COVID-19 brings disaster to farmers, laborers and small business owners in India

indica News Bureau-


The world is sliding rapidly towards a recession. COVID-19 pandemic is making small businesses across sectors struggle to make ends meet. With GST compliance issues in India, slow domestic demand and demonetization already playing spoilsport, the virus scare has only added to the woes of small businesses in the country. It will shut down large parts of the world economy for at least a few months more.

IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva stated on March 23, 2020 that the outlook for global growth in 2020 was “negative.” Recovery, if any, is expected only in 2021. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the rise in unemployment because of COVID-­19 could be up to 25 million worldwide.

As India moves from regulations and controls to a total lockdown, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy is becoming ever more acute. The Indian economy, which was already facing a sharp downturn by the end of 2019, will surely record an extraordinarily poor growth rate for the months of March, April, and May 2020 (though they technically fall into different quarters of the financial year). If the lockdown continues beyond a month, the impact is likely to be even more severe ­­— on the working people and on the economy as a whole.

In India too, the banking sector was reeling under high levels of NPAs and little demand for fresh credit even before the pandemic erupted. Lower economic activity implies that most debt repayments stop. A prolonged lockdown would certainly lead to a banking crisis as well. Sectors of the economy highly dependent on exports, such as the spice and plantation sectors in India, will face a fall in export demand and prices. Sectors of the economy dependent on imports of intermediary goods or raw materials will see imports halted and production stopped. Above all, remittances fall, adversely affecting the nation’s foreign exchange reserves. The fall in oil prices is a cushion, but the fall in domestic demand for oil counteracts this effect.

Experts have warned that the sudden displacement of migrant laborers would have a far-reaching impact on the Indian economy and states should be prepared to deal with the consequences of behavioral changes forced by the lockdown.

Maya Vishwakarma, an Indian-American cancer research scientist and founder of the Sukarma Foundation in San Francisco and is popularly known as ‘Pad Woman’ of India, shared her experience about Indian lockdown with indica. She has been living in her hometown in Mehragaon of Narsinghpur district of Madhya Pradesh.

She said, “When I came to India before the lockdown, everything was normal here. People were busy in their respective jobs, cultivation of crops, labors had started coming from other districts to seek employment. All of a sudden this one-day lockdown was announced called “Janta Curfew”. The farmers had no idea what it was and the administration was trying to address this issue, spread awareness about this corona outbreak but they did not have time to go to the different villages. Besides, state government of Madhya Pradesh was weak as the other party was  busy doing horse-trading with MLAs.”

Villagers are not aware of why the government has announced 21 days shutdown.

She shared the effects of the sudden announcement of a 21-day-lockdown on her surroundings. “The day the government announced the lockdown, people in villages had no clue what was happening, they got confused when district collector started daily bulletins of lockdown what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, half of the population doesn’t use the cell phone in the village, no new paper nothing. They only got little information through people who use smartphones. This is the peak time for harvesting crops (white, rice, lentils and other crops) and farmers are waiting for the same by using harvester, tractor and local labor but the administration has announced full lockdown, leaving them helpless. They can’t go to town to buy diesel, petrol and other stuff for daily use. Every day there new experiments are happening. Sometimes they open the gas stations at night to fill diesel, allowing two people on the tractor or harvester. Sometimes, they become a little lenient to the farmers giving diesel during the day but no market is open for vegetable growers to sell their produce,” she added.

Maya further said, “The farmers also started facing problem during this lockdown as they are not getting labors, because most of the labors come from other states and they have moved back to their respective states leading to shortage of daily wage labors in the villages. Most of the standing crops in the field are getting affected due to weather conditions. In some of our areas received heavy rains and hailstones that have ruined the wheat and gram crops. Famer are having to suffer huge losses due to the coronavirus lockdown. Many say they don’t have groceries at home except wheat and rice, and as they could not sell the produce, they have no cash to buy the other groceries. Small shops at the villages have run out of stock and they can’t buy wholesale material from the town area as borders of the districts have been sealed. The police are getting more brutal day by day and they start beating anyone who they see moving  without permission.”

The sudden lockdown and the consequent shutdown of transport created a humanitarian crisis in many states as panic-stricken migrant workers took to the highways trying to walk hundreds of kilometers home.

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the Left leaning organization that represents farmers, agricultural workers and peasants has said that millions are staring at unemployment due to the lockdown announced by the central government as a measure to contain the community outbreak of novel coronavirus). AIKS demands urgent action to mitigate the suffering, central assistance to all states to set up infrastructure and meet expenses to immediately contain the pandemic. The organization also said that the unprecedented health, social and economic crisis should be dealt with in a comprehensive manner.

The organization has demanded a package for the peasantry, agricultural workers, working-class and all vulnerable sections. Their demand includes a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000, free seeds and subsidized agricultural inputs, free food grains and rations for the next six months that may be continued subject to reassessment of scenario. They also demand free medical check-up and treatment for COVID-19.

“Unemployment was already rampant, millions of migrant workers, contract workers, agricultural workers, domestic workers, workers in the informal sector and the peasantry are losing their livelihood. Travel, textile, construction, hotel, tourism, transport, retail trade and many sectors are seeing lay-offs too”, Ashok Dawale, president, AIKS said.

Government is assessing the impact on agric sector

Government agri-research body ICAR is assessing the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on agriculture and allied sectors and taking measures to minimize its effect on the country’s food security, a senior ICAR official said.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is the apex body for coordinating, guiding, and managing research and education in agriculture in the entire country under the aegis of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, reported by The Hindu Businessline.

“ICAR is preparing documents on the possible impact on agriculture and allied sectors and measures to minimize the negatives so that the food system remains unaffected,” the official said.

While the government has exempted many agricultural operations from harvesting to movement of produce to mandis from lockdown rules, the ICAR study will help the government take further action, the official added.

The official said that ICAR had issued crop-specific advisories to farmers, asking them to take general precautions and safety measures during harvesting, post-harvest operations, storage and marketing of rabi crops.