Even as the Assam Agriculture department holds meetings with the promise of "helping" the farming community of the state in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, farmers across the land are struggling to sell their crops as the supply chain -- from farmer to consumer -- gets snapped. Additionally, recent storms in the state have come as a double whammy to these troubled farmers from Assam.
[caption id="attachment_57373" align="alignnone" width="660"] A cabbage farmer in Assam's Tamulpur district[/caption]
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept across roughly 200 countries around the world, the farming community (and especially the growers of "perishable" produce) has been hit hard and produce has rotten away in farmlands across the nation. At this time, the farming community is praying for a miracle in order to salvage their precious produce. So far, many farmers are yet to receive any reprieve despite numerous appeals to the Government to buy their wares and as a consequence.
In various corners of the state, it is the same story: farmers failing to sell their produce at the market as the supply chain has been brought to a complete standstill. Although hand-to-mouthfarmers stripped of their incomes are struggling with hunger deprivation with an eye on April 20, when the lockdown rules will be relaxed, the snapping of the supply chain amid the lockdown is causing massive losses to farmers.
Now, the helpless farmers are left with no option but to let go of the produce at lowered rates. "What I used to sell at Rs 10, is now being sold at Rs 3. We have no other option", said an Assam farmer from , while talking to our correspondent. In several agricultural fields spread across the rural townships in Assam, the farmers recount their tales of woe as their precious produce continues to rot.
Our team contacted several farmers in the Lahorighat region under Middle Assam's Marigaon district, where they have been reportedly suffering. Growing a variety of perishable items such as tomatoes, brinjal, etc, these farmers also pointed out that the lockdown has completely crippled the farming economy in the region.
Talking to our correspondent, one of the farmers said that the situation for the community is so dire that several stand the chance of dying as their finances run dry amid the lockdown. "The Government should make some arrangement, or else we will die", he added.
Jorhat in Upper Assam, in close proximity to the red-zone of Golaghat, has also reported that there is a lack of initiative from the Government to ensure that the goods are sold amid the COVID crisis. A farmer called Khagen Chandra Kalita says that although he has grown a wide array of vegetables, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps nothing can be done this year, with a hint of resignation.
[caption id="attachment_57374" align="alignnone" width="660"] A farmer in Kaliabor displays rotting produce of capsicums[/caption]
In Bongaigaon, the plight of a local farmer who spent Rs 30,000 in sowing a plantation of bitter gourds was revealed when he revealed to us that he has earned back only Rs 5,000 from his enterprise. "It (the COVID-19 crisis) is inconvenient. Have been unable to sell my bitter gourd. I have been unable to sell bitter gourd, and now I appeal the Food & Supplies Minister Phani Bhusan Choudhury to take our produce so that it can be sold in the market", he said.
[The Plight of the Pumpkin Farmer:
Recently, we informed about a certain Sanjib Das, a pumpkin farmer hailing from Jhargaon in Morigaon district in Assam who is stuck with around 2,000 quintals of pumpkins but is unable to sell them. Although Government officials reached out to him and promised to take the produce off his hands, Das says that he is yet to receive the required aid.
Taking to Inside Northeast earlier today, he said, "The Government has not taken the pumpkins off my hands; even thought I had been given assurance that the stock would be sold, they have not bought anything from me. The Government is only buying dry goods in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown. Even the dealers say that their hands are full and they do not require anymore supplies." Das further informed that since he is in Marigaon district, a Government-designated red-zone, inter-district is also not possible.]
Words of the Minister:
Yesterday, a meeting was held in Assam to address the woes of the agricultural workers, primarily in regards to getting their wares. To what extent was the Government successful in formulating a rescue strategy? Assam Agriculture Minister, Atul Bora, talking to Inside Northeast, said, that this year saw a "bumper production" of horticulture crops, but it is "inevitable" that the "perishable" items will be destroyed.
Bora said, "We used to send produce worth Rs 125 crore to other Northeastern states, but no one wishes to buy. The demand has dwindled -- all eateries and restaurants are closed. Moreover, no one wants to purchase goods from another district. There is no end to this quandary, as most of the items are perishable, say, for instance, tomatoes."
The Assam agriculture Minister further informed that the goods trains will now be assigned to bring some of the items, which have been collected from several agricultural areas, to Guwahati.
Now, all eyes will be on the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) that aims at "supporting sustainable production in the agriculture sector by way of providing financial support to farmers suffering crop loss/damage arising out of unforeseen events and stabilizing the income of farmers to ensure their continuance in farming."
However, it will be a great challenge, as a vast proportion of farmers from rural India are illiterate and are not a part of the marketing loop.
Opinion on this, Atul Bora said, "The ones who have the insurance schemes will benefit; the rest will not. There are schemes such as the PMFBY which they have to avail. It is inevitable that these people are incurring losses. But we are releasing Rs 5,000 to six thousand farmers and a certain amount has been released."
(In rural India, the literacy rate among females is 56.8 per cent and among males is 72.3 per cent)
Meanwhile, activities that will be relaxed from April 20 include agriculture and horticulture. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the Government will be able to compensate for the massive losses that the farming community has endured.
Video: Plight of Assamese Farmers Seeking Govt Assistance amid the COVID-19 Lockdown
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