Agriculture experts, policymakers and representatives from private and public sector companies brainstormed online recently to enumerate challenges arising out of the coronavirus pandemic and to suggest actionable solutions for Indian states.
Dr AK Padhee, Director, Country Relations and External Affairs, ICRISAT, presented his views on the main issues that farmers across India would be facing as a fallout of the outbreak, simultaneously suggesting some key steps to resolve the challenges:
- Harvesting and procurement operations: One way to deal with challenges arising out of lack of labor (due to temporary laborers migrating back to their villages) for harvesting activities would be to leverage the NREGA funds for smallholder/marginal farmers to (at least partially) pay for labor on their fields
- Supply chain of perishable foods: Logistic support should be provided to such producers in order make the most of a high-supply and high-demand situation, which is likely to arise once the lockdown period is ended
- Farm labor migration: Apart from utilizing combine harvesters and other farm machinery for harvesting purposes, promoting custom hiring centers for farm equipment is a viable option to be considered. Also engaging Farmer-Producer Organizations for this purpose will be helpful
- Welfare measures by government: We need clear plans to ensure that government welfare measures e.g. cash transfers under PM Kisan and PM Garib Kalyan Yojana reach the beneficiaries seamlessly
- Agricultural inputs for next sowing season: Pre-positioning of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. at centralized locations in time for the kharif sowing season will help mitigate the challenge of supplying farmers with these critical inputs at the right time.
Additionally, Dr Padhee suggested that small and medium enterprises (SMEs), e-commerce and delivery enterprises and agri-startups be incentivized through appropriate government policies as feasible and practical solutions. Setting up of a round-the-clock helpline for farmers to call for any questions or grievances specific to the COVID-19 pandemic was also recommended.
Dr Padhee made a special reference to Dr B Janardhan Reddy, Principal Secretary to the Agriculture & Cooperation Department of Telangana state, who was also part of the webinar. He said that this was a good opportunity to nudge policy decisions towards nutricereals (such as millets and sorghum) and legumes – some of ICRISAT’s mandate crops – since they are nutritious and promote sustainable agriculture in the end.
The webinar ‘Supporting Agriculture and Horticulture in COVID-19: Practical Approaches and Strategies’, conducted on 22 Apr 2020 jointly by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and the Federation of Telangana Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FTCCI). The online session saw participation from about 200 delegates.
Reported by Rajani Kumar, Sr Communications Officer, ICRISAT.