New Delhi: The 21-day lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus is giving anxious moments to farmers across the country as uncertainty looms over the harvesting of their produce. In north India, where the Rabi harvest season is at its peak, the lockdown has created concern on the ground due to the unavailability of farm labourers.
“Harvesting used to start from April, but the lockdown has made everything uncertain. There is also uncertainty over procurement,” said Surender, a wheat farmer from Punjab’s Ludhiana.
The north Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh account for the country’s major wheat production. Last year, the wheat production was at 130 lakh tonnes, 98 lakh tonnes, 38 lakh tonnes and 67 lakh tonnes in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh respectively.
Though the state governments are trying to find ways to allow harvesting, experts said that the main problems lie in lack of proper advisories or exemptions for farm labourers.
While many state governments are trying to streamline the harvesting process by rolling out some relaxation measures for the harvesters, this, too, has been found insufficient in the face of shortage of farm labourers during this crucial harvesting period. To this effect, the Madhya Pradesh government has allowed movement of wheat harvesters, while the Uttar Pradesh government has exempted movements of potatoes, carrots and sugarcane loaded vehicles. The Rajasthan government has also issued guidelines on harvesting and threshing in the state, allowing farmers to continue with these operations during the lockdown period after taking certain precautions.
“The main problem is shortage of farm labourers. Even if they harvest, the next problem is of storage. Small farmers don’t have good storage facilities. Due to the lockdown, private traders are also not available which adds to the problem. So, the situation on the ground is very tense,” said Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farm expert who has been working extensively with farmers of north and northwest India.
Ramandeep also pointed out the unseasonal rains and hailstorms due to which farmers are not willing to keep their crops remain unharvested. “Harvesting is something which can be extended for 10 to 12 days, but if it gets delayed more, it will result in a loss of produce due to ‘shattering’. So they want to save whatever they could after the extreme weather this month,” Ramandeep added.
Ajit Nawle, a farm expert and member of the Kishan Sabha in Maharashtra, told The Sunday Guardian, “Farmers are not being able to sell or supply their produce to markets as there is no manpower and transportation. There is also lack of clarity among transporters as the state governments are also stopping carriers of essential commodities on state boarders. Though the lockdown is justified, the government should also look into all the economic losses incurred by farmers.”