Preliminary reports show that the non-availability of migrant labor is interrupting some harvesting activities, particularly in northwest India where wheat and pulses are being harvested.
There are disruptions in supply chains because of transportation problems and other issues. Prices have declined for wheat, vegetables, and other crops, yet consumers are often paying more.
Media reports show that the closure of hotels, restaurants, sweet shops, and tea shops during the lockdown is already depressing milk sales. Meanwhile, poultry farmers have been badly hit due to misinformation, particularly on social media, that chickens are the carriers of COVID-19.
Survey results indicated that three-fourths of the consumers reported a price rise in food commodities during the lockdown.
The concern is that the skyrocketing prices might lead to social unrest; however, the Government of India has managed the situation deftly with timely market reforms and social safety nets for the poor, migrants, and farmers.
Looking at the scale of COVID-19 spread and the panic created, food prices were quite resilient (except for vegetables).
COVID-19 induced lockdown in India disrupted food markets which forced consumers to alter their consumption patterns. Consumers prioritized what they wanted and what they really needed.
Various surveys report that individuals lost their jobs or their income decreased during lockdown (Arun, 2020; Cariappa et al., 2020a; Imbert, 2020; Ray, 2020).
The lockdown coupled with sudden negative income shock posed serious concerns about food and nutrition security in India.
In a survey of 2259 migrant youth, 32% reduced their daily food intake (Imbert, 2020).
Consumers changed their behavior patterns by reducing consumption of non-essentials, reduced market visits, stocking, and consumption behavior changed equally across the intensity of incidence viz., green, orange, and red (Cariappa et al., 2020a).
During these challenging times, how does Indian Agriculture respond to the crisis and how do government measures affect 140 million farm households across the country and thereafter impact the economy of a very important country in the developing world? Such Questions aware us of the immediate challenges that COVID19 has posed to the farm sector and demands mitigation measures to ensure a sustainable food system in the post-crisis period collectively.
Immediately after the nationwide lockdown was announced, the Indian Finance Minister declared an INR 1.7 trillion package, mostly to protect the vulnerable sections (including farmers) from any adverse impacts of the Corona pandemic.
The announcement, among a slew of benefits, contained an advance release of INR 2000 to bank accounts of farmers as income support under the PM-KISAN scheme.
The Government also raised the wage rate for workers engaged under the NREGS, the world’s largest wage guarantee scheme. Under the special scheme to take care of the vulnerable population, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (Prime Minister’s scheme for the welfare of the poor), has been announced.
Additional grain allotments to registered beneficiaries were also announced for the next three months. Cash and food assistance to persons engaged in the informal sector, mostly migrant laborers, have also been announced for which a separate PM-CARES (Prime Minister Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) fund has been created
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has issued state-wise guidelines for farmers to be followed during the lockdown period.
The advisory mentions specific practices during harvest and threshing of various rabi (winter-sown) crops as well as post-harvest, storage, and marketing of the farm produce.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also announced specific measures that address the “burden of debt servicing” due to the COVID19 pandemic.
Agricultural term and crop loans have been granted a moratorium of three months (till May 31) by banking institutions with a 3 percent concession on the interest rate of crop loans up to INR 300,000 for borrowers with good repayment behavior.