How some farmers navigated the rough coronavirus seas during the lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic has threatened to widen the disparity between the socio-economic classes in India, especially in villages where a lack of transportation and disrupted supply chains had wreaked havoc. VDC have been instrumental in helping farmers deal with the pandemic, but is that enough?
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The coronavirus lockdown brought the agriculture-dependent population, and those employed in the informal sector to their knees. Before the virus gets to them, people living on the margins of India’s socio-economic system could fall prey to an equally dangerous evil: hunger.

A nationwide lockdown was indeed of utmost need, especially with total coronavirus positive cases crossing more than a lakh.

However, in a country like India, the lockdown comes with its own perils. 91 percent of workers in India are engaged by the informal sector, and agriculture and agro-based activities employ more than half of that workforce.

With their economic activities coming to a halt and no substantial savings, this section of the population will suffer the most during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is true that a disease doesn’t discriminate between different classes and castes, but unfortunately, not all are fighting the coronavirus at the same level. This global health emergency will ultimately only serve to deepen the already existent inequalities in India.

The months that COVID-19 decided to knock on India’s doors were unfortunately the harvest months for rabi crops and non-farm products, mostly collected by the tribal population. The lockdown disrupted supply chains and left farmers with bundles of perishable farm produce and no buyers, which forced them to dump their produce.

Epidemics reflect our relationship with each other. During epidemics, our morality, our duty as members of a society are tested. Now is the time when local governance and the community needs to come together to lift these people again.

In the far-flung areas of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha, people from marginalised communities came together to ensure the continuation of farming activities – mostly selling of the produce – with the help of local administration.

For instance, watermelon farmers, who used to earn about Rs 90,000 in two months, had been feeling helpless with little to no savings from previous months and no way to harvest or sell their current produce. In Odisha, it has been estimated that eight lakh ‘kendu’ leaf pickers will lose Rs. 540 crore due to the lockdown. The fishermen of Madhya Pradesh have found themselves with a huge fish catch, and no markets to sell it to.

It was when Village Development Committees (a group facilitated by the Indo-Global Social Service Society), comprising of people from affected villages, came together and started recording the grievances of farmers that redressal measures were taken.

In Ramgarh, Jharkhand, vegetable farmers who had harvested their rabi crop this year and were due to send it to the storage facility located in Gola, a local village, were unable to do so due to nationwide lockdown, unavailability of transportation and strict social distancing directives. Many thought of dumping their entire harvest this year.

Prabhu Mahto, a VDC member from Hulu – another village in the state – made a list of farmers in distress and, with special permission from their local MLA, got the street vendors a special pass during the initial days of lockdown, thus helping minimise the economic loss of farmers there.

Similarly in Aonardih village, which is one of the best producers of tomato in Ramgarh block, farmers, initially, fed their cattle the harvest. Here too a VDC member, Hemal Tudu, got in touch with a local, as well as global buyer and connected them to the village’s farmers.

Because of these efforts, farmers in those areas managed to sell a net 5,125 quintals of various crops, worth around Rs 6.10 lakh.

In the Kalahandi district of Odisha, the VDC engaged with a state-level network ‘Forest-Based Livelihood Groups’ and ensured that the farm produce was procured through the Minimum Support Price and Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana.

In Kalahandi, the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) was able to support 67 farmers after proper advocacy with local administration. 42 of them were vegetable farmers who had been linked with cooked-food supply camps where they were able to sell their produce weekly in nearby markets with the help of IGSSS volunteers. 35 were watermelon farmers who now been given access to nearby markets. VDC members have been helping these groups sell their produce to block-approved vendors.

The organisation also managed to get special permissions from authorities to allow farmers harvest their produce keeping in mind strict social distancing norms.

In Karlamunda, Odisha, 25 farmers had cultivated watermelons on 22 acres of land, completely organically. Unfortunately, their harvest period coincided with the nationwide lockdown, and the farmers were left stranded.

One farmer shared his grievance with a particular VDC member, who in turn contacted the tehsildar and the local police station to get harvesting permits for farmers.

They also contacted local vendors interested in buying watermelons, while for vegetables, the group collaborated with a sarpanch who, on behalf of the government, bought these vegetables and supplied them to various groups cooking food for villages during the lockdown.

42 farmers were able to sell their vegetables to cooked food supply camps, with the daily count averaging between 1,200 kgs to 1,500 kgs.

In Hatiadali village, Madhya Pradesh, 24 quintals of fish were sold with the help of VDC members who contacted authorities to get fishing permits, as well as liaised with local vendors to facilitate the sale. The total income from the sale was Rs 6.76 lakhs in two months.

In another instance, in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, a self-help group of women (Saraswati Mahila Group) who owned some little land and grew onion, tomato, and okra, contacted the IGSSS to help with permits. The group managed to sell vegetables worth Rs 13,648. The Kumkum Bhagya Mahila Group earned Rs 10,560, while the Maa Durga Mahila Group, Rs 4,278.

IGSSS has been creating livelihood opportunities for villagers, as well as ensuring their safety and finances. In the far-flung rural areas of west and east India, women are being given consignments for mask stitching by panchayats, which are then being distributed to people in need.

The Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM) has commissioned four members from the Ratnamohini SHG in IGSSS’ project area in Karlamunda, Kalahandi to stitch masks to meet the growing demand. The fabric and other materials were given to them by the panchayat, and one mask is being sold for Rs 15.

Testimonies:

"Coranavirus has totally disturbed our daily life and our regular income. Thanks to proper management by our village committee, I have managed to sell three quintals of pumpkin, five quintals of tomato, three quintals of cucumber and three quintals of maize. I think I earned a sum of Rs 20,000 during this period”, said Thakurdas Bedia of Aonardih.
"Our village Machatrd is known as a producer of organic vegetables. Brinjal and bitter gourd has a lot of demand in our village. To save the crop loss in this lockdown period, we have managed so many things in discussion with our VDC members and some leading farmers. I myself sold three to four quintals of brinjal, two quintals of bitter gourd, and six quintals of drum stick. I was able to earn a profit of Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 during the lockdown period,” said Abhiram Bedia of Machatard village.
Edited by Aparajita Saxena

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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