Covid-19: Harvests see staggered sales under lockdown
The coronavirus lockdown has made life harder for farmers during the ongoing harvest season as authorities enforce new rules to stagger crop sales in the usually chaotic mandis, or agricultural markets, where it is easy for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) to spread.
Social distancing rules have doubled the time and labour required to clear harvested stocks, say farmers in Punjab and Haryana, two of the country’s largest producers of foodgrains.
Cultivators are in the middle of winter-sown harvesting. Two key winter crops being harvested now, wheat and oilseeds such as mustard, account for nearly three-fourths of seasonal farm incomes.
Authorities in Haryana and Punjab, two food-bowl states, have started issuing coupons or permits to farmers for ferrying grains to markets, which are being run with fewer staff. These trade stamps are being issued to farmers through commission agents, who act as intermediaries in the supply chain.
Farmers in these states with harvests must move their grains on specified dates and at specified timings to contract sales at markets regulated under the Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act.
“Earlier, it was easy to harvest field after field. Now, you can’t harvest all of your crop at one go. There’s no storage space on my farm,” Jaipal Singh Nain of Haryana’s Mukarpur village said, pointing to what he calls is a “trolley limit” imposed by the authorities.
Officials are permitting no more than 50-60 quintals (100kg each), nearly as much as a tractor-pulled trolley or carriage can hold, Nain said.
Farmers said they did not mind practising social distancing, but want governments to compensate them. “Two days of rain last week has spoiled nearly 25% of my wheat. The government should announce higher bonuses for wheat,” said Nirmal Singh, a farmer from Punjab’s Muktsar.
Labour costs have doubled because farmers are now being required to first hold the harvested crops before transporting them to the state-regulated markets on specified dates.
Punjab is looking to harvest nearly 14 million tonnes of wheat, as India eyes a bumper harvest of the winter staple. The state has set up over 3,500 market yards to eliminate crowding, while Haryana has set up nearly 2,000.
Since procurement, which refers to the government’s buying of the produce at federally fixed minimum support price, is staggered, both Haryana and Punjab will extend the date by which operations will be wrapped up, an official, requesting anonymity, said.
“Of total wheat sown in 31 million hectares, 63-67% has already been harvested in the country,” the official said.
Experts say they expect kharif or summer sowing to begin around the usual third week of June. “Completion of sowing of paddy may take longer time though through the transplantation method under which the crop is first planted in nursery beds before saplings are moved to larger fields,” said Arun Sundaresan, an agricultural scientist with Gromore, a hybrid seed manufacturer.
Farmers with power tillers and mechanised farms should see the least disruptions to sowing, he said.
Winter pulses were sown in 16 million hectares, official estimates show. Of these, harvesting has been completed for gram, lentil, urad, mung and field peas, the official cited above said. Sugarcane harvesting has been also been completed in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Punjab.