While the world was busy clapping and banging plates for the doctors and nurses, some other heroes were going unnoticed. The unsung heroes – our farmers.
Lives of farmers are stressful; they take no rest. The period from about mid-February to mid-July is the busiest for them when they are harvesting wheat, mustard, chana, potato, onion, or sugarcane and then preparing the field to sow paddy, cotton, soybean, maize or bajra. From mid-September till end-December, it’s back to harvesting and marketing the Kharif crop and planting for the rabi season. As the whole nation is highly dependent on the agricultural sector, there’s little scope for procrastination for them. Even after putting in full efforts, the harvest may suffer because of the delayed monsoon. A lot of companies don’t also pay them fairly. There have been news stories of farmers selling onions as low as rs. 8 during inflation where the mainstream markets were selling them at rs. 80. They need to have the return of invested capital, earn profit for managing a living for the family and save for the next crop investments. Not considering profit; they don’t even get the full return of invested capital. This leaves them in debt, making them more prone to crime. Thus, farmers committing suicide still stands as a significant issue in India.
With so many challenges to face, they continue to serve us.
If you go back in history, you’ll find the coronavirus pandemic to be the first disaster with no food shortage. Our brother farmers are toiling all day and night so that there is an ample amount of food available in the country. These women and men have kept supplies going, even without being designated Frontline Corona Warriors. Severe food deprivation and soaring prices were quite axiomatic during previous great calamities. But this time, the supply has been more than the demand. The closure of hotels, restaurants, tea stalls, caterers, sweetmeat shops, and other business consumers has resulted in a reduction of demand. By calling out complete lockdown in the nation, the supply chain has also been disrupted, adding further difficulties in reaching the farmer’s market. Not just this, because of the lack of laborers, the harvest of many crops got delayed. But Even with disruption in supply chains, adequate food items are available at ration shops, community kitchens and relief camps. However, there have been reports of stranded workers not getting enough food in relief camps. This may be concluded as a case of local administrative negligence and not as a food shortage seen in other catastrophes. The world may be hungry, but it’s not starving this time.
As per The Quint, Parvati Patel, a farmer says that her children are stuck in Jabalpur and Sagar and that she’s unable to get the harvested crops to the market due to the lockdown. “The entire harvested crop is kept at home. Hope the government will do something, “she said.
The lockdown also affects the mango farmers from Periyapatna, HD Kote, Mysore, Hunsur, and several other villages. Further, as many as 13,000 mango cultivators are small and marginal farmers. Thereby, lack of transport, drop-in mango price and demand, will leave them stranded and helpless. Similarly, local grower Anuraj complains that the agents are not ready to buy the product despite the better yield. Also, as the product is perishable and the farmers cannot afford cold storage, their livelihood is at stake.
Ashok Salunkhe, a farmer, said he had stopped transporting vegetables to Mumbai in his small vehicle because harassment at various check-points by police since the lockdown came into force.
The other problem was that most diesel pumps were shut, he said.
Amidst the pandemic, the duty to serve these warriors who’ve never disappointed to help us lies on the shoulders of the state authorities. Government agencies have begun procuring the rabi crop. But because of strict orders of maintaining social distancing, only a few farmers are being allowed to enter the farmer’s market every day. They’ve been issued coupons and SMSs to bring low quantities of the produce(5-10 quintals).
But what is the solution?
The state must procure their yields at MSP as a lot of private agencies tend to exploit their vulnerabilities by buying their crops at low prices. The selling of food must not be limited to the farmer’s market. Schools, colleges, community centres etc. It must be turned into centres for grocery shopping to expand the area and maintain social distancing efficiently. The roadblock must also be eased for the farmers for the smooth transportation of their produce. Also, strict actions must be taken against police personnel who harass these poor farmers. India entered the lockdown with roughly 77 million tonnes (mt) of rice and wheat, plus another 2.25 mt of pulses, in public godowns. These undesignated warriors made this come true. They served the government when it needed it the most, and now it’s for the government to return the favor. It would be interesting to watch what the government plans for these unsung heroes in the upcoming days!