COVID-19 And Rural Lives & Livelihood In India

The national lockdown has severely affected lives and livelihoods across rural India. Agriculture and allied sectors employ more than half of the workforce in the country. A vast majority of Indian farmers (85%) are small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land. More than nine million active fishers directly depend on fisheries for their livelihood, 80% of which are small scale fishers; the sector employs over 14 million people.

Impact of the Lockdown

  • Delay in Harvest: Harvest of the Rabi crops has been delayed due to non-availability of labour, machinery, transport facilities and restrictions on movement.
  • Effect on Cash Crops: Farmers of perishable commodities like fruits, vegetables, and flowers as well as plantation crops are incurring huge losses.
  • Impact on Labour Force: Agricultural labourers are not able to go to work due to lack of transport. Labour work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) has stopped.
  • Poultry Sector: Egg prices have crashed to an all-time low and poultry meat sales have dwindled drastically.
  • Fisheries Sector: Fishers haven’t been able to go out to sea since end of March and are subsequently worried about the 45-day annual fishing ban in line with the fish breeding season, coming into force along the east coast from mid-April. Both brackish and fresh water aquaculture farmers have also been affected with harvest delayed due to labour non-availability, market closure and movement restrictions; exports of shrimps to Europe and the US has stopped and local fish prices have fallen leading to loss of income.
  • Adverse Impact on Tribal’s Livelihood: Tribal communities, the most vulnerable in terms of food and nutrition security are severely affected due to ban on the collection and sale of non-timber forest produce like kendu leaves and mahua flowers.

Way Forward

  • There is a need for both relief and rehabilitation measures to overcome the loss sustained and rebuild the rural lives.
  • In addition to precautionary measures like maintaining social distancing and hand washing, proactive measures by the state with humanitarian perspective are called for as we begin operating in a ‘new normal’:
    • More relief in kind (e.g. making the PDS universal); and cash (e.g. increasing the amount under the PM Samman Kisan Nidhi and releasing the first instalment before kharif);
    • Waiver of interest for the quarter on term loans and overdraft agriculture and MSME accounts;
    • Compensating loss incurred due to damage to perishable crops like flowers, fruits, vegetables and fish and
    • Enlarging the scope of MNREGS to include harvest of crops on farmers’ fields by labour and value addition to produce by women.