By Nitin Mittal – Founder & CEO, SOLV

While the mustard adds a green-yellow lush to the fields and the wheat turns golden, this harvest season is singing a different tune for the farmers across India. Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic led shutdowns, flavours of this Baisakhi and the New year, painfully sown by the farming community have failed to reach us. 

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about two-thirds of India’s population. Agriculture, forestry and fishing added a Gross Value of ₹18.55 lakh crore in FY19. Now, India is pegging to harvest a record wheat production of 106.21 million tonne in 2019-20, as per the latest government data.

The nation-wide lockdown though has put our farmers in a dilemma.

·       Labour cannot come to reap at such a crucial time of crop harvest and lack of skilled labour is adversely impacting their agricultural operations

·       Farmers are attempting to harvest and thresh the crops on their own to avoid the crop from withering away

·       Storing and selling the produce will also become a problem after harvest

Farmers are now resorting to measures like ‘off-market’ sale or ‘sell-from-farm’, as it will help them manage their funds by –

·       Cutting down on transportation cost

·       Avoiding commission and other labour charges incurred at APMCs

The need of the hour is for the government to urgently introduce a fool-proof strategy to deal with the situation to avoid any further wastage of the harvest crop, likely to shoot-up the country’s food inflation soon.   

Measure currently taken by the government to support farmers are aplenty but lacking in nature of urgency and on-ground implementation & communication of lock-down enforcement. 

·       Exemption of farming operations: The government has exempted farming operations, farm workers, mandis and procurement agencies, sowing-related manufacturing and packaging units of fertilisers, from the lockdown rules.

·       Ensuring safety and hygiene: ICAR, the government’s agri-research body, has asked farmers to practice social distancing and safety precautions on the farm – while handling machines and with labours in the field. In case, the farmers face any issues in managing crops or livestock, they can consult agri-scientists in Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), ICAR research institutes and state agricultural universities.

·       PM Kisan Scheme: Government will transfer ₹2,000 under PM-Kisan scheme to 8.69 crore farmers in April to provide relief to farmers affected due to the coronavirus lockdown. As the farmers already receive ₹6,000 per annum from PM-KISAN, they will now be given the first instalment of that as a front-load in April.

·       Supply chain movement: The home ministry has set some standard operating procedures for delivery of essential services through ecommerce to ensure supply. This includes ration units dealing with food, groceries, fruits, vegetables, milk products. It will help farmers sell their produce, while maintaining the availability of essential goods in the large organised retail stores and e-commerce companies.

About 1,900 wholesale fruit and vegetable mandis have started functioning smoothly after the govt took measures to normalise the supply during the lockdown.

·       Regular monitoring and coordination: Mother Dairy’s Safal vegetable outlets in Delhi, Sufal Bangla retail outlets in Kolkata, Hopcoms retail outlets in Bengaluru and similar outlets in Chennai and Mumbai will monitor the movement of supplies and coordinate with local administration. Control rooms have been set up at mandis to intervene and coordinate with local police, district collector and transport association.

·       Procurement by State Govt: Punjab Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu assured farmers that the State government will allow harvesting, and will procure every grain from the market.

Some urgent mitigation mechanisms that can be mobilized by the government

·       There are about 6,900 wholesale mandis in India, including the ones selling grains, vegetables and fruits. Only 1900 of those are operative. It is important to activate most of them during the time of harvest to ensure supply meets demand.

·       Reduction in labour force is affecting production, processing of crops, leading to a loss of income and perishable produce; labor force must be equipped with protection like khadi masks procured from handlooms and incentivized to get back to work

·       Restriction on people’s movement may disrupt distribution too, as seasonal agricultural workers that constitute over 120 million or more are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban labour markets and farms, are not migrating.

·       Encourage food majors to procure directly from farmers or generation of other means, such as e-Nam to help farmers trade directly.

. Regulations for Ecommerce and logistics players involved in fixing supply chain issues need to be directed from the center and adopted at state-level instead of the district-led calls that are proving to be a deterrent in speedy and hassle-free movement of essential goods.

E-NAM Mandis

To support the off-market selling option, e-NAM is coming across as useful platform.

It is an online trading platform for agricultural commodities in India that facilitate farmers, traders and buyers with online trading and smooth marketing of their produce.

Amid these difficult times of the coronavirus led lockdown & social distancing, National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) is playing a vital role in promoting the agriculture trade across nation. Traders and food majors can procure produce directly from farmers on this e-mandi/platform, ensuring:

·       Social distancing – trading, invoicing and payment, everything takes place online

·       Competitive price for farmers – the selling price is decided by the competition and not by intermediaries

·       Better reach – sellers get better reach to markets across the state

·       Real time information – buyers can get real time information on trade, price and commodities

In order to create awareness about e-NAM platform, organisations such as CSC e-gov, Panchayats, citizen service centres, etc can be leveraged by the government.  

Originally published here.

Views also published in Indore Samachar, dated Apr 7, 2020. Read here.