Ludhiana: Spectre of Covid-19 dampens Baisakhi
The novel coronavirus outbreak and acute shortage of migrant labourers during harvest season has put a damper on Baisakhi festivities for farmers in the region.
The lockdown, which was imposed to curtail the spread of the deadly coronavirus, has debilitated the farming sector. With numerous migrant workers having left the state, farmers in Ludhiana, Khanna and Jagraon say they are facing in crises. They say the few labourers that stayed behind are unskilled.
Pamal village sarpanch Jagdish Singh Grewal says, “Though farmers can harvest crop using a combine, many other tasks remain labour intensive. There are no trained labourers in the area and due to the lockdown, labour cannot travel to Punjab.”
“Sadly, the village youth, who come from poor families, are unwilling to help with farm work despite being offered handsome daily wages,” he added.
Anoop Singh Grewal, a farmer, who owns land in Hambra area says the lockdown has raised a plethora of concerns: “The government has allowed us to use combine harvesters but it must also allow allied industries to operate. What if the combine develops a snag? Such practical problems need to be addressed before harvesting starts,” he said.
Bharti Kisan Union (Rajewal) president BS Rajewal says the government will understand the practical problems only when its officials began visiting the grain markets.
“The government has mandated that a farmer can only bring 50 quintals of grain in one go. If a farmer has 200 quintals of grain stocked with him, will he make four trips to the mandi and who will bear the cost of it. How will the grain be moved from one place to the other, especially when there is an acute staff shortage of labour? asked Rajewal.
PAU EXPERTS SAY FUTURE OF FARMING IS GRIM
Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) experts have predicted that the labour crises will hit paddy transplantation as well.
PAU department of economics and sociology professor and head Dr Kamal Vatta says a lot of labour will be required for transplantation of paddy. “With increased demand for labour amid the lockdown, there may be an increase in workers’ wages. This may cause delay in paddy transplantation and decline the area under cultivation,” says Vatta.
“The area over which summer vegetables are cultivated may also decline because of shortage of labour. The state government should promote the use of mechanical paddy transplanters and ensure their timely repair and availability to help farmers cope with labour shortages,” Vatta said.
The pandemic will adversely impact income and employment in the farming sector. A drop in prices of produce and hike in cost of production will result in lower income for farmers. Non-farm income will also decline, said Vatta, adding that though the wages of agricultural workers will increase it will be accompanied by a drop in other sectors, resulting in an overall decline in wages and employment.
Vatta also predicted that unemployment among rural youth will rise as employment opportunities in urban areas decline. The incidence of rural poverty in rural Punjab may increase, Vatta said.
“To alleviate the situation, the poor should be provided time-bound food coupons, unemployment allowances and employment should be generated through MGNREGA.The allocations for social welfare schemes should be enhanced,” the professor said.