The immediate efforts to deal with the way challenges have emerged in the agriculture sector are fine, but it is crucial to formulate medium and long-term strategies for far-reaching results
The coronavirus pandemic has posed some serious challenges. Every section and region of the country is currently under stress. But two important sectors — health and economy — have been the most affected due to COVID-19.
A number of effective steps have been taken by the government in these two areas. The announcement of an economic package of Rs 20 lakh crore by the government is an example of this.
The immediate efforts to deal with the way challenges have emerged in terms of joblessness and an economic downturn are fine, but the medium and long-term strategies are crucial for far-reaching results.
Agriculture can contribute significantly in strengthening these sectors. About 70 per cent of the population of the country lives in rural areas and is mainly dependent on agriculture. It also provides agricultural raw materials for the economic activities of the urban population. Thus, the larger part of the village as well as the urban population depends on agriculture.
Agriculture contributes about 15 per cent to the country’s economy and about 14 crore farming families are engaged in the mainstream agriculture. As a result of the tireless efforts of these farmers, 87 million metric tonnes of food is available in the godowns of the country, which has ensured adequate food for every citizen of the country even at the time of the existent crisis.
This means that there is no shortage of supply in the agriculture sector. In fact, there is a steep decline in the demand for food, fruits, vegetables, milk and fish that are produced by the farmers during the current pandemic. Due to lack of demand, the prices of these products also have decreased, forcing farmers to leave their produce in their fields to rot away. This is because the villages could not even store their crops safely due to the lack of proper storage and processing facilities. So, the farmers could not even recover their cultivation cost and were financially ruined.
If these problems are taken seriously, it may seem that the present is rife with laxity and hopelessness. In fact, this social calamity also has a message for the agricultural sector that needs to be understood well. If we look at it optimistically, the agriculture sector shows a bright future by implementing certain vital futuristic changes. This possibility hinges upon the changes to be made towards crops and products diversification.
Between March and May, there was good production of vegetables and fruits, but the larger part of these products remained in the field due to the low demand, declining prices and problem of mandis. The same has been the case for milk, meat and fish production. As per the estimates, the farmers have lost about Rs 20,000 crore. Had there been a provision for safe storage and processing, the farmers could have been spared this huge loss.
This teaches us that there should be a wide and robust storage systems in the villages. In case the demand for perishable products is low, small processing units can serve as life savers. Being an agro-based small cottage industry, fresh products that are not in demand in the market can be sold at good prices in cities by making their processed, but nutritional dishes in low prices. For this, the government needs to give incentives for comprehensive investment.
Loans should be provided to farmers or producer groups at interest-free or minimum rate of interest. These areas will also have to promote high quality and advanced technology, so that we could supply world-class products from rural areas. At the time of this pandemic, agricultural product exports by many countries of the world have decreased. This is an opportunity for us as the decline in the availability of many products in the world market due to the lack of exports by other countries can be offset by the food items produced by our farmers here.
As everyone knows that the cure of coronavirus is not known so far, perhaps we may have to live with this virus. Developing immunity is the best option. Ayurveda or the ancient Indian system of medicine is very effective in this and prescribes regular intake of different types of herbs and plants such as Ashwagandha, Gokharu, Silajit, Harr, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, etc.
The Indian as well as global markets of drugs based on these products are expected to grow manifold in the near future. All the necessary information, techniques and resources required for the cultivation of these herbs and plants is available with us in India. Indian farmers also have the potential to meet global demand with their yields. It simply requires that farmers move away from traditional farming to these medicinal crops.
They should be linked to the market. District or tehsil level herbal parks should be created for processing, packaging, marketing of products. To provide all this arrangement, the government must encourage private institutions to invest in large scale by formulating a policy. Also, the farmers or producer groups need to be sensitized towards this work and provided loans at interest free or minimum interest rate set by the NABARD. There is a need to move towards integrated agriculture by changing the present agricultural system by cultivating paddy, wheat, pulses and other traditional crops as well as medicinal crops.
It is very important to make judicious use of available land and other resources by diversifying the production system. Diversification will also help the public to fight health issues besides guaranteeing economic security to the farmers in crisis like corona and other difficult times.