The uncertainty of the availability of nearly 10 lakh migrant workers and the lack of mechanical transplanting options have made farmers choose cotton over rice plantations.
As an unintended benefit of the coronavirus pandemic, Punjab and Haryana’s age-old problem of virtually exporting water in the form of rice cultivation may finally end, as many farmers in these states are now preferring to grow less-water-intensive crops such as cotton, instead of water-guzzling rice. The crisis has turned the farmers away from dependence on migrant workers engaged in the rice plantation, as lakhs of them have left the state for their hometowns in hopes of surviving the pandemic. This is the first time for many farmers to choose cotton over rice this paddy season, The Indian Express reported. The main reasons behind the move are the uncertainty of the availability of nearly 10 lakh migrant workers, arising from the nationwide lockdown and the lack of mechanical transplanting options.
Most migrant workers are from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown to arrest coronavirus, the workers that live on hand-to-mouth resources started to move back towards their home. The hysteria thus created also left many stranded mid-way. The loss of trust and the fear of uncertainty created in the process also raise doubt on their willingness to come back immediately after the lockdown is lifted. On top of that, the railway services are expected to take some time to restart, which may further hit the availability of migrant workers at different places.
The farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana also told the paper that the migrant workers charge Rs 2,500 per acre while the local labourers demand Rs 4,500-5,000 per acre, which makes the use of local labourers unfeasible. Meanwhile, the government has allowed resuming all rural and agricultural activities. In a press conference held yesterday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar asked to use MNREGA workers in agricultural activities. The minister also highlighted that even as various sectors of the economy are under heavy stress, the Agri sector is working under normal conditions and is estimated to grow at 3 per cent in the current fiscal.