From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not Much
Mains level : Ensuring food supplies amidst COVID-19 crisis
This is perhaps the first time ever that India is facing a national disaster or a war-like situation amidst plentiful supplies of food even as a bumper Rabi crop beckons.
Bumper yield in crisis
- Farmers are currently about to harvest —if they haven’t already.
- Given the surplus and extended monsoon rains, which helped recharge ground water and fill up reservoirs, superabundant produce is round the corner.
- This comes even as there is demand destruction from the shutting down of HORECA (hotels, restaurants and catering) and other institutional segment businesses following the nationwide lockdown.
- It raises the possibility of a crisis similar to the one three years ago that followed demonetization. But the scale, it is feared, could be bigger.
- The post-demonetization rabi crop, also a bumper one, was at least harvested and marketed even if it didn’t fetch a good price.
The real challenge
- The food and civil supplies departments in states will ultimately ensure that the terminal markets in these centres major cities receive their required daily flow of produce anyhow.
- The problem will be in the remote towns and the rural hinterlands that are serviced through upcountry APMCs.
- The grocers there are at the greatest risk of running out of stocks if the lockdown continues without inter-state movement restrictions in agricultural commodities being removed.
How to transport produce
- This time, there are doubts being raised even on that.
- The simple reason for it is: Will farmers, labourers and machines (combines, threshers and tractor trolleys) be able to move freely to harvest the produce and take it to the mandis?
- The UP government has issued a direction to all district administrations and law-enforcement authorities to exempt all services, including labour, that are involved in agricultural production, processing and marketing from the current lockdown provisions.
- Other states, too, may follow. But the question remains of the directives being implemented on the ground.
Will there be workers?
- At the second stage comes the mandis, where marketing of the crop would happen.
- Here again, there is a possibility of shortage of labour (the people who do unloading, cleaning, bagging and reloading of the grain that is auctioned or sold) and even gunny bags.
- Further, it would be necessary to prevent crowding, and maintain social distancing.
- One way out could be to allow entry only to a limited number of farmers, who may be issued SMS alerts informing them about the date and time to bring their crop.
- Each farmer can also be given a maximum quantity — say, one tractor-trolley load of 30-40 quintals — that may be brought in a single day.
- The permission for the next trolley load will be only after other farmers have got their turn to sell.
- All this will obviously delay the process of marketing, raising the prospect of panic sales.
- This could be avoided if the government were to give a clear-cut assurance — at least in respect of crop where there is MSP-based procurement — that it will continue buying till the last grain is offered.
Safer places than APMC
- Besides, the marketing of produce needn’t be limited to the APMC (agricultural produce market committee) mandi yard.
- Any flour or dal mill, and even primary school premises can be designated as an APMC marketing area.
- The objective should be to ensure that the farmer’s produce gets marketed without resulting in overcrowding.
- The risk of shortages today is really not in the metros or state capitals.
- Once marketing is done, the crop has to move beyond the mandi.
- This is probably the right time to dismantle all inter-state and intra-state movement restrictions in farm produce.
- Free movement is necessary for the context of both a bumper crop and the ongoing lockdown.