The agricultural sector is one of the worst sufferers of the lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the central and state governments in India acted quickly to aid the agricultural sector in this crisis period, several agricultural experts are of the opinion that more immediate corrective stepsare required. Disruption in transportation led to stagnation of harvest. The agricultural produce failed to reach the markets during the lockdown. The acute shortage of agricultural workers in this phase has also hampered the sector. Additionally, there has been several other challenges in agricultural procurement and operations.
Industry insiders are of the opinion that the long-term impact of the lockdown on the sector would mainly be due to a reductionin demand because of an economic dip. The reverse migration oflabourers to India’s hinterlands is having varied impacts. In aninterview with ‘Down to Earth’, economistJean Dreze pointed out that the migratedlabourers - even after the pandemic – willrefuse to migrate back to urban centres fora while and in most cases, farming will bethe only option available to them. Thus, itcan be said that though operations in well-endowedagricultural regions are about tosuffer, there will be an excess supply of
labourers in Indian hinterlands leading to new challenges and opportunities.
Dr. Chandrakant S. Pandav, Dr. Sujeet Ranjan and Sahil Sharma in an article published in ‘The Week’ wrote, “India needs to create more synergies in food technology, agriculture and biotechnology. Prioritising and adaption of innovation should act as the main drivers of productivity growth and improved sustainability.” They also pointed out that in this time of crisis, synchronised efforts should be made for conservation practices such as crop diversification and zero soil tillage. There should be an increase in the availability of nano nutrients to boost crop production. Proper introduction and usage of digital technologies to directly sell the produce is also of utmost importance for the farmers at this juncture. This digital connect can directly link the farmers to their consumers andensure a wider market for their agricultural produce.
Dr. Arabinda Kumar Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs - New Delhi, International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Dr. Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, in an article titled ‘Containing Covid-19 impacts on Indian agriculture’ wrote on the measures which can be undertaken - following the pandemic - in order to strengthen the sector. They stated, “To sustain the demand for agricultural commodities, investments in key logistics must be enhanced. Moreover, e-commerce and delivery companies and start-ups need to be encouraged with suitable policies and incentives.” They also pointed out that small and mediumenterprises, running with raw materials from agriculture andallied sectors also need special attention to ensure the survivalof the rural economy. Focus on these smaller enterprises is also important to ensure employment. Experts are also of the opinion that policies must facilitate easy availability of machinery through state entities, farmer producer organisations (FPOs) and custom hiring centres (CHCs) with suitable incentives in order to eliminate the immediate concerns of the scarcity of farm labour. It is also being suggested to explore leveraging the NREGS funds
to pay part of the farm labour (with farmers paying the balance wage amount) to lessen the monetary burden on the farmer while ensuring wage employment to landless labourers and workers.
Anticipating a larger market share
According to several market analyses, the pandemic outbreak can be advantageous in exporting of certain agricultural products and grab a part of China’s market share. Due to the restrictions against Chinese goods, 21 agricultural products including honey, potatoes, grapes, soya beans and groundnuts - in which Indian exports could benefit - have been identified by the government. According to media sources, in 2018, the total value of China’s global exports of these products stood at around $5488.6 million while India exported $4,445.9 million worth of these commodities in the same period.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India prepared a report on the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on India’s agricultural trade. The report stated, “There may be opportunities for Indian exporters of agri-items, in case some countries impose restrictions on Chinese goods in response to outbreak of COVID-19. Opportunities may arise in case of other countries imposing import restriction on these tariff lines.”
On the impact of the pandemic on importing of agri-items from China, the agriculture ministry reported to the media that it “may not affect us to an extent that may lead to any crisis.” Government sources informed that India imported agricultural items worth $109.74 million from China in 2018-19, with sevenproducts, including kidney beans, bamboo, cassia, fresh grapes,live plants and plums and sloes accounting for 84% of that importbasket. It is stated that the supply of these items may be disruptedbut out of the top seven items only bamboo and kidney beans areimported in bulk from China.
Though the Covid-19 outbreak has posed a number of challenges for the agricultural sector, experts and industry insiders also are of the opinion that there are a number of opportunities that can be explored.