TNN | Apr 13, 2020, 00:14 IST

Farmers wearing masks harvest wheat crop at Dasna amid the nationwide lockdown imposed in the wake of coronavi…Read More

  • Telangana is looking at a bumper crop of paddy, maize and chilli this year. But, unlike most years, farmers aren’t celebrating. They can only stare in desolation at their crop withering away in the fields under the intense heat. For labourers are sparse. And the few available find it difficult to dodge the police to make it to the fields
  • In the north, Punjab is staring at a muted Baisakhi. While the state government has decided on staggered procurement of wheat and other rabi crops that were sown in winter, farmers are worried this would extend into sowing of kharif crop and lead to hit in produce

NEW DELHI: As Covid-19 rages, in farms across the country it’s a grim Baiskahi staring at farmers hit by a plethora of woes — from the labour force working on fields drying up due to fear and migration to crops drying up, lack of liquidity among farmers and even a severe shortage of gunny bags to pack produce. Even fear of catching the virus in big cities is keeping farmers and transporters away from transporting crop and vegetables.
Most farmers in Punjab and Haryana grow wheat, the biggest rabi crop. It will be difficult to ask them to stagger their harvest as they are worried over clearing their fields to prepare for sowing of kharif (summer-sown) crops like paddy, cotton, maize, bajra and pulses.
Also, most of the mandis employ a large number of labourers, mostly migrants, who are away due to the lockdown. So handling of produce, especially wheat, after procurement will be difficult due to manpower shortage. Also, an acute shortage of gunny bags —with supply from Bengal yet to arrive — for packing wheat is likely to hit the two states.
The farmers in these states will also be affected by funds liquidity as they would need money immediately to buy seeds for the next crop season.
In Madhya Pradesh, farmers can hardly do much but watch their standing crops drying up as summer sets in. In the present situation, wheat procurement is likely to be affected at major centers including Bhopal, Indore and Ujjain districts battling with coronavirus.
“Summer’s getting harsh by the day and grains have started falling off. This may result in lower yield,” said farmer leader Shivkumar Sharma. Shortage of gunny bags has hit MP farmers too. Farmers in MP depend mostly on rabi crops with a high sowing area of over 120 lakh hectare. More than half of this accounts for wheat. Besides, cash crops like gram, pulses and mustard too are grown in rabi season.
“Lockdown is necessary, but harvesting of crops is also important and time is running out,” said Sharma.

As labourers are not venturing out, farmers and their families are struggling to harvest their crops. “In absence of labourers, my wife and family members have pitched in. It is a skilled job, and we are not used to doing it on our own,” said Imrat Lal, a farmer living on the oustkirts of Bhopal.
While Telangana is expecting a bumper paddy, crop harvesting has hit a roadblock as agriculture labourers refuse to enter fields owing to the virus scare. The lockdown has triggered further shortage of labour, impacting harvesting and marketing of paddy, maize, chilli and other crops. Migration of farm labour has made matters worse. More than two weeks into the harvest season, farmers are at their wits’ end on how to harvest their paddy.
“Even if we manage to organise labourers, police are restricting their movement because of the lockdown. Harvesting is totally disrupted,” said a farmer in Nizamabad. Paddy was sown in record 40 lakh acres in Telangana.
If there are fewer vegetables and fruits in Mumbai markets, it is because traders and farmers from Nashik and western Maharashtra are struggling to get labourers to do field work and transport farm produce to the state capital. Nashik has a lion’s share in the vegetable market of Mumbai and over 500 tonnes are sent daily through 150 vehicles. Since the lockdown, the supply has reduced substantially. The farmers are counting their losses. Usually, the three and half months from February is the peak period for vegetables farmers.
At present, farmers have good acreage of vegetables ready to harvest, but the demand for the crop has reduced and there is lack of enough labourers.
With inputs from Chandigarh, Hydera