In spite of the Maharashtra government permitting supply chain for essential goods to run as usual, farmers across districts in the State are reporting difficulties in procurement, distribution and price, says the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). The AIKS in Maharashtra has presented a list of demands to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, asking him to further simplify and monitor the system as the lockdown has led to concerning levels of distress. "While we acknowledge the State government is doing plenty on the agriculture front, we are receiving reports from our party workers in the districts saying the situation is becoming increasingly rough," says Ashok Dhawale, national president of the AIKS.
In a statement to the Chief Minister, the AIKS, which represents a large number of farmers, says the areas that need immediate attention are agricultural distribution, the dairy and poultry sector, grape growers, migrant workers in agriculture and the public distribution system.
The AIKS says farmers are concerned that although transportation through districts is permitted, there are few drivers who are willing to ferry goods. “Farmers have to rely on private transporters because the government transport system is not available. Private transport operators are not ready to carry goods to the cities due to fear of infection and complicated licensing process. Workers and haulers are not available for loading and unloading vehicles. Furthermore, there are no labourers for harvesting onions and wheat. Even farm labourers have been asked to stay home and are fearful of going out,” says the statement.
Currently, whatever is reaching Mumbai, Pune and other big cities in the State is from nearby districts. The more far-flung regions do not seem to have the means to access wholesale markets, says the statement.
Maharashtra’s fruit farmers, especially grape growers, are in a miserable state as the fruit is rotting on the vines due to the unavailability of labour and transport. “Most of our grapes are exported. As the lockdown is not permitting exports and even domestic movement is restricted, tonnes of fruit are left without being picked,” says Umesh Deshmukh, an AIKS member based in Sangli.
“It is necessary to intervene to stop the robbery of consumers and farmers by establishing distribution chains by buying grapes, bananas, oranges, chikku and similar fruits through the government machinery. Fruit growers need to help in the same way as efforts are being made to give comfort to milk producers. Nafed [National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India] and Agriculture Department should jointly intervene in this regard," says the statement.
The demand for milk has declined by 30 percent because of the fear among consumers of infection spreading. Additionally, the price has dropped from Rs.30 to Rs.20 a litre. In an attempt to help dairy farmers, the government has committed to procuring 10 lakh litres a day at the rate of Rs.25 a litre to make it into milk powder. However, the State needs to buy five lakh litres in order for farmers to not run on losses, says the AIKS.
Rumours that chicken and eggs spread the virus has led to a crisis not just in the sector but also among those who grow poultry feed, which includes maize and soybean. “Chicken is being sold dirt cheap and many farmers have had to cull birds to avoid high maintenance costs,” says Dhawale.
It is also well known there are lakhs of migrant workers engaged in agricultural work, particularly at this time of the year when sugarcane is harvested. With the lockdown, a lot of them are stranded in the districts. “Most of the crop has been harvested, but payments are not being made due to the lockdown. Due to the cash flow situation, the labourers cannot even avail themselves of the subsidised ration, and obviously ration shops will not give on credit,” says Uday Narkar, an AIKS member in Kolhapur. “Only yellow ration cardholders are getting free rations. They should include orange cardholders as well.”
The AIKS wants a reduction of bureaucratic hassles in the public distribution system at this time of emergency. It has asked the government to consider remedies such as debt relief and electricity waivers. “The Kisan Sabha is hoping that in the coming days, policies will be taken by considering the basics of rural areas, agriculture, environment, biodiversity, humanity, human values, and avoiding extremes of corporate and urban development,” says Dhawale.