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How states are dealing with lockdown-driven delay in harvesting Rabi crops

Workers fill sacks with wheat grains during a nationwide lockdown. Photo: PTI
With the harvesting of most rabi crops getting underway amid the Covid-19 lockdown, several states are adopting innovative and unique ways to ensure that while the delay does not impact farmers’ realisations, lockdown rules aren’t violated either.

Most big rabi producing states such as Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat have delayed their annual procurement of wheat, oilseeds and pulses. As far as horticultural crops are concerned, they are framing rules to ensure the smooth movement of potatoes, cucumbers, bananas, mangoes and other produce from the fields to the mandis, with minimum human interface.

From converting state transport buses into temporary vegetable sale counters, to allowing farmers to enter into special sale agreements with buyers, states are also adopting innovative methods to keep the farm-to-fork supply chain intact.

The Centre has also issued several guidelines to the states to ensure smooth availability of seeds, fertilisers, farm machinery retail and repair shops, livestock and animal feed production, and aquaculture. However, several experts, farmers and stakeholders feel that lot of the relaxations need to be clearly conveyed to the ground level functionaries and administrative authorities in the absence of which their implementation becomes difficult leading to holding up of supplies.

The Centre has held several rounds to discussions with the states to ensure that the relaxations are followed on the ground and that there is no undue harassment of people.

Here is a brief snapshot of some of the steps taken by the states to ease rabi harvesting and marketing including that of perishable items. Given that the entire chain involves numerous functionaries and multiple layers of operations, the effectiveness of the relaxations will depend on how well they are implemented at the ground level, while ensuring that Covid-19 precautions aren’t violated.

Punjab, Haryana, MP, UP and Rajasthan 

The big rabi producing states of Punjab, Haryana, MP, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have staggered their procurement to enable farmers to come in batches so that there is no overcrowding.

The number of purchase centres has also been raised substantially while in Uttar Pradesh, where the state government has planned doorstep purchase of wheat from growers.

For vegetable growers, the UP government has issued directions to all district magistrates and other authorities to allow farm-level procurement by Farmer-Producer Organizations or Companies (FPOs and FPCs) so that farmers don't have to sell their produce at lower prices, while consumers in cities get vegetables at affordable rates. It has allowed movement of all produce carried by FPOs and FPCs.

The UP government has decided to purchase 5.5 million tonnes of wheat at MSP for which it has set up 5,500 purchase centres. Wheat procurement in the state begins on April 15, 

It has also started a system of online tokens to prevent crowding at the markets. A farmer willing to sell wheat has to contact the purchase centre in-charge and give his registration number.

The centre in-charge will then generate an online token in a week's time, and the same will be sent to the farmer via SMS.

If any farmer who isn't registered on the online token mechanism comes to the purchase centre along with the Aadhaar card, he can be registered right there by the centre in-charge on production of photo I-card, bank passbook and land papers.

Punjab, another big wheat-producing state in which procurement has been going on for the past few days, has issued 2.7 million coupons to farmers for bringing the crop to the mandis, while the number of purchase centres has also been expanded to 3,691 from as 1,840 last year. This has been achieved by converting 1,824 rice mills into wheat procurement centres, with an aim to avoid over-crowding.

A farmer will be allowed to take several coupons each day or on different days, depending on the space in the purchase centre. in order to avoid rush in the mandis, the official said. A similar arrangement has also been put in place in Rajasthan and Haryana, where too wheat procurement has started.

In Madhya Pradesh, special arrangements have been made to ensure farmers come in batches, while the state government is allowed door-to-door procurement.

MP was among the first states to allow movement of heavy farm machines during the lockdown and fixed a specific time for seed and fertiliser shops to open.

The Madhya Pradesh government has also introduced an innovative system called ‘sauda patrak’ which is a form of contract between the trader and the farmer, issued by the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC). The farmer does not bring his entire produce in the mandi, but only a sample of the crop.

Based on the sample, the buyer purchases the crop from the farmer's doorstep or any other designated place outside the usual mandi while the sale is recorded in the mandi’s records.

A trader can buy 25-30 per cent of produce through the ‘sauda patrak’ system. The buyer is given custody of the produce only after he makes full payment.

MP has also opened 4,305 purchase centres for wheat.

In Punjab, coupons with holograms will allow farmers to bring their crop to mandis in their tractor trolleys.

