Ray of Hope for Agriculture in India
Even in the times of advanced technology and modern innovations, India’s heart lies in agriculture. The collapse of the supply chain system throughout the country induced by the lockdown has affected the sale of agri-products. As per a United Nations report published in 2019, 69% of India’s population resides in rural areas. The impact of COVID-19 on the rural farming community and the severity of the effect depends on multiple factors in diversified segments. Though lockdown is now lifted in a phased manner, it will take many more months of dedicated effort and robust stimulus packages for the agriculture sector to get back to its feet.
The problems plaguing Indian agriculture are primarily due to: (a) non-availability of labourers, (b) difficulty in finding markets to sell the products, (c) blockades in the movements of agricultural commodities in major highways and (d) limited operations of APMC mandis. These disruptions had led to the decline in prices of wheat, vegetables and other crops; however, the consumers are paying more. The closing down of hotels, restaurants, and bakery and tea shops plummeted milk sales. The spread of negative news that chicken are the carriers of COVID-19 doomed the prospects of poultry farmers.
Reports from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy indicate that unemployment shot up from 8.4% to 23% during the period of mid-March to the first week of April. Informal and agriculture workers are already facing the danger of living with hunger and malnutrition. Reports from the railway ministry suggest that freight loading has dipped from a usual 10,000 cargo rakes per day to 3,500 rakes now. The farmers are forced to sell the crops at a cheaper price, settling for lower profits.
Restrictions on exports and closure of all ports have resulted in piling up of huge inventory of Agri-products with traders and farmers across the country. India’s overall agri-exports were Rs 685 bn during the year 2018- 19, according to APEDA reports. A weak consumption trend post-COVID-19 will be an impediment for agriculture-related businesses to pick up during the course of the next few months.
India’s farming sector was worth INR 16,587 bn in 2018. With an estimated CAGR of 10.8% during 2019-2024, the projected growth was INR 30,675 bn by 2024. The relief package under PM Kisan Yojana and relaxation of EMIs for the next three months has given some breathing space for the farmers. The increase of daily wages of MGNREGA (considered as the world’s largest wage guarantee scheme) workers is expected to benefit around 5 crore families across the country. E-commerce can help in ensuring that the needs of agriculture labourers are met effectively.
Yes, the signs are getting better. Support prices of 14 crops have been increased by the Central government. Paddy, for instance, will see an increased support price of Rs. 53 per quintal. INR 2 lakh crore is earmarked for distributing concessional loans for farmers through Kisan Credit Cards (KCC). To strengthen cold storage facilities, Farm Gates worth INR 1 lakh crore are being developed. Another major development is the updating and modification of Essential Goods Act and APMC Act. Efforts are also on at the ground level to introduce various schemes to enable farmers to create their own brands. Needless to say, if Sons of the Soil win this war, India will get her lifeline back.
(With inputs from The Financial Express)
Author: Gurudatta Somayaji H. (Principal of Surya Chaitanya Global Academy, Kuthyar-Udupi)