Easing of curbs: Mandi arrivals pick up, but harvesting hit by labour shortage

Published: April 20, 2020 5:50:54 AM

Truck drivers, traders, retailers, transporters and other stakeholders, who were facing problems in inter-state movement of any commodities, have been asked to seek help from the call centre.

As on April 16, daily arrivals of rabi crops such as wheat, paddy, masur, chana and mustard have been much below the levels a year ago.

By Prabhudatta Mishra

Daily arrivals of rabi crops have suddenly improved over the past week – one-to-four times for wheat, masur, chana and mustard and 10 times in the case of barley – after mandis across the country reopened on April 15. However, more steps may be required to bring normalcy into the agriculture supply chains as the arrivals are still 23-90% lower than the year-ago levels (see chart).

“In some places where harvesting is already done, farmers are not ready to bring their crops to mandis due to the fear of getting infected by coronavirus. In many other places, harvesting is yet to be in full steam, due to various restrictions and non-availability or shortage of labour,” said a government official. The easing of restrictions on the agriculture sector has shown some results, but return to normalcy will take time, he said.

As on April 16, daily arrivals of rabi crops such as wheat, paddy, masur, chana and mustard have been much below the levels a year ago, even as record harvest is expected of most of them. Only the arrivals of maize, largely grown in Bihar, are above last year’s level.

“There are no combine harvesters (machines) available for wheat. Without labour, it is very difficult to harvest this key rabi crop,” said Anil Singh, a farmer in Mitai village near Hathras. Many other farmers in the village too are waiting for the arrivals of harvesters to do the cutting, he said.

Though the government had relaxed the movement of combine harvesters during the lockdown period as early as on March 25, the actual movement of these machines haven’t started in most places yet as the police blocked inter-state movements and the drivers haven’t reported for duty. The home ministry on April 4 allowed the opening of “shops of agricultural machinery, its spare parts (including its supply chain) and repairs and shops for truck repairs on highways, preferably at fuel pumps, can remain open in order to facilitate transportation of farm produce”.

“As the lockdown was initially announced without any comprehensive plan, all sorts of problems came out. While in many places, the police stopped farmers from harvesting crops, trading of grains and oilseeds in mandis remained closed. Only some quantity of fruits and vegetables were allowed,” said Sudhir Panwar, president of Kisan Jagriti Manch. The phase-wise relaxations for the agriculture sector proved that the government was not prepared, not even aware of what was required, Panwar said.

On April 15, the Centre launched a call centre to facilitate transportation of agriculture produce for inter-state movement of perishables like fruits and vegetables as also inputs like seeds, pesticides and fertilisers. Truck drivers, traders, retailers, transporters and other stakeholders, who were facing problems in inter-state movement of any commodities, have been asked to seek help from the call centre.

Of course, the farmer distress due to these steps have got partially addressed by way of assorted sops delivered to them. Under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) scheme, some `16,930 crore have been disbursed to nearly 8.5 crore farmers via the direct benefit transfer (DBT) route since March 24. Railways have also introduced 67 new routes for running 236 parcel specials to supply essential commodities, including perishable horticultural produce, agricultural inputs like seed, fertiliser and pesticides, milk and dairy products at fast speed which will facilitate FPOs/traders and companies for continuity of supply chain across the country.

However, a plan to allow farmers trade outside mandis through the e-NAM portal from the premises of warehouses and FPOs is yet to be implemented. Panwar said such initiatives have to be publicised at a wide scale so that farmers know there are options available outside mandis where they can sell.

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