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Containing Covid19 Impacts On Indian Agriculture
Wednesday, 2020/04/22 | 07:48:30

Photo: Genebank-ICRISAT

 

The ongoing health crisis around COVID19 has affected all walks of life. Protecting lives of people suffering from the disease as well as frontline health responders have been the priority of nations. Governments have swung into actions since the Corona virus attack created an unprecedented situation. India declared a three-week nation-wide lockdown till mid-April in the initial phase, which has subsequently been extended till May 3  for achieving satisfactory containment of the virus spread.

 

During these challenging times, how does Indian Agriculture respond to the crisis and how do government measures affect 140 million farm households across the country and thereafter impact the economy of a very important country in the developing world? We assess the immediate challenges that COVID19 has posed to the farm sector and suggest mitigation measures to ensure a sustainable food system in the post-crisis period.

 

Immediately after the nation-wide lockdown was announced, the Indian Finance Minister declared an INR 1.7 trillion package, mostly to protect the vulnerable sections (including farmers) from any adverse impacts of the Corona pandemic. The announcement, among a slew of benefits, contained advance release of INR 2000 to bank accounts of farmers as income support under PM-KISAN scheme. The Government also raised the wage rate for workers engaged under the NREGS, world’s largest wage guarantee scheme. Under the special scheme to take care of the vulnerable population, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (Prime Minister’s scheme for welfare of the poor), has been announced. Additional grain allotments to registered beneficiaries were also announced for the next three months. Cash and food assistance to persons engaged in the informal sector, mostly migrant laborers, have also been announced for which a separate PM-CARES (Prime Minister Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) fund has been created.

 

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has issued state-wise guidelines for farmers to be followed during the lockdown period. The advisory mentions specific practices during harvest and threshing of various rabi (winter sown) crops as well as post-harvest, storage and marketing of the farm produce.

 

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also announced specific measures that address the “burden of debt servicing” due to COVID19 pandemic. Agricultural term and crop loans have been granted a moratorium of three months (till May 31) by banking institutions with 3 percent concession on the interest rate of crop loans up to INR 300,000 for borrowers with good repayment behavior.

 

Many climate models predict a favorable monsoon in the 2020 season (the India Meteorological Department has also since officially announced) as the El-Nino weather phenomenon, that disrupts rainfall in India, is not evident. This is indeed a good news in the COVID scenario, assuming agriculture can practice largely unscathed.

 

Good news is that Government of India has now increased its focus on nutrition (besides food)- security and raising farmers’ income (rather than enhancing farm productivity). Changing the consumer behavior with suitable programs and incentives is already in the agenda. For all these to happen, the existing landscape of policy incentives that favor the two big staples of wheat and rice has to change. Designing agricultural policies, post-COVID19 scenario, must include these imperatives for a food systems transformation in India.

 

See https://www.icrisat.org/containing-covid19-impacts-on-indian-agriculture/

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