To ensure social distancing at grain markets, the ground space at mandis has been divided into 30x30 feet for 50 quintals of crop, the official added.

Farmers will be required to bring a minimum number of persons with the tractor trolley in order to avoid gathering at the grain markets.

Delhi 

The vegetable market of Azadpur in Delhi, which is among the biggest in Asia, has introduced a system of odd-even, with staggered timings -- 6am to 11am for the sale of vegetables and 2pm to 6pm for fruits -- at the mandi.

The decisions were taken following reports that social distancing rules were not being followed at the mandi, which spreads over 80 acres.

"Under the odd-even rules, we will allow all the 22 sheds to operate according to their numbers. For instance, on an even date, even-numbered sheds such as 0, 2, 4, 6, 8 will be allowed to function.

 Odisha
 
The Odisha government has announced relaxation of some restrictions for agriculture, fisheries and allied activities during the second phase of lockdown in the state from April 15.

Agriculture and allied activities, such as movement of farm machines, opening of cold storages and application for crop loan are exempted from lockdown norms.

"All kinds of fisheries, allied activities and veterinary activities would continue during the second phase of the lockdown," a senior government official said.

The Odisha government was the first state to have extended the ongoing lockdown till April 30 to effectively contain the spread of coronavirus.

The government has also allowed plantation and related activities and construction and repair of water bodies in forest and sanctuaries area, drinking water pipelines and tube well repair work.

Roadside eateries like Dhabas will operate to ensure that drivers of vehicles carrying essential items do not face food scarcity. However, people cannot eat sitting at roadside eateries, but can carry the food and consume it somewhere else.

Maharashtra 

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held a meeting with APMCs and mathadi workers’ leaders to convince their members to resume work and help open mandis. Till late evening discussions were on to finalise detailed operational guidelines for solving farmers and traders issues along with several other concerns for resuming other activities gradually. Following that, the Vashi grain mandi will start in next couple of days, and efforts are on to restart other mandis including vegetables in the state.

Gujarat 

Several market yards or APMCs in the state are shut. They have been told to resume on Wednesday and implement state guidelines on social distancing and hygiene. Many such yards are still not prepared the change. A few like Gondal, one of the largest in the state, have said that if proper functional arrangement are made, then their traders will be prepared to buy from farmers’ doorsteps and sell.

"We understand that there have been supply issues at the end-consumer's level. Now that the APMCs are supposed to start on April 15, the government is in the process of finalising a standard operating procedure to ensure supplies are not affected, yet proper care is maintained to prevent spread of Covid-19. Factors like volume of load and number of people among other things are being considered," Manish Bhardwaj, Secretary - Agriculture, Farmers Welfare & Co-operation Department, Government of Gujarat told Business Standard.

Telangana 

The Telangana government is ensuring adequate movement of the trucks from Krishnapatnam port from where edible oils and dals come to the state.

At the back-end, the government is procuring rice and maize directly from farmers from over 6,000-odd purchase centres across the state. Paddy procured by the government is being sent to rice mills from where the rice is made available to FCI and the state Civil Supply Corporation for distribution through PDS.

The agriculture marketing department operates around 345 Rythu Bazars, besides mobile vans for sale of vegetables to consumers. These Rythu Bazars have been receiving close to 4,000 tonnes of vegetables every day.

Tamil Nadu 

Tamil Nadu arranged for the planting of seedlings for the ‘summer’ paddy crop. The state also announced loans to procurement agencies to buy produce directly from the farmers’ doorstep at fixed fair prices.

The state also announced loan of Rs 10 lakh to agencies for procuring fruit and vegetables directly from farmers and horticulture department has started ecommerce door-delivery platform. In addition, intra-State and inter-State transportation of harvesting machines and horticultural equipment is also being allowed.

Andhra Pradesh 

Apart from the existing 100, another 471 temporary Rythu Bazars have been setup across the state thereby decentralising the Rythu Bazar system ensuring availability of essentials in abundance to citizens in every corner of the state. That apart, a total of 451 State Transport buses have been converted into Mobile Rythu Bazars selling a wide range of essentials straight from the farm.

Farmers cultivating fruits like Bananas are facing their own set of problem, the state government has procured around 7000 tonnes of them at a good price. That apart, around 700 procurement centres have been set up near the farms to purchase jowar, red gram, bengal gram, maize and turmeric. 

New Delhi


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