Government Initiatives for Agriculture Sector during COVID-19 pandemic – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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  • May 7, 2020
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Government Initiatives for Agriculture sector during COVID-19 pandemic

Search 18th April, 2020 Spotlight here: 

Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Government policies
  • COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis is affecting rural India at a time when agriculture is already in a precarious situation. The thousands of migrant workers who have returned to their villages since the lockdown used to send home large remittances. In Bihar, these remittances accounted for 35.6 per cent of gross state domestic product in 2011-12, up from 11.6 per cent in 2004-05.

Agriculture is important from two standpoints. 

  1. The first is inflation control, which is predicated on adequate supply of food, feed and fibre. 
  2. Secondly, farmers and rural labourers have high marginal propensity to consume. 

The Indian economy today needs both low and stable inflation as well as boost to spending, which is best guaranteed by increased farm production and incomes.

The brewing trouble in villages

  • Because of significant disruption in supply chains as a result of the lockdown, farmers are stuck with a large amount of produce, especially of perishables like milk, fruits and vegetables, flowers and even poultry meat and eggs. 
  • Due to this glut, farm prices are collapsing, pushing farmers into destitution. Many of them are dumping milk and vegetables on the roads. 
  • With the procurement season for rabi crops having started, the mandi system will choke, if immediate steps are not taken to organise procurement operations in an orderly manner.

Steps being taken by the Department of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare for smooth harvesting of Rabi Crop and sowing of summer crop

A lot of rabi crop has already been harvested, but for the crop still standing, there could be shortage of farm labour, as a panicked exodus of migrant workers explodes around us. After the crop is harvested, it has to be packed and transported to markets, which again needs workers, vehicle drivers, and uninterrupted movement.

  • Video conference was conducted with all States and Insurance companies to review the payment of claims, status of Conduct of CCEs for Rabi 2019-20 crops, crop loss survey and implementation of Smart Sampling Technique.
  • For facilitating farm insurance, letters issued to all States to issue passes to representatives of concerned Insurance companies for co-witnessing Crop Cutting Experiments and to relax the norms for conducting field level survey for intimation received for Post-Harvest crop losses due to unseasonal rainfall and hailstorm.
  • Phytosanitary certification for export consignments and Import releases of plant and plant products are continuing. 
  • Enabling FPOs to upload produce from collection centers with picture/ quality parameter and also avail bidding facility without going to mandis, which will reduce their logistic costs and hassle to sell their produce.
  • e-NAM platform has created an interface with large transport aggregators like Blackbuck, Rivigo, Mavyn, Truck Suvidha, Truck Guru, Transin Logistics, Elastic Run etc. This would help traders to find and arrange timely movement of produces from mandi to various other locations.
  • e-NAM platform/ mobile app has been further strengthened with ‘Farmers friendly’ features such as advance registration of the lot through app which in turn will reduce waiting time for farmers at gate entry of the mandi and will bring huge efficiency and will facilitate smooth arrival recording at gate.
  • For providing support to horticulture crops necessary coordination is being done with growers, aggregators, wholesalers, mandi associations, State Horticulture Missions, for smooth transport of the commodities and to sort out all difficulties.
  • In lockdown period, Kisan Call Centres at all 21 locations are being operated by diverting calls to individual mobile numbers of Farm Tele Advisors, who are now operating from homes. 
  • Shops of Agricultural machinery, its spare parts (including its supply chain) & repairs and shops for truck repairs on highways, preferably at fuel pumps, can remain open in order to facilitate transportation of farm produce. 
  • Besides, tea industry, including plantations can function with maximum of 50% workers.

Further Solutions

Agri-Marketing Reforms

  • Abolish/reframe the APMC Act and encourage direct buying of agri-produce from farmers/farmer producer organisations (FPOs)
  • Warehouses can also be designated as markets, and the warehouse receipt system can be scaled up. 
  • The private sector should be encouraged to open mandis with modern infrastructure, capping commissions. 
  • Futures trading should be encouraged by allowing banking finance to hedge for commodity price risks.
  • Procurement must be staggered through coupons and incentives that give farmers an additional bonus for bringing produce to the market after May 10, or so. 
  • The APMC mandis can be better structured, with smaller mandis allowed to be set up in government schools or other areas instead of people converging at one big market. Farmers can be given day-wise or hour-wise slots, along with clear assurances that the sale of their produce will be looked-after.

Under e-NAM: Promote e-NAM through proper assaying and grading the produce and setting up dispute settlement mechanism; rope in major logistics players for delivery of goods.

PM Kisan: The amount provided under PM Kisan should be increased from Rs 6,000 to at least Rs 10,000 per farming family to partially compensate them for their losses.

Fundamental reforms in the UN System: India must ask for fundamental reforms in the UN System, including the WHO, making it more transparent, competent, and accountable.

Policy Focus: This sector of the economy should become a priority again in term of policies.

More Investments: Indian agriculture needs more investments (in irrigation, for instance) and more financial support (by relaunching the MGNREGA, among other things). But not only that. 

The issue of Liberalisation: Further liberalisation of Indian agriculture would hamper food security as the existing food procurement system is essential in maintaining food reserves and protection of vulnerable farmers from the whims of the global markets with the minimum support price offered for wheat and rice under the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act.

Introduction of agro-ecological system of farming: The transition to an agro-ecological system of agriculture has the capacity to become the engine to restart a sustainable economy by increasing soil fertility and reducing groundwater exploitation.

  • An agro-ecological transition will regenerate not only the soil which was depleted due to the excessive use of chemical pesticides but also ensure sustainable supply of food in the long run.
  • It will make the system more resilient overall and provide a safety net for farmers in case of crop damage due to factors such as climate change or droughts. 
  • It will also strengthen food security and help the nation fight hunger and malnutrition. 
  • It will help bridge the urban-rural divide as much-needed investment will occur in rural areas after decades of neglect that created the staggering inequalities.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Converting the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity for reforming the agri-marketing system
  2. Rural India suffers from “urban consumer bias”. Explain.

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