Agriculture is the backbone of any economy. It is the primary sector which generates employment so that the entire circle of economic circulation goes on. When we talk about the Indian economy, the majority of the population is restricted to this sector.
With the ongoing pandemic, livelihoods of all the farmers and the people who are indulging in this sector are at high risk. In some nations, COVID-19 has disappeared while in some it is coming back. Just a short span of the pandemic will leave an everlasting effect on the agricultural sector. The pandemic will go away surely, but we do not know when and we do not know the quantum of the negative impact it will leave on the economy. Leading authors and researchers have said that there might be a food crisis unless measures are taken fast to protect the most vulnerable food supply chains alive.
It is important to remember the fact that 2-3 million deaths happened in the Bengal Famine of 1943 due to food supply chain disruption. There was no lack of food but the supply chain was disrupted completely. The Indian government announced the relief package which includes cash transfers and food transfers. Several state governments have also announced their own customised packages. Indian farmers have constantly criticised the government about only spending 0.85% of India’s GDP on the agriculture sector. This will lead to food and nutrition security, empowerment of the farmers and boost of the primary sector of the economy.
Closing out the borders, quarantine measures and market supply chain being broken along with trade disruptions are restricting the people‘s access to nutritious sources of food. For example in India, farmers were not able to harvest their crops because their labourers had fled back to their villages. The crops were left wilting away on the farm and because of this, the fertile nature of the land is no more available. This led to a lot of loss for these farmers who are totally dependent upon their farm produce as their source of income.
Challenges have come up with regards to logistics involving the movement of goods from one place to the other. There were various restrictions imposed in the early months of the lockdown and transport vehicles were not allowed to enter other states. For all the agricultural produce that has a short shelf life, this obstructive nature of the supply chain called a lot of harm. Moreover, the closure of restaurants and street food outlets removes the market ingredients for all these agriculturists. After this, sanitation also plays a major role.
Majority of the population in India depends upon the informal sector and the majority of it is indulged in it. The Central and the state governments must understand the plight of the informal sector labourers and must try to scale up the initiatives for them.
This is the peak Rabi season in India and it is going to get wasted. This is also the time when the farmers go to the market so that they can sell their produce. It is also observed that those farmers who have reached the market are facing a lot of corruption. A conclusive and transparent system must be set up so that this sector does not face all this. The most important aspect to be focused on by the government is for making the food grains, fruits and vegetables available for every person of the country. Farmers across the nation are looking up to the government to ensure uninterrupted harvesting of their crops because of the Rabi season.
No matter what happens, the poor sections of society are always the hardest hit. 85% of the Indian farm households come under small and marginal farming activities. They are usually landless and are supposed to pay higher rents even during the time of the lockdown. The focus of the government must be to protect every citizen of the country. Investments must be made in this sector otherwise this sector will be a big disaster.
Various reforms such as land leasing, contract farming and private agricultural markets could have been announced at this time to give a boost to the agriculture sector and to push its growth. Laws have been passed but their implementation has not been done. Various trade-offs such as cereals fundamentalism, switching to a more sustainable model etc must have come up.
Moreover, India is not just affected by the pandemic but it is also affected by numerous other factors. Cyclone Amphan, earthquakes and the locust attacks have also disrupted the agricultural sector. Farmers all across the country are wondering over their feet and of why God is treating them in such a way. This is not a happy time for the people who have invested in this sector and who is the source of income highly depends upon agriculture.
If we look at the case of China, the first nation that was infected with the virus, there has been a higher impact on livestock farming. Due to global trade disturbance, farmers are facing a shortage of agricultural inputs too. China is the biggest producer of fertilisers and exports into almost every nation. It is said that in India, the further process of farming will be disrupted because of the kharif season. India needs to have 250 lakh quintiles of seed for this season but with various barriers coming out, this has not been procured till now. This is not just the end of the impact. It is the start. The government needs to intervene at the right time so that the biggest sector of the economy does not fail lost during these tough times. The food supply chain has been hit the hardest by the pandemic which also results in a shortage of food security amongst the most vulnerable segment of the population. Apart from that, if we go deeper we will observe that the migrant labour or crisis directly affects the agricultural sector employment. Various labourers have been rendered unemployed and due to this, the demand of food will also go down from their end. With no money to feed themselves, they would sustain on cheaper sources of food.
The entire concept of lockdown without any prior notice has been witnessed in a very challenging way by this sector. The government must provide for all the wrongs that have happened to this sector because of the virus. If privatisation can be the source of revamping of the sector, the government can also go for that with a high amount of policies so that the farmers are also not at risk.