Govt rules to revive rural economy in lockdown miss out details: Experts

An agricultural labourer harvests wheat crop at a farm during the nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, on the outskirts of Noida, UP. Photo: PTI
The government on Tuesday said it will allow some farming from April 20 during the national lockdown to contain the coronavirus but agriculture companies said they want more clarity on marketing and buying from farmers.

Rakesh Tikait, a leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said the lockdown had caused extensive damage to the domestic farm sector. “Although, the central and the various state governments had allowed for the unhindered movement of agricultural and horticultural goods during the lockdown period, however, it did not translate to the ground in the entirety and trucks carrying the farm produce intermittently got stuck at the interstate borders,” he said.

Horticultural crops have a short shelf life, resulting in losses to farmers. “All these hurdles are likely to be resolved with the Centre’s general advisory ensuring smooth transportation of the farm produce to the mandis across the country coming into force from April 20,” he said.

However, several mandis and many states, except Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, are yet to clarify on direct selling by farmers without coming to agricultural produce market committee (APMC) markets.

Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj said, “Union government has clarified several issues. However, state government implementing them by required clarifications, orders and on ground implementation remain a big challenge. This could take some time.” He also added that it will not be easy for a state government to relax APMC norms. 

A Ministry of Home Affairs circular said: “all agriculture and horticulture activitie shall remain fully functional including all farming operations, procurement functions and even APMCs.” It also said that direct marketing operations by states or industry directly from farmers will also permitted.

Vijay Sardana, an agri-food regulations expert said, “if there is waiver (far farmers and buyers from going to) APMCs then various liabilities will come down. Else, there is threat of litigation against Companies by APMC.” These clarifications can be issued by respective states. MP and Gujarat have said farmers need not bring commodity to APMC but they are still required to come with sample and buyers have to come to APMC. Only for delivery, norms have been relaxed.

The required clarification will inspire confidence and Companies including processing units to freely and aggressively do procurement which will help farmers to get better price, Sardana said.

Similar feelings were raised by B V Mehta, Executive Director, the Solvant Extractors Association. He said that processing units should be categorically allowed to buy directly from farmers and none of them should be required to come to APMC.

Earlier this month, the agriculture ministry asked states to allow this and limit APMCs’ jurisdiction to their physical location. However states are yet to do so.

“The wheat harvest season is underway and clarification that farming and related activities can be fully functional would facilitate the easy movement of the farm produce to the procurement centres and thereon to the food processing units and the retail markets,” Tikait added.
Meanwhile, he also demanded an economic package for farmers. Sardana proposed a special package for horticulture and milk farmers as they deal in perishables and they can’t store them.

Meanwhile, Tikait claimed the payment of PM Kisan installment to the farmers had witnessed disruption at the local levels owing to lockdown, which should be ironed out so that the farmers get relief in the ongoing harvest season”.

Another issue in todays circular is about poultry. Sardana said that, unlike fisheries, “retailing is not allowed for poultry products and meat products. The langauge should be same as fisheries. Else poultry farmers will not be able to sell eggs and meat. This needs clarity and amendment in the guidelines.”

Poultry farmers are anyway impacted heavily following huge fall in demand.

National Collateral Management Services Limited (NCML) managing director Siraj A Chaudhry said that, the domestic poultry sector was the first to be hit by coronavirus, when the consumption pattern of chicken and other poultry products had slumped over health considerations following the outbreak in China. “Although, the Centre has announced for the operation of the poultry farms from April 20, yet the supply chain would remain incomplete unless the hotels and restaurants are allowed to function. Besides, the retail demand is also expected to be weak in the short term,” he said.

“Currently, the domestic poultry business is a losing proposition and unless there is seamless resumption of operations coupled with robust demand, the entrepreneurs would find it difficult to operate,” said Chaudhry.

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