Due to the COVID-19 spike in the state, the Government of Assam has imposed several Standard Operation Procedures (SOP)s in the state including a partial lockdown and restrictions in inter district travel. Although a necessary step, but farmers in the state are facing a tough time due to it. The agricultural sector which provides livelihood to more than 70% population of the state has been hit hard by SOPs imposed by the government.
The state, that produces a total of 66 lakh metric tons of vegetables every spring, has had a significant amount of crop loss due to the SOPs this year. While the estimated loss is not known yet, the agriculture department of the state is collecting data of the crop loss from every district.
“The exact loss in the sector is yet to be ascertained as data is still being collected from the various districts. We have data on the surplus crops, estimating the crop loss will take some time,” said Dibakar Deka, Senior Agricultural Development Officer.
The tea industry in the state alone is looking at 40% crop deficit in the first five months of the year, a study by North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) stated.
Plight of the farmers
The major problems currently being faced by the farmers due to the COVID induced SOPs is the decline in demand and lack of market for disposing their harvested product. Horticultural products like water melon and pumpkin are harvested by the farmers but they are unable to sale them as there is no market or buyers due to lock down like situation or restriction in movements. Also, the lack of cold storage facilities in the state has added to woes of the farmers. Agricultural products being perishable, farmers either sale them at a very low price without any margin/ at a loss or allow them to rot in the field itself.
“I have 5 bighas of Water melon, out of which I harvested only 2.5 bighas, remaining 2.5 bighas I have left unplucked as there is less demand in the market, Polash Saikia a farmer from Nagaon said.
Same is the case with other fruits and vegetables. Scarcity of labour is another problem for the farmers to carry out normal agricultural activities like harvesting, transporting and other post harvest treatment. Situation of those landless farmers who cultivate on lands taken on lease is beyond one’s imagination.
Government’s Initiatives for the Farmers
The state government has not overlooked the plight of the farmers and has adopted certain steps to provide some relief.
The Government of Assam has ordered the constitution of high level committees in the districts as well as at the state level to ascertain that farmers ‘producing fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products get adequate price for their produce. The committees will collect the statistics of available agricultural products and facilitate collection and sale of these products through approved vendors in particular points at definite price fixed by the administration, following all the COVID related protocols.
In addition, control rooms are also being setup in all the districts to make sure the farmers get connected to the markets.
“We have set up control rooms in all the districts and published advertisements on the newspapers urging the farmers with adequate products to call the control rooms. The control rooms will then link the farmers to the respective markets to sell their produce,” Senior Agriculture Development Officer Dibakar Deka informed.
Moreover, the government has introduced various schemes including Input Subsidy Scheme and financial assistance schemes that will be of great help to all the farmers during this pandemic situation.
“The Central Government has already sanctioned Rs 404-crore PM-KISAN funds for the farmers of Assam recently. The amount is being deposited directly to the bank accounts of the farmers. I thank the Centre for the sanctioning of the funds,” state agriculture minister Atul Bora announced last week.
Tough Times Ahead for the Farmers
While the farmers of the state are already facing numerous hardships because of the pandemic, their troubles will be doubled in the months to come as the flood season is nearingby. According to estimates by the Directorate of Agriculture, crops across 2.5 lakh hectares were submerged and over 9.2 lakh farm families were affected between May 15 and July 14 last year. Thus, the upcoming months are going to be very challenging for the farmers of Assam and the government’s role in aiding the farmers during one of the worst periods will be crucial.