May 24, 2020
Even good harvest could not help during lockdown.

Survey evaluates impact of nationwide lockdown against on agricultural production and livelihood

MORE THAN half of the farmers who harvested their crop during the national lockdown suffered a loss of production as compared to last year, found a survey of 1,429 farming households across 200 districts of the country.

Around 10 percent farmers could not harvest their crop due to low market price or inability to access their land due to travel restrictions.

India went into a lockdown in wake of Covid-19 pandemic on March 24. Even though agricultural activities were exempted from restrictions on April 16, the travel ban and economic slowdown impacted the supply chain, market linkages and labour availability.

The lockdown has also impacted preparations for upcoming sowing season for more than half (56 percent) of surveyed farmers. They were concerned about capacity to afford inputs, particularly seeds and fertilizer, and labour shortages.

The telephonic survey, done between May 3 and 15 by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Public Health Foundation of India and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, covered farmers in 12 states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. 

One in four farmers stored their crops instead of selling them due to the lockdown and 12 percent were still trying to sell their crops. They reported lack of access of markets or a suitable price. Most of these were small and marginal farmers. Wheat was the most harvested crop followed by vegetables, pulses, rice, and maize.

Lockdown has also impacted preparations for upcoming sowing season as farmers are concerned about money to afford seeds and fertilizers and labour shortages

Around 79 percent of households with wage-workers registered a decline of 76 percent on average compared to this time last year. Just 28 percent of respondents had an income from livestock in the past month in March-April, down from 38 percent in January-February.

Landless farmers were 10 times more likely to skip a meal and small and marginal farmers nearly three times more likely as compared to large farmers. But a majority of the farmers also reported that they received extra food rations from the government, thus preventing more severe food insecurity.

Diet diversity has also not been severely affected with more than 75 percent of all farmers reporting consumption of grains, pulses, and vegetables in the past week and more than half reporting consumption of dairy and potatoes.

Uninterrupted and universal coverage of the public distribution system, support to market and sell crops, and access to and affordability of agricultural inputs as well as credit to the rural poor were some of the recommendations that came out of the survey.

“Farmers are risk-taking entrepreneurs and the significant decline in income from agriculture and allied activities, including wage-labor and livestock, has put them in a precarious position,” said Divya Veluguri, project manager at Harvard. ”Addressing this crisis requires both short-term support and long-term risk management.” The same households will be surveyed again in one month and two months’ intervals. 

Landless farmers were 10 times more likely to skip a meal and small/marginal farmers nearly three times more likely as compared to large farmers

The indian government announced several measures to support agriculture sector on May 15. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the Centre will set up a Rs 1 lakh crore agri infrastructure fund focusing on cold storages and post harvest management for farmers. Around Rs 4,000 crore were allocated for promotion of herbal cultivation.

Government will also amend the Essential Commodities Act to enable better price realisation for farmers. Cereals, edible oils, oil seeds, pulses, onions, and potatoes will be de-regulated. 

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