As the rabi (winter) harvest commences in parts of the country, the governments in the states and at the centre need to perform a deft balancing act that permits the movement of farm equipment, labour and produce, while maintaining all social distancing norms.
As reports of shortage of farm labour and the panic of farmers with perishable crops stream in from different parts of the country, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar tells Prerna Katiyar that initial difficulties have largely been ironed out, and that the government is making all efforts to resolve complaints. Edited excerpts:
Handling of agricultural produce and its movement to the market are proving difficult for farmers despite the lockdown relaxation for the sector. What is the govt doing to streamline movement?
Due to the lockdown, there have been problems in transport and movement in agriculture and allied sectors. But Centre and states have been proactively taking steps each day to resolve these issues. If we receive any call or complaint, we facilitate the movement of produce. In fact now we are launching a call centre (All India Agri Transport Call Centre) for better coordination between states. Be it a trader, farmer or transporteranyone may seek help.
Lack of manpower has become a huge issue with farmers. Why are they being stopped despite the exemptions?
Right from the day Modi ji made the announcement (on March 24), we had immediately said that kisan-khet-majdoor-machine (farmer-farm-labourer-farm equipment) should not be stopped and were exempted from Day 1 keeping in mind the harvesting of Rabi crops. But we are aware that there was lot of strictness in the first few days and farmers have had difficulty. But things are a lot smoother now. Harvesting is on. The harvesting for pulses and oilseeds is almost done. Wheat harvesting too is picking up pace… District collectors looking at the situation in their respective areas may have been taking strict action. Please remember, our first priority still is saving human lives.
How much will the lockdown impact the agriculture growth?
Agriculture growth will get impacted a bit but not a lot. Farm produce has been robust this year and we are trying for complete procurement and ensuring that farmers get their due price. Procurement is happening at MSP. There is no question of farmers not getting their due.
What steps are being taken for functioning of APMCs / Mandis?
All 1,614 mandis across the nation are functional. We have empowered our eNAM platform during lockdown to facilitate farmers in selling their produce. There are states that have moved their operations entirely to this platform. We have asked states to give relief to farmers from mandi norms for three months so that they can sell their produce anywhere.