Featured

COVID-19:Eight Measures That Are Keeping Agriculture Sector Afloat

Tauseef Khan
Tauseef Khan

Since the beginning of the lockdown, on March 23, the agriculture sector has been one of the top priorities for the central and state government. Despite, the operational guidelines, issued by the government in the first lockdown, clearly listing the agricultural produce in the list of essential items to ensure a constant supply of food items across the country, the sector has constantly felt the tremors of the COVID19 impact.

The first lockdown disrupted the agricultural operations due to unavailability of labourers, machinery, ancillary support and agri-inputs, closure of wholesale markets, and restaurants leaving standing crops unattended, halting harvesting, reduction in demand and impeding farmers' access to transportation, warehousing, marketing, and exports. However, the sector was hit following a lack of coordination between different branches of the government that were required to issue the permissions for a smoother operation of the sector.

Now, if the impact on agriculture is long-lasting, it will affect the overall spending of the rural sector, which will directly impact the core of the Indian economy. The sector employs millions of people (both directly and indirectly) across fields and industries. The impact would deter their life and the political canvas of the country. Farmers from all over the country expressed their concerns via newsportals on the situation.

Both state and central government have been keenly monitoring the developments in the agriculture sector and has clearly stated that it is their top priority. They have been responding in real-time, altering the policies and decisions to safeguard the interests of the farmers and the sector. They have taken stringent measures in multiple areas that are keeping the agricultural sector afloat.

Logistics

Logistics form the backbone of the agricultural sector. During the first lockdown, farmers across the country complained about of in-adequate logistic support causing a delay in transporting the produce from farm to market and procurement of agri-input such as seeds, medicines, fungicides, pesticides, and machinery.The government identified it as a major hurdle and has taken a slew of initiatives to overcome it.

It has started a helpline - All India Agri Transport Call Centre, and launched an app -KisanRath App helping the farmer to identify the right mode of transportation for the movement of farm produce amid 2.0 nationwide lockdown. The idea is to reduce the delay in taking the produce to mandis.

On the other hand, railways have introduced 65 routes for running 567 Parcel Specials (out of which 503 are time table parcel trains) to supply essential commodities at fast speed. These trains have transported 20,653 tonnes of consignments across the country including perishables (including eggs, fruits, vegetables, fish), milk and dairy products and seeds.

Relief Package

There are approximately 9 Cr+ farmers and an equal number of landless labourers in the country’s agricultural sector. The latter are dependent on daily wages while the farmer is dependent on the produce. Both have been affected by the unprecedented emergence of COVID19. The government has announced a massive relief package for them. It will be front loading Rs 2,000 in the first week of April under existing PM Kisan Yojana and has implemented a moratorium on EMI’s for the next three months. CWC has already proposed a yearlong moratorium on agriculture and MSME loans.

The 21-day lockdown will hit the annual revenues of the farmer. There is a huge possibility of a delay or default on his end to repay the loans. The government is already offering crop insurance to millions of farmers across different states preparing them to stay insulated of any impact. Talks going to waive crop loans post COVID19.

Easing Regulations on Agri-Input

The initial order in the first lockdown only included agricultural produce under the essential items. In a matter of a couple of days, farmers started feeling the heat as they were unable to procure fodder for animals and agri-input for crops. This led to a delay in procurement on seeds, medicines, fungicides, pesticides and machinery leading to a delay in sowing or harvesting of crops. This caused widespread dismay in the community. The government was quick in identifying this gap and immediately brought the fodder in the list of essential items and removed this hurdle. On the other hand, it also allowed the agri-inputs shops to open with a condition to follow social distancing norms.

Shops of farm machinery, its spare parts, supply chain, repairs, 'Custom Hiring Centers’ related to machinery will also remain open. In addition fisheries, animal husbandry and plantation activities will also remain functional.Meanwhile, the supply chain of milk, milk products, poultry and live-stock farming and tea, coffee and rubber plantations will resume.

Easing Regulations on Agri-Machinery

It is taking all measures to ensure agri-input and machinery is available to the farmers. The government has exempted random selection of test samples, subsequent batch testing after the expiry validity of test reports, updating of CMVR, COP & Type approval applicable to Tractors, Power Tillers, Combine Harvesters and other self-propelled agricultural machinery till 31.12.2020. Testing of tractors as per revised BIS Standard IS 12207-2019 and Implementation of new technical critical specifications of 51 agricultural machineries has also been deferred till 31.12.2020. It has extended extend the validity of the license of Seed dealers which are expired or going to be expired till 30.09.2020.

It has also been decided to extend the validity of import permissions till September 2020 after consideration of the requirement of seed/planting material of the importing parties. Under Plant Quarantine system, it has been decided to extend the validity of all pack-houses, processing units and treatment facilities whose validity is expiring up to 30th June 2020 for a period of one year without a physical inspection of such facility through a simplified procedure to facilitate the export of agriculture products.

Advisories and Information

The government has issued advisories in multiple languages on various subjects around the crop. On the directions of the Agriculture Minister, more than 5.48 crore farmers have already been reached through the issue of 1,126 advisories across the states by Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) through mKisan portal.

Secondly, the government has developed an app through which farmers can easily make e-passes and bring their produce to mandis.

Re-opening of Wholesale Markets

The government has re-opened the wholesale markets across the country to ensure that the produce is reaching the market and then to the people.

Restarting E-commerce Operations

I believe e-commerce players operating in the agricultural sector can be of great help. They have a targeted database of farmers that the government can leverage to reduce the time gap and increasing effectiveness in reaching out to them.The opening up of e-commerce brands in agriculture has boosted the supply of agri-input to the farmers while maintaining a social distancing. All the products are mandatorily sanitized at the warehouses.

Ban on Agri-Exports

The government has implied a curb on agri-exports to maintain adequate stockpiles to counter any adverse situation. It is strategically a good step but the government needs to ensure that the farmers produce is acquired by the government. India is a big exporter of agricultural products such as rice, cereals, wheat and others. In 2018-19, the overall agricultural exports were to the tune of Rs 685 billion as per APEDA.

India is one of the few countries that has been able to keep the outbreak of Coronavirus contained despite being the world’s second-most populous country and one without a world-class healthcare system. Some of the most developed countries with a world-class healthcare system have already collapsed to this novel virus.We have come this far and I believe, we will be able to come out of it soon and things shall go back to normal again.

This article is authored by Tauseef Khan, CEO & Co-Founder, Gramophone, a start up pioneering the digital agronomy – using data to guide a farmer in selecting the right agricultural input for maximum yield. Gramophone provides agronomic intelligence based on dozens of parameters (soil type, water, weather, etc.) to help farmers select the right crop and inputs which can be procured in one place through its platform. Through AI, content, market data and access to quality products and services, it becomes their trusted friend during the entire farming season.

Share your comments

Nadi Ad

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up with your email to get updates about the most important stories directly into your inbox