The global coronavirus outbreak placed an end to people’s day-to-day routines around the globe, and it’s been impacting individuals from all walks of life. People have lost lives, jobs, someone they loved, and the whole economy has been on a downward trend. Positive and negative have become interchangeable synonyms, and every minute we learn of another victim of the fatal infection. While the virus affected everyone in different ways, the business world has succumbed to it. Agriculture is one of those industries in the business world that hasn’t ceased developing despite being hammered hard from all sides, from farmers to consumers. The agricultural industry has had multiple ups and downs throughout this period that it never imagined. The economic situation is bleak. What impact would this have on the economy of a global superpower like India, where agriculture employs 140 million people in rural areas?
The coronavirus gridlock severed the country’s agricultural sector, leaving farmers staring at massive losses. Farming includes multiple product lines that span from farmer to end-consumer. All were affected by the coronavirus outbreak, followed by lockdowns, with impacts on agricultural security, supply chains, food, and nutrition security, and livelihoods. These precautions, together with the lockdown’s ongoing limits on people’s movement, raised concerns about the COVID19 pandemic’s influence on the agriculture business.
It was the height of India’s Rabi season at the time of the lockdown, and crops like wheat, gram, lentil, mustard, and others were in the pick-and-pack stage. COVID-19 impacted several agricultural and supply chain activities due to an ongoing lockdown that coincided with the rabi harvesting season. Transportation problems, among other things, have caused supply chain disruptions.
A significant disturbance in the supply of perishable fruits and vegetables, dairy items, fish, and other perishable foods that have mobilised to meet ever-increasing demands from both a developing middle class and urban and rural consumers caused irreversible harm to all partners in the supply chain.
According to early reports, a shortage of skilled labour resulted in certain harvesting efforts being disrupted, particularly in northern India, where wheat and pulses are gathered. Workers returning home to their villages in some areas also raised concern, as they are essential for harvest operations as well as post-harvest processing at storage and marketing centres.
Wheat, vegetables, and other crops have seen lower prices, but consumers still paid more.
Making available foodstuffs like grains, fruits and vegetables, and other staples to consumers, both in rural and urban areas became the greatest critical challenge faced by government machinery because of the lockdown period. The distribution of commodities to vulnerable populations under the watchful eye of established guidelines and protocols, especially those regarding social distancing, had to be effectively monitored.
According to sources in the media, the lockdown reduced milk sales by closing hotels, cafes, confectionery shops, and tea shops. Meanwhile, misinformation about hens carrying COVID-19 wreaked havoc on poultry farmers, particularly on social media.
The Indian Finance Minister announced an INR 1.7 trillion package shortly after the nationwide lockdown was announced, mostly to shield the weak (particularly farmers) from the effects of the Corona pandemic. Among a plethora of incentives, the announcement included a payment of INR 2000 to farmers’ bank accounts as income support under the PM-KISAN plan. The government also increased the wage rate for employees covered by the NREGA, the world’s largest pay guarantee programme. The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (Prime Minister’s programme for the welfare of the poor) was announced as a specific programme to care for the vulnerable population. For the next three months, additional grain allotments to registered beneficiaries was also announced. A special PM-CARES (Prime Minister Citizen Aid and Relief in Emergency Situations) fund has been established to provide cash and food assistance to people working in the informal sector, predominantly migratory labourers. Agricultural harvests also arrive at the Mandis (market yard) during this time, where they are examined and processed by government-designated entities. The Union Home Ministry decided that farmers’ movement, farm labourers, and harvesting machinery be exempted from the lockdown, which was a huge step forward. We can fairly say life has changed a lot since March 2020, and trying to return to normal isn’t something we can do. Farmers and the agriculture sector have faced multiple challenges and the fact the COVID eruption got so widespread was something no one could predict. Wearing masks has become the new normal and the sanitiser business which was an elite affair has boomed like no other business. No doubt businesses have adapted to these changing times and are trying to bounce back to the pre-covid level. While on the one hand farmers faced challenges, the startups in the agriculture sector have tried to address farmers’ needs and provide them solutions. Amidst all the challenges that Covid brings, everyone across the globe is looking for better days to come.