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Sector Series III: Impact Of COVID-19 And Lockdown On The Indian Agricultural Sector

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

India is home to 140 million farm households and approximately 120 million smallholder farmers who contribute close to 40 percent of the country’s grain production and more than 50 percent of its fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, and other crops. A significant section of the global share such as wheat and rice comes from India where almost half of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihood.

Now for a second, keeping the ruthless challenges this sector has been experiencing aside, reports show that low rainfall, price volatility, and rising debts are the three primary risks this sector grapples with year after year. COVID-19 brought along a major challenge in the form of domestic and international travel restrictions which created mutants in the form of labor scarcity and exports.

Representational image.

Labour scarcity and lockdown have deeply affected farmers in India


Now before I plunge into the story of the third sector of this series, we need to be introduced to both sides of this imbalance: the first being the farmers and the second, the Government.

Government “Promises” And Labour Scarcity

Now, what did the government do when the knee-jerk reaction of the mass exodus of migrant labor commenced in March 2020?

The Indian Finance Ministry declared a welfare package of INR 1.7 trillion aiming to protect the vulnerable sections of the society from any adverse impacts that might tag along with the Coronavirus pandemic. The announcement, however, contained an advance release of INR 2000 to bank accounts of farmers as income support under the PM-KISAN scheme.

The government also went ahead and raised the wage rate for workers engaged under the NREGA scheme. Additional grain allotments along with cash and food assistance were announced to registered beneficiaries, mostly migrant workers via the PM CARES (Prime Minister Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) fund.

How much were these promises actually materialized? Well, there’s no data or claim on the same so far. What’s definitely visible though are the issues that the farming economy has been battling with since the very first wave of this ‘Mahamari (pandemic)’.

The nationwide lockdown has begun at a very unfortunate time for farmers as it was the harvest season for the winter crop – rabi. Mass migration of laborers coupled with domestic restrictions led to the harvesting season to go completely off-balance which brought in major liquidity issues. Additionally, smallholder farmers have not been able to harvest their bumper crops of cereal and oilseed with the stocks being abandoned in certain areas.

The labor scarcity also affected the supporting infrastructure in and around the agricultural sector with storage units going understaffed. Underdevelopment of irrigation equipment has resulted due to shackled operations in the manufacturing sector, with irrigation-relation manufacturing currently operating at 30 percent of its potential capacity.

The Transportation Sector

Another very important sector that has been largely hit is the transportation sector. Movement of crops has completely stalled across state borders which have consequently affected their sale. If we add the reduction in the manufacturing of equipment, the plate that finally gets served to you will hardly suffice even 10 percent of the population relying on this sector for their day-to-day activities.

The irony in this overall picture lies in the fact that, as per report estimates, even though the food banks of India had more than three times the minimum operational buffer, supply, and most importantly, those rotted due to inaccessibility.

Several ground-level pieces of research have revealed an urgent requirement to mitigate labor scarcity issues. To begin with, the amount of labor available at hand should be put to use with a basic endowment of unemployment allowances with maximum labor being directed to the most critical areas given how important the harvesting season is.

Mechanization of Farming needs to be delved deeper into, at least for critical sowing and harvesting operations to ensure similar risks as these are minimized.

Adding on to the dismay associated with domestic issues, currently, around half a million tonnes of Indian rice is locked up in the supply chains with perishable crops not being transported at all in fear of deterioration in delayed transit. Agricultural experts say approximately $40 billion worth of produce is severely affected in this scenario.

Despite the economic activity being up and running, the scenario within the farming economy is still looming. The Centre and states must step up and boost the primary source of livelihood in India.

This article was originally published on ScrollStack

Feature image is for representational purposes only.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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