Lankesh News is doing a series on how lockdown is affecting the economy. Read here: Part1. We spoke to experts working in the field of agriculture and economy about the effect of lockdown on the agrarian economy.  

With the Rabi harvesting season coming up, the Centre exempted procurement agencies, mandis, agri-machinery-hiring centers, and intra and inter state movement of farm equipment from lockdown rules. This was done to ease the pressure on farmers during the pandemic. Manufacturing units of pesticides, fertilizers, and seeds are also exempted from lockdown. Despite these measures, farmers are facing a huge crisis. Farmers were already finding it hard to sell their produce and had faced severe economic backlash due to the already struggling Indian economy, but the lockdown seems to be the final nail in the coffin. 

lockdown The farmers have experienced a bumper crop this harvest season but most are forced to either plough the crop or sell it at throw away prices to whoever is willing to buy it. The government had listed out the essential services that will be kept open, they have failed to take into account the ancillary services that keep these services running. Further, with the supply chain being disrupted, farm gate prices for many rabi crops have come crashing.

Nilotpal Kumar, Professor, Azim Premji University

In a conversation with Gauri Lankesh News, Nilotpal Kumar, a professor at Azim Premji University who works on the interaction between political economy and culture, said in reference to how the lockdown will affect farmers. 

“Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh, farm gate prices for groundnut came down from 2900/bag on 15th March to 1900/bag on 21st March. By 25th of March there were no buyers for the product. A consequence of this disruption is that whenever the lockdown is going to be lifted, it may become a buyer’s market because most farmers will try to sell their produce at the same time, leading to lower prices for farmers. In other words, we are looking at substantially lower incomes for farmers this year. This also implies, most probably, substantially lower consumption in the rural economy, which has a cascading effect on the wider manufacturing sector.” 

Those who are managing to sell their produce are selling it to middlemen and the prices that the farmers get are well below the market price. The lockdown has also made it hard for the farmers to venture out and sell their crops as they do not have permission to move out to the markets during the curfew. The mandis that farmers sold to and at are shut down across the country. Those which are open are open only for a few hours which is not enough time for the farmers to sell their produce at desired prices. Farmers don’t have labour to help them harvest the crops, and this could mean that the wholesale markets would come to a halt. If the farmers manage to harvest crops by themselves, they will have a problem carting the crops to the markets, as there will be only few trucks to move the harvest. 

Dhanya Bhaskar, Professor, Azim Premji University

Farmers who grow perishable crops will be worst hit due to the lockdown. Dhanya B, a professor with Azim Premji University, who has done extensive interdisciplinary research in the field of forest/agriculture ecosystems said in a correspondence with Gauri Lankesh News:

“There is a change in both nature and quantity of demand. In urban areas people are purchasing more processed items to tide over the curfew period. Peri-urban farmers who have completely shifted from traditional millets and coarse grains to producing perishables like vegetables and flowers will be severely affected. Further the closure of hotels and restaurants has seriously affected demand for vegetables, meat etc.Poultry farmers are also being affected due to the fake news about COVID-19 being spread via meat.”

The economy and its sectors do not function in a vaccum. The shocks that one sector faces are not absorbed by the others, instead the blow of the shocks spreads to all sectors. Thus, if the aviation, hotel, and construction industry feels the shock, there is no doubt that the farmers will also be affected by this economic hit. Currently, the government’s plans and packages are not farsighted and are only efforts to mitigate the losses in the near future. 

The government has announced that they will give 2000 rupees under the PM Kisan scheme, though this sum was already promised to the farmers before the lockdown. Instead of being given at the last month of the quarter it is being advanced to the first month of the quarter. This is not enough. It is necessary that the farmers are given double the amount they are being promised. The government must ensure that they start buying food grains directly from farmers to ensure that the farmers can sell their products. In an interview with Jayati Ghosh in The Wire she says that rations need to be doubled and made free for the period of one month in the least, the excess food stocks that the Centre is sitting on should be released. The Centre also needs to ensure that the minimum support price is maintained and that there is a moratorium on all loans and payments of the farmers. P. Sainath has also pointed out that one of the biggest steps that the government can take at this time is to get farmers to grow crops in the Kharif season. If the situation persists then the farmers will not be able to sell cash crops this season. With the vaccine being months away, growing more cash crops could lead to the dwindling of the food stock. 

The farmers are facing uncertainty in the coming few months and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that their economic plan accounts for the long-term impacts of the lockdown. 

 

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May 2024
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