Agriculture in Jammu in COVID times

Dr. Sheetal Badyal, Dr. Hari Dutt Shishu
The ongoing pandemic has shocked the whole world and even the most developed nations across the globe have been helpless in protecting their people from this fatal virus. There is every likelihood of Economic Crisis across the globe, post-pandemic. India, a country of 1.25 billion people with 70 % of its population being in rural areas, mainly depends upon the agriculture sector. Their livelihood and day-today needs are all managed through the agricultural activities only. But, in the present scenario, Indian agricultural system is facing the brunt of this crisis, so is its farmer community. According to ‘Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations’, “Agriculture, with its allied sectors, is the largest source of livelihood in India. 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal.” If we analyse the total contribution of this sector in the national GDP, it amounts to 16% and supports nearly half of Indian population. So, the ongoing trend of this pandemic in India clearly indicates that it will cause a big blow to this struggling class in India and may land them in more serious conditions.
Although this pandemic has shaken all sectors both locally and globally but an attempt is made here to project the issues anticipated to hit the agriculture sector in Jammu Province in this crisis of Covid 19. Most of the agricultural activities in Jammu Province are done during these months starting from April to June, when it’s the harvesting season for wheat and pulses and also the sowing season for paddy, pulses etc. But the present lockdown has hit badly the crops and caused a major setback to this vulnerable community, already reeling under economic crisis, due to the unseasonal rains at the time of sowing of wheat. Another crisis likely to be faced by this community during the sowing season of paddy and pulses is the restriction in the movement of the labourers particularly migrant laborers, who are desperate to reach to their places and families in this time of uncertainties all across. Processing, storing and transporting the produces are few other challenges looking for the solution.
Although JKUT Government is proactive to help them and trying to reach out to the farmers by providing some relaxations to their activities in the lockdown. Although, the agricultural department through its field functionaries is in regular touch of the farmers and providing all possible help, with SKUAST-J and all its KVKs, trying to extend the best possible services to the farmer by adhering to the guidelines of maintaining social distancing. But on ground ,the farmers have so many other challenges like reaching out to the stores for procuring seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, due to break in the supply chain and its non availability at many places in the Jammu province.
Despite the fact that the Agriculture Department, have directed all their functionaries to have online access with farmers and as a result many online platforms have been established, all these efforts could not yield that tangible impact in the field and its under success is attributed mainly to the non availability of appropriate instruments and weak signals of network in most of the rural areas of the Jammu Province. The non availability of 4G networks is another major setback, both for the Agricultural Scientists and farmers as well. Other challenges worth mentioning here are the non-procurement of milk products like locally made Kaladi, Cheese, Ghee etc .which was the main source of income for the marginal farmers of the hilly areas. Non availability of transports and shutting of big shopping places have impacted badly, the supply of vegetables and fruits and the growers of these crops are squeezed of even their investments.
Although there has been a steep rise in the prices of agricultural commodities in view of the panic buying, due to the uncertainty in timing of lock down and its repeated extension, but farmers are unlikely to be benefitted of this hike as most of the profit is expected to go into the pockets of either the wholesaler or the middlemen and the retail traders.
The National flagship programs of ‘Doubling the income of Farmers by 2020′ by promoting diversification in the traditional cropping system have added to the miseries of the farmers. The farmers who were motivated by the concerned departments to try diversification of their crop with the intention to enhance their income have suffered badly. This can be substantiated by the fact that farmers who made heavy investments in the crop of Marigold and Mushroom, failed to have any buyer due to the regular lockdown and closure of all religious places, no festival or social function and it resulted into a big loss to these farmers as their crop perished and were compelled to throw it out.
The women farmers have their own tale of miseries during this pandemic caused by this virus Covid -19. Most of the women farmers, apart from helping their male counterparts in the field, were also engaged in earning small profits out of the processing and value addition for both the farm and the animals’ production. Women farmers working on cooperating pattern and engaged with various SHGs for the small agricultural and allied income generation activities, is the another causality by this pandemic as they could not manage the chain of supply due to lock down resulting into almost the failure of their already very small income.
The influx of refugee labourers back to their villages from the metro cities of the various parts of the country may be another challenge to manage and it will cost dearly to the rural economy in particular and the whole of Jammu province in general. They will add to the unemployment crisis which the whole Jammu province is already reeling under and looking towards the government for some special aid and stimulus. These laborers will not be able to return back immediately. It cannot be a denying fact that most of them will not prefer to come back in view of the travails they went through, during this period of lock down.
Now, as a matter of fact, the entire agricultural sector and those engaged in its activities needs a special relief and rehabilitation package, to steer them out of this morass and to rebuild their lives. Proactive strategies are required to be adopted by the government to bring normalcy. A humanitarian perspective is required to deal with this class and measures are needed like curbing charges of higher interest of informal lenders to the gullible farmer community. Compensations for loss of the perishable crops like vegetables, flowers, fruits, milk products and fish etc. must be provided.
Lastly, the silver lining in this period of total chaos, uncertainties, and above all the challenges for the survival of the human life, is the time for the policy makers and those sitting in the power corridor to rethink with a new perspective in order to revive the shattered economy, particularly, in the rural areas. They should try to convert challenges into opportunities by realizing the dream of our PM Narendra Modi to invest in the villages and make them self reliant. [Atmanirbhar]
The investment in the rural areas will serve the twin purposes of providing employment opportunities to the labor coming back to their villages in distress and also easing the pressure on the big cities all across the country. The easing out of the pressure shall relatively be benefitting on various other fronts like reducing traffic congestion in the cities, bringing down the level of pollution and making life easier in the cities. Since post pandemic period is likely to bring social changes, where new lifestyles like social distancing etc. shall be continued, reduction of human pressure will turn out to be a big milestone to contain the spread of this fatal virus Covid 19.