Bumper harvest under lockdown: Shortage of labourers, lack for machinery

Bumper harvest under lockdown: Shortage of labourers, lack for machinery

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As the coronavirus rages across the globe, India has recorded a bumper harvest this year. A good monsoon in 2019 ensured a bumper rabi crop. But due to Covid-19 followed by a stringent nationwide shutdown to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, farmers are staring at an agrarian crisis given that rabi crop is in the harvesting stage. 

Industry body Confederation of Indian Industry said in a statement that the key challenges now being faced (in farming) are in terms of labour availability and timely transportation support.

With hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers under shutdown in big cities or back home in their villages, farmers are facing an unprecedented farm labour shortage. Without farm workers, farmers are finding it tough to get mechanical harvesters to farms or even pluck by hand the matured crops. 

Also, since few trucks are available to carry large volumes, farmers are struggling to take produce to markets. 

Moreover, the rabi crops have to be weighed in at the mandis or the markets and a lot of this unloading, weighing and packing vast amounts of grain is done by the labourers. 

There is a scarcity of gunny bags (used to store the wheat produce) as well, with supply from West Bengal hit due to the shutdown.

Another crisis faced by farmers is of the lack of farming machines – the harvesters and spare parts. Farming comes under essential services and the Centre has allowed harvesting in the fields provided social distancing is maintained. However, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has advised the farmers to do the harvesting only with machines. Farmers are finding it difficult to get harvesters in time with severe restrictions on transportation and movement.

In the absence of labour, many farmers are relying on their families for the entire harvesting process and that is time consuming. So what usually takes two or three days is now taking at least 10 days which also makes storage of the harvested produce a major issue. Farmers are now forced to keep the harvested crop in the open field. Farmers feel the longer the produce stays in the field, the higher the risk of it getting stolen or getting damaged by unprecedented rains.

With the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issuing detailed guidelines on the relaxation of lockdown after April 20, just a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the lockdown will now be extended till May 3, Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, CII, said: “The phased manner of the exit from lockdown is welcome and provides a roadmap for economic restart after May 3.”

He also added that the  guidelines are in line with CII suggestions on calibrated exit from lockdown while maintaining health and sanitation as well as social distancing norms.

CII’s suggestions focused on the need to protect the livelihoods of the rural folk, besides protecting people working in allied rural sectors involving farm activities like harvesting and rural infrastructure activities.

The CII also suggested the government to leverage Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) for imparting training to farmers about health and hygiene, adding that the Covid-19 crisis has affected harvesting operations and arrival and prices in mandis for the rabi crops (wheat, mustard, pulses, oilseeds, tomato, mango amongst others). 

India has reported 14,792 infections and 488 deaths from the virus, which has caused 2,251,690 cases worldwide, with 154,188  deaths.