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COVID-19 and its Impact on Agriculture

Covid-19 has shut down half of the globe. The pandemic has impacted the lives of the people and economy of the countries drastically. Both experiences and livelihoods are at risk from this pandemic. The Indian economy has taken a massive hit from this pandemic and the resultant lockdowns. According to the Ministry of Statistics, India's growth in the fourth quarter of 2020 went down to 3.1%, with the most massive GDP contraction ever observed at -24%.

Agriculture contributes to the majority of the Indian economy. This sector meets the needs of the whole country's food consumption, and India is a top exporter of agricultural produce in the world. Punjab and Haryana are the primary producers in India, although farming is mostly carried out by the migrant laborers from various other states.

The process of seeding is carried out in mid-February, which was unaffected. When the lockdown was announced nationwide in March, it was the peak of Rabi season in India. Crops like wheat, paddy, gram, lentil, mustard, etc. are grown and harvested. These crops account for the staple food in India.

Due to this pandemic, the migrant laborers returned to their rural hometowns. Grown crops are harvested in mid-April, which was utterly disturbed, resulting in scarcity of food. Rabi season is also when the harvested crops are sold to mandis for assured procurement operations by designated government agencies. Post-harvest handling of the product in storage and marketing places became crucial due to a lack of labor.

The pandemic has caused a significant disturbance in the manufacturing sectors. Production of irrigation equipment and fertilizers has been depleted, resulting in a shortage of the chemicals essential for crop growth and development. Labor scarcity also affected storage units and milk processing plants.

Making grains, fruits, and vegetables available for consumers, both in rural and urban areas, was the most critical challenge during the lockdown period. Transportation of Public Distribution System (PDS) items by rail and road were stopped and heavily guarded across all state borders. Due to this, sales had been depleted, and the goods' prices rose to 70% of their original cost.

Aquaculture and livestock have also been hit hard by the pandemic. Due to limited access to animal feed and shortage of labor, livestock farming has been affected. The travel ban has affected the breeding stock of poultry.

Animal movements have been restricted that led to overcrowding of animals in one place. Production of meat was declined because of a reduction in slaughtering and processing capacity due to labor scarcity in slaughterhouses and food production units.

Commercial crops are drastically hit due to this pandemic. These crops are dependent on migrant labor. The shortage of work has led to a sharp increase in the daily wages of harvesting crops. In many areas, the wages are as high as 50 percent with zero profit for producers since the prices have collapsed.

Covid-19 also impacted the demand for food due to a reduction in the income of people. Consumers stockpiled food items that affected the food availability and prices of goods. Costs of goods increased due to scarcity and increased demand.

As income has fallen and food prices have risen, the world is at a brink of a Global Food Emergency. According to the latest UN estimation, approximately 132 million people may go hungry in 2020 due to the economic recession triggered by the pandemic and unavailability of adequate food resources.

The Government has issued various measures to redress the grievances of farmers. MGNREGA act was passed that included crop insurance to farmers, unemployment allowance to rural or migrant workers.

APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) is reformed to encourage direct buying of agricultural produce from farmers and farmer production organizations (FPOs) and dismantle monopolies of unfair trading.

Farmers Protest Against the Bill

Lok Sabha also cleared the bill issuing the amendment of the Essential Commodities Act that ensures the safe delivery of necessary commodities such as food products and toiletries. It wouldn't affect the ordinary lives of people due to the obstruction of supply by black marketing.

The amendment of this Act seeks to remove regulations on food items, including pulses, cereals, and certain vegetables such as onions and tomatoes, to transform the farming sector and raise farmers' income.

Kisan Sabha App is also launched to support the farmers with technological support that will help them sell their produce directly to the retailers without incorporating mediators.

It connects the farmers to supply chains to provide logistic support and increase their profit margins. The Indian Government also announced a $22 billion relief package, which includes food and cash transfers to the economically weaker sections of the society.

Telangana has issued a Consumer-Farmer Compact contract that ensures access and food availability during the pandemic. Direct Bank Transfers to farmers have helped farmers' families compensate for the observed in periods of lockdown.

Alternative market channels where the farmers have direct access to consumers can be adopted. This creates small, less congested urban markets with the deletion of mediators and direct interaction with consumers.

The warehouses where the agricultural produce is stored can be designated as markets. E-commerce grocery websites should be encouraged to deliver food products from farmers to the consumer.

Policies should be issued for the easy availability of farming equipment to prevent the concerns of the scarcity of labor. Such measures should be taken into consideration so that no pandemic can affect the agricultural sector and economy.

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