The COVID-19 pandemic has led to grave implications on the small farmers and daily wage earners. The first two phase lockdown of a nation of 1.3 billion people has impacted extremely severe on the lives as well as the livelihood of the people in our operational villages as per IGSSS developmental project rapid research. The observations are that there is a significant amount of income loss for rural households; loss of livelihoods for small and marginal farmers, landless families, and daily wage earners which has further compounded into thrusting them into severe poverty, unfavourable compromises and ill health

During these 2 phases of the lockdown, farmers faced deadlock as they were unable to work on their farmland, earn remunerative prices for their produces and access to markets. The flow of vegetables, fruits, milk, fish, egg, chicken and ancillary products such as NTFP and mushroom etc. have been struck at the point of production. The key agricultural operations like irrigation, pest control, harvesting and processing have been jeopardized. The farm gate price has been drastically reduced. All these factors lead to distress sale, loss of production and livelihoods of those engaged in agriculture. 

Through this rapid research, IGSSS has tried to reach out to a small sample of 36 of small farmers and wage earners from the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. This research focuses on the foreseeable impact of the COVID 19 in the farm sector focusing on the small farmers and agricultural wage earners. IGSSS staff base located at a different location through NGO partners collected responses through telephonic interviews with key contact persons from the community. The methodology and process were as such:

  • Review of important secondary data for references and arrive at an unbiased conclusion.
  • Questionnaires for the small farmers and daily wage earners based on the discussion with our ground partners over the telephone.
  • Use interview schedule and its ground testing with the support of local/ground partners/village level volunteers by maintaining the safety protocol of COVID 19.
  • Selection of small farmers for the interview in the different states with strategic discussion points
  • Interview with the small farmers and daily wage earners through the ground-based volunteers and also telephonic discussions.
  • Compilation of findings/data and preparation of the report

CHALLENGES AT THE COMMUNITY LEVEL
Out of the 36 respondents interviewed, 29 (81%) affirmed that they received dry ration from the PDS. The amount of rice received ranges from 30 kilograms for one month to 90 kilograms for 3 months and in some cases, they travelled to distances up to 5KM to receive the grains. Some of the respondents also raised the concern of corruption regarding PDS services in their villages stating that 10% of grains were reduced in the name of charges paid for transportation and other costs involved.

Only 13 (36%) respondent admitted to having received cash from the Panchayats. The cash receipt was of Rs. 1000 along with the dry ration from the PDS. This specifically was shared from the respondents of Odisha. 23 (63.89%) respondents mentioned that they have received rice from the schools as a replacement for MDM. 19 (52.78%) respondents from Kalahandi (Odisha) and Assam said that they have received the rice, dal, eggs, and nutritional powder from Anganwadi. Most respondents with eligible family members for pension said that they have received pensions in the account till March, and there has been a delay in some cases for April as they have not yet received it. Three respondents mentioned that even if they have received the pension, they have not been able to withdraw. Altogether 11 (31%) respondents have affirmed that they have received PM Kisan Vikas Allowance as announced. It was also found that there are 11 (30.56%) respondents who mentioned that they have worked under the MNREGA scheme for 7 to 30 days before the lockdown and have not been paid anything yet.

Most small scale farmers have said that there is no access to the market for selling their crops and vegetables and the Rabi crops that they produced are going to waste as they don’t have any means of taking it to the market and the market is not open in many places. The income loss has varied from area to area but they range from 60% to 70% of their previous income. The shops of seed, fertiliser and pesticides are not opening in the markets. Vegetables are rotting in the field. Due to closure of rural markets and hatia in Odisha, Jharkhand and Assam as well as the Mandis in Madhya Pradesh, it is difficult for smallholder farmers in these areas to sell their produce.

Most agricultural labourers responded that they have lost their daily wage work as no work is being done on the fields, nor is any contractual job available as an alternative. The ongoing MGNREGA work stopped due to lockdown. Small local level works like laying Morum/Stone chips on road and water harvesting structures has been stopped leading to loss of income. As a result, there is a huge deficit of instant cash for purchasing goods for daily needs. In the second week of March, the untimely rainfall has badly affected crops in Jharkhand. Though the farmers had insured their crop under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Vima Yojana, they could not reach the concerned govt. department due to the lockdown and as a result it could not be inspected shared by the Jharkhand farmers and Haryana farmers.

Late decisions of government to keep the agriculture input supplying shops open and allowing the collection of Minor Forest Produces and movement of food on roadways have slightly improved the situation and will take time to recover. The small and marginal farmers with agricultural labourers may be worst affected. The assistance provided by the government from PM-Kisan and other freebies would lessen the agony of farmers those who are registered.

AMPLIFYING THE VOICES/ EXPECTATIONS OF SMALL FARMERS AND WAGE EARNERS

  • Small farmers and Daily wage workers have less access to the benefits to the entitlements announced for the poor and marginalized families; there should be scope for announcing and taking up actions for dry ration along with milk and daliya for the children and newly lactating mothers
  • Financial support to the most vulnerable is required based on the deprivation and assessment of loss of the small by the block officials ratified by the Panchayats.
  • Preparation and management of summer vegetable cultivation to be prioritized with water-efficient techniques for May to ensure sustained and immediate nutritious food supplies at household.
  • Providing financial support to the farm and non-farm activities (seed, fertiliser, skill training women counterpart such as on mask making, soap making etc.)
  • For MNREGA workers, the central government must immediately clear all wage arrears from the 2019-20 financial year.
  • Providing wage employment through the convergence of Government schemes and MGNREGA

 

POSSIBILITIES/RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Universalisation of social security pensions. Identifying all those who are above 60 years of age, single women etc. should be initiated immediately.
  • SHG women should be given an opportunity to engage in making sanitizers (phenyl, bleaching powder, soap, detergent) and masks
  • Only 14 per cent of these farmers were able to connect with e-NAM, going by government data. Bringing the FPO in procurement for the remaining 86 per cent of the farmers is necessary.
  • Expansion of the PM-KISAN Yojana to all farmers (tenant farmers) should start to address these specific target groups as because they are more vulnerable to the situation. State Rural Livelihood Missions may consider extending the use of the Vulnerability Reduction Fund (VRF) to the VOs for extending a soft loan.
  • Rescheduling bank loan repayment cycles for SHGs and individual agricultural debtors should be done.
  • Cash transfers for MNREGA workers without work who has the job cards for 10 days for 3 months should be ensured.
  • Ensure special package for small scale poultry farmers
  • Identification and preparation of shelf of work at block and district level should be a priority, the village micro-level planning recommendations and activities identified during Yojna Banao Abhiyan could be referred. The focus should be high on activities linked with water harvesting and creating irrigation sources.
  • Community-level drive like Kaam Mango Abhiyan should be launched by MoRD to facilitate wage employment opportunities and job demands.
  • Many of the families had able workers migrated from the area and have had their job cards deactivated. Fresh job card registrations and immediate activation of registration of all families under AUSHMAN.

 

Contributors: Sadaf Khanam, Vineet Nigam, Niraj Kumar, Rajesh Kumar Mishra, Amar Kumar Gouda, Basant Kumar, Dharani Payeng,  Hariya Damor, Sudem Iswary, Dharani Payeng
Complied by: Bedadyuti Jha and Basab Bhattacharjee
Edited by: Julius Pascal Osta and Krushna Chandra Sahu