Lockdown puts rural economy under stress

The prolonged lockdown along with rain and hailstorm in many regions has heightened rural distress, pushing anxious villagers to moneylenders — a situation which farm leaders say can trigger agitations and suicides unless farmers get quick relief.

The disruption in wholesale markets and transportation hurdles have ravaged the rural economy. Farmers are chopping orchards, ploughing blooming fields of flowers and selling produce at throwaway prices. The absence of field-level assessment by insurance companies is making compensation difficult.

“There is a looming food crisis and I fear hunger deaths may take place if we cannot address it,” said Avik Saha, convener, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. He said people in remote parts of Bengal, such as Jhargram and the Sundarbans delta, were struggling to get food. “Everyone is trying to help but the political system has collapsed and there is impulse to exploit,” he said.

For mango growers, market disruption is a bigger threat than the virus. “Nearly 55% of the Alphonso (crop) that grows in Maharashtra is sold at the wholesale markets of Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur, all of which are closed now,” said Chandrakant Mokal, chairman, Maharashtra State Mango Growers’ Association. In Uttar Pradesh, buyers are not making advance purchases. About 70% of the output, which is transported to other states, is stranded because of transportation hurdles and shortage of packaging material.


Credit Crisis

“If we cannot sell mangoes, small farmers may die of hunger, if not the virus,” said Isram Ali, a mango farmer from Uttar Pradesh and president, Mango Growers Association. Industry officials say the demand from companies which make mango drinks was also drying up.

Grape farmers are stressed because exports have stopped and wineries are not buying. “Desperate farmers are selling grapes at ?10/kg in my village,” said Yogesh Warkhede from Nampur in Nashik district. The cost of production is at least ?20/kg.

“If the government does not help, farmers will not be able to survive through this disaster,” said Sopan Kanchan, chairman, Grape Growers Federation of India.

Farmer leaders said there was a looming credit crisis. “Farmers have a fixed periodicity of earning twice in a year — after selling the summer crop and the winter crop. But he spends every day. The rotating credit system with local kirana stores helps him survive. Now, this system has collapsed,” Saha of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee said.

Ganesh Adatrao of Marathwada’s Osmanabad district, where many farmers have committed suicide in the past, said prices of essential items was rising and daily wagers are going to moneylenders. “Kirana owners are insisting on buying things in cash. And there is no cash available as there is no work,” said Adatrao. He said people who had borrowed were under pressure to repay. “I am afraid; all this should not lead to increase in depression and suicides among the people,” said Adatrao, whose farmer father had committed suicide.

For flower growers, demand has vanished as temples are shut and there are no weddings. Rohan Pawar, 28, from Yawat near Pune, plans to uproot marigold fields in which he invested ?50,000 and was expecting to earn ?3 lakh. “I will have to also bear losses of about ?2 lakh for the tuberose cultivation on one acre,” he said.

Farmers from Andhra Pradesh who have planted watermelons and muskmelons are finding no buyers. “Many farmers from my village just threw away the fruits,” said Kisan Borade, a farmer from Narayangaon near Pune.

Rainfall has amplified distress for farmers, said Rampal Jat, farmer leader from Rajasthan and president, Kisan Mahapanchayat. “Unseasonal rainfall has damaged the crops and there is no assessment of the losses,” Jat said.

P Chengal Reddy, chief adviser, Confederation of Indian Farmers’ Association, said it would be difficult for farmers to sell veggies and fruit such as watermelons, muskmelons, bananas and mangoes that will continue to be harvested till May and June. “It is necessary to arrange home delivery of fruits and vegetables,” Reddy said.

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