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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Measures required for a successful kharif season amidst pandemic

Dr Shivendra Bajaj

Monsoon plays an important role in Indian agriculture. While awaiting the arrival, farmers have already begun initial tasks of kharif sowing. As the country is still reeling under the pandemic, farmers will face challenges for a second consecutive year. Moreover, farmer will have to be more cautious as the second wave of Covid-19 has proven more intense. The agriculture sector has endured disruptions and there are chances the entire kharif season may see strict lockdowns. This will create additional and unseen obstacles for farm operations. Farmers must think of measures to ensure farm operations are carried out smoothly. Besides, different stakeholders in the agriculture supply chain must think of strategies to ensure uninterrupted availability of farm inputs and equipment to farmers and to ensure smooth farm-to-fork supply.

Agriculture sector had emerged as the only bright spot when the Indian economy faced headwinds of Covid-19 last year. India witnessed record production of foodgrains (303.34 million tonnes), which was 2 percent higher year-on-year. This year too, the government is optimistic about the good performance of the agriculture sector. The Agriculture Ministry expects rice output to increase to 121.10 million tonnes in 2021-22 from 120.32 million tonnes a year ago. Rice is a major crop for India as it feeds 60 percent of population in India.Monsoon is forecasted to be normal this year, which brings good news for rice cultivation.

While the central government is reviewing and assessing the preparedness for crop management, local agriculture agencies too will have to ensure optimum and timely availability of input materials such as seeds, pesticides, fertilisers, farm machinery and tools. Proper communication channels should be established among farmer groups, local traders, wholesalers and government agencies. So, that farmers can get timely and accurate updates about farming materials and techniques, weather forecasts, and market dynamics. Creating such platforms in the age of ICT will not be a difficult task. Farmers too will have to follow health advisories as the possibilities of Covid-19 infection remains. They must follow social distancing, use masks, sanitise farm machineries and avoid rushing to crowded markets to buy crop inputs.

There are uncertainties in commodity markets due to disrupted farm sector and volatility in demand and supply. In case of sudden slump in demand, commodity rates can drop and hurt farmers. This is a key area where government agencies will have to look at. Proper communication and advisories through different channels including Kisan Call Centres can help reach out to farmers effectively. Satellite remote sensing can be used to get precise and up-to-date information on the crop situation.

Also, we must encourage agri-tech start-ups with suitable policies and incentives. They can play an important role in providing artificial intelligence and digitization- based technological solutions when access of farmers to the outside world has become restricted due to lockdowns. Also, these start-ups can help farmers obtain farm tools and equipment as well as certified seeds and nutrients. Ecommerce companies too can pitch in to deliver crop inputs to farmers wherever possible.

Though, there might not be shortage of labour this time, the fear of rapidly spreading coronavirus –can lead to sudden drop in labour availability. And farm mechanisation is a practical alternative. Farmers must rely on machinery and technological solutions for safe, stable and efficient farm operations. Cooperative and private ‘custom hiring centres’ (CHC) can play a crucial role in providing farm machinery and equipment, especially to the small and marginal farmers. The government can extend the scope of Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanisation (SMAM) to set up hubs for hi-tech and high value farm equipment and create awareness.

(The author is the Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India and Alliance for Agri Innovation. Views expressed are personal. )

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