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Despite Abundance of Government Schemes in Assam, Farmers' Woes Continue amid COVID Lockdown

Despite Abundance of Government Schemes in Assam, Farmers' Woes Continue amid COVID Lockdown

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Guwahati, April 22, 2020:

Farm produce is now rotting away in the fields. A hue-and-cry has been raised by the farmers in rural Assam who are staring at massive losses amid the lockdown. Markets, by-and-large, are still closed and these farmers are at the end of their tether. What will they do now? Will Government schemes come to their rescue?

Inside Northeast will present you snippets from the lives of several farmers from many districts who are staring at the inevitability of economic doom as the COVID-19 ravages the world, laying waste to the most advanced of civilizations. Amid the outcry over the COVID, the helplessness of these farmers, who are suffering greatly, has not made it to the front pages. From Upper Assam to Lower Assam, farmers from all parts of the state have reported losses.

Watch: Video Presentation in Assamese

This is indeed alarming as farming, the main occupation in India, has immense contribution to the economy(30.4%). Back in 2018-19, 314.87 million tonnes of agricultural goods were produced in India.

In Assam, the Government, in its 2020-21 budget, has resolved to introduce "scientific farming" methods, with a bid to double the income of the farming community. Notably, the budget mentions that in the 2019-20 rabi crop season, 11,450 farmers who own 9,451.84 hectares of land were insured under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and 151 crore rupees were sanctioned for the purpose of boosting the agricultural sector and taking it to new heights.

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Government Says Farming Produce on the Rise:

[caption id="attachment_57645" align="alignnone" width="660"] Assam Agriculture Minister Atul Bora[/caption]

The Government of Assam, meanwhile, has said that produce in the state, due to several factors, is actually on the upswing. In an interaction with Inside Northeast, Assam Agriculture Minister has said that the agriculture sector has produced five times its usual yield this year. Bora also told us that under the PM Kisan Sanman Nidhi Yojana, Rs 1,100 crore has been released for the farmers and Rs 18 lakh farmers have received financial benefits from the scheme.

Assam Agriculture Minister's Interview with Inside Northeast Editor-in-Chief Afrida Hussain:

https://www.facebook.com/ne.inside/videos/696614371095777/

Meanwhile, Bora also said that 150 crore rupees have already been expended on farmers as per the Assam Chief Minister's scheme for farmers. 4 lakh farmers have so far received the benefits, and 2 lakh will receive the financial incentives in the coming months, Bora told us.

[caption id="attachment_57658" align="alignnone" width="660"] Government records show an increase in spending on agriculture[/caption]

The Agriculture Minister said that initially, the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi had enrolled 26 lakh farmers in the registers, bringing them under the ambit of the Government-served benefits. Now, one lakh more have been added to the mix, taking the overall number of beneficiaries to 27 lakh. Under the Assam CM's scheme for farmers, over 1 lakh people have been registered for benefits.

[caption id="attachment_57659" align="alignnone" width="660"] Agriculture produce on the rise; in the wake of the COVID crisis, however, farmers are struggling to find sellers[/caption]

Bora said that the farmers who have been registered under the PM's Kisan Scheme, are assured Kisan Credit Card (KCC).

Despite Govt Assurances, Why are the Farmers Weeping?

Now, if the farmers under the PM scheme are being granted KCC loans, why are their backs bent with burdensome loans that they cannot even repay?

"I have taken loans, and now, the lenders are pressurizing us to repay the loan. We request the Government to take some measures", farmer from Lahorighat, burdened by loans, told Inside Northeast.

Despite spending thousands upon thousands during sowing, the farmers are unable to pocket any profits and despair has swept the agricultural lands of Assam as produce continues to lie in the fields, apparently without any takers. Many of these farmers who are watching their toil go in vain have claimed that starvation looms ahead for themselves and their families if the Government fails to provide them will livelihood in the midst of the global crisis.

According to the Government, 1.40 lakh farmers will be provided with various kinds of seeds under schemes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), and others. Despite this, many farmers who made huge investments to grow agricultural produce, the growers (especially those growing fruits and vegetables) are now unfortunately having to watch in despair as their precious farms begin to stink of rotten fruits and vegetables.

A section of farmers in Assam now says that they are heading towards complete ruin. Talking to our correspondent, one of the farmers from Nagaon, Assam, 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”, a farmer from Tamulpur said.

Another farmer, hailing from Sarthebari in Barpeta district weeping over his ruined strawberry produce, told Inside Northeast, "The farm was going good, and I could not sell anything. I will not be able to repay the loans that I have taken from my friend to plant this stock." The farmer says that he is now distributing his stock to "free", lest it rot away. "If someone comes to purchase stock worth Rs 100, I give away strawberries that would cost Rs 200 under normal circumstances", he said.

The question that now remains is whether the Government -- currently grappling with health challenges posed by the COVID-19 -- will come to the rescue of the farmers before it is too late. One thing is for certain; if these farmers are not helped in the midst of the biggest crisis since the outbreak of the World Wars, the situation is sure to become very dire for them.

Government schemes, st the same time, are yet to reach a massive portion of the population of Assam. Is it because farming is a rural occupation in Assam where over 30% of the people are illiterate? If that indeed is the case, the onus is on the Government to reach the grassroots level with their schemes and spread awareness. The farmers will certainly respond.

Another question that arises is: will the stress on digital media as a means to disseminate the information regarding Government schemes truly a foolproof solution? Especially when trying to convey messages to rural Assamese farmers? In rural India, digitization is far from an existing reality. At best, it can be construed as a dream for the future, and now, whet the farmers really need is a concrete solution to their woes.

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