Rabon Singh Kharsuka, a renowned personality in world of Khasi literature, once said,
“Tend to your land, your flock,
Work, manufacture with hands and skills,
Make your own wealth, increase it.
The mind becomes fertile and life prospers.”
With a population of over 136 crore, India is a country that is driven by agriculture. It is the biggest source of income for around 70 percent of rural households and contributes anywhere between 17 to 20 percent to the total GDP. (based on the last few years)
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation, the sector saw a slew of challenges - from interruptions in supply chain, restrictions around transport, low production capacities to shortages in labour. In order to overcome these, both the government and enterprises introduced some innovative measures.
The National Informatics Centre, under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, floated the ‘Kisan Rath’ to help farmers and traders in transporting agricultural and horticultural produce from farms to mandis, warehouses and food processing units. In addition to this, the government allowed farmers to enter into futures agreements for their produce, encouraged barrier-free interstate trade, deregulated prices of cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onions and potatoes to attract investments and boost competitive pricing.
Companies like ITC as well as startups including AgriBazaar, CropIn and Farmpal did their bit to uplift the agricultural community through digitization.
Since the pandemic struck when farmers were getting ready to harvest their Rabi (winter) crop and make arrangements for Kharif, there were a lot of jitters surrounding the performance of the sector. However, when the GDP figures for the June quarter (Q1) 2020 was released, agriculture was the only sector that showed positive growth. And now, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, has announced another bright trend - an increase in the area under summer crops by 21.58 percent from last year.
Summer crops get a boost
According to the report released by the Press Information Bureau, as on 23 April, 2021, the total summer crop area increased to 73.76 lakh hectares (ha) from 60.67 lakh hectares a year ago during the corresponding period. This surge was mainly contributed by Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat.
While the area sown under pulses has jumped to 12.75 lakh ha from 6.45 lakh ha, oilseeds have risen to 10.45 lakh ha from 9.03 lakh ha. Rice too has spiked to 39.10 lakh ha from 33.82 lakh ha.
Other summer crops such as corn, pumpkin, cucumber, melon, pepper and some cereals also flourished.
Although the government attributed this to an increase in water levels across reservoirs in the country, there are other reasons that helped in boosting productivity. Chandra Shekhar Bhardwaj, the executive editor of Krishi Goldline, a newspaper that covers agricultural issues and trends, elaborates on this.
“The monsoons were normal last year and hence, there was a rise in the average groundwater levels too. More availability of water meant more cultivation and production. Besides, a lot of people who went back to their native towns and villages due to unemployment or remote work, began working on agricultural lands. This reverse migration contributed to the yield,” Bhardwaj says.
According to the Indian Meteorological Department, rainfall across the country as a whole during the southwest monsoon season in 2020 (June to September), was above normal (109 percent of LPA of 88 cms).
“Farmers were well-prepared for what lay ahead. In several districts, particularly in the southern part of the nation, sowing was more than 100 percent. Agricultural universities and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK) extended a lot of support during the time in terms of training and promoting organic farming, biofertilizers, etc,” notes Poddar.
Measures to take on the second wave of COVID-19
In October last year, the government launched the Kisan Suryoday Yojana in Gujarat to provide 16 hours of power supply to farmers in the state every day. Some components of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) including direct cash transfers and free distribution of food grains were introduced to benefit small farmland holders and the poor. Agricultural term and crop loans were allowed a moratorium of three months (till May 31, 2020) by banking institutions with 3 percent concession on the interest rate of crop loans up to Rs 3 lakh for borrowers with good repayment behaviour.
These were just a few of the steps taken by the government to ease the burden on farmers.
“The help extended by the government had a positive impact on agriculture as a whole in 2020. However, this time around, with the second wave of COVID-19 hitting hard, some APMC mandis have shut down. Therefore, an immediate course of action has to be adopted especially in rural areas to contain the spread of the virus,” says Dr Mudalagiriyappa. Chief Scientist, Dryland Agriculture Project, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru.
Some resources to help you learn more about agriculture during COVID-19 in India: