- The dearth of labour pinches
By: Dr Rajkumar Singh
The 21-days coronavirus lockdown announced by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a long-term effect on the agriculture sector and other earnings in rural India. During the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, the term lockdown was used for actions related to mass quarantines. Lockdowns can limit movements or activities in a community while allowing most organizations to function normally, or limit movements or activities such that only organizations supplying basic needs and services can function normally. However, the nationwide lockdown has entrenched the economic system.
The agriculture sector is facing a lot of trouble with labourers and movement of goods. Even as agriculture produce is exempted from lockdown directives being an essential commodity, the sector is facing other internal problems. From earlier too, the Indian agriculture sector, which suffered recently due to uneven monsoon, will face another hit due to disruptions from the coronavirus. As Rabi harvest season approaches, farmers worry about their standing crops. Farmers growing wheat, mustard and pulses have already complained about their crops being damage due to untimely and heavy rainfall recently. This led to farmers fixing their crops, but amid the coronavirus lockdown most of the labourers available fled to their homes. As the restriction on movement of goods continues amid the lockdown, the farmers are likely to feel the pinch in their income.
The government has also received reports on potatoes lying harvested in fields due to a shortage of labour to bag them. Most of the laborers, hailing from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, have returned to their hometowns due to the fear of coronavirus. Moreover, farmers fear for the sowing of the summer season crop as the shops selling seeds, fertilizers and other vital inputs are closed. Besides, farm machines like combine harvesters lie stranded on highways with no one to operate them.
With the coronavirus influencing all sectors, its ripple effects will have an impact on a dairy industry already battered by years of depressed prices. The handwriting is there that we will probably see a downturn in commodity prices, including dairy. They finally saw a few good months of prices that were on the rebound, but now they are likely headed back down
A lockdown is an emergency protocol that usually prevents people or information from leaving an area. The protocol can usually only be initiated by someone in authority. Lockdowns can also be used to protect people inside a facility or, for example, a computing system, from a threat or other external event. Of buildings, a drill lockdown usually means doors leading outside are locked such that no person may enter or exit. A full lockdown usually means people must stay where they are and may not enter or exit a building or rooms within it. If people are in a hallway, they should go to the nearest safe, enclosed room. A preventive lockdown is a preemptive action plan implemented to address an unusual scenario or a weakness in system to preempt any danger and ensure the safety and security of people, organisation and system. The focus for preventive actions is to avoid dangers and risks arising from nonconformance to the normal circumstances, but often includes improvements in efficiency. Preventive lockdowns are pre-emptive lockdowns to mitigate risk. Most organisations plan for the emergency lockdowns, but not for other situations which might quickly degrade to dangerous levels. These protocols must be based on the type of threat, and should be kept simple and short for quick learning and implementation, and flexible enough to handle several scenarios. This allows administrators more options are easier to use in various scenarios. For example, in case of a loud scene by a parent or an unarmed petty thief being chased by the police through a school playground, this flexible procedure allows school administrators the flexibility to implement a more limited lockdown while teaching continues, eliminating need for complete lockdown, disruption and delays in resumption of teaching, and so on. The consequences of not having procedures to implement such lockdowns is that the situation might quickly escalate to the loss of lives. Emergency lockdowns are implemented when there is imminent threat to, or risk of injury to, humans. Simple procedures can be easily taught with periodic lockdown drills instead of lengthy training.
Coronavirus lockdown has impacted the supply chain of agricultural commodities by taking a toll on the loading and unloading of agricultural produce. Also, the lockdown has hampered the movement of trucks carrying essential commodities. Several cold-storage and warehouse owners complained of the dearth of laborers. Unwillingness to work fearing police beating, many labourers are staying home or leaving for their hometown. The distribution breakdown is more evident than in production. Hence, the government must pass transparent guidelines on local administration levels. Also, the lockdown causing labourers going back to villages can cause a sudden rise in rural unemployment levels. Further, the poultry, fisheries and buffalo meat sectors are facing challenges due to rumors about COVID-19 and meat consumption. In all, the clampdown has caused disruption and will eventually lead to a dip in farmers’ income.
With the coronavirus influencing all sectors, its ripple effects will have an impact on a dairy industry already battered by years of depressed prices. The handwriting is there that we will probably see a downturn in commodity prices, including dairy. They finally saw a few good months of prices that were on the rebound, but now they are likely headed back down. The unprecedented number of shutdowns of schools and businesses, movement restrictions, and quarantines are not a good sign for dairy. While it’s speculation at present, dairy may not be a high priority, which may mean a demand slowdown. A second factor will be the health and well-being of sector employees.
As countries affected by the coronavirus try to control its spread, market and public reactions have sent ripple effects to people in agriculture and the food business. With people limiting travel and hunkering down due to COVID-19 fears, businesses like restaurants, hotels, resorts and airlines have felt immediate effects that will bleed into the food and agriculture sectors. Commodity markets, including livestock, dairy, grain and oilseeds, have already taken a hit. If people are not going out to eat, demand will soften for products such as cream, butter, higher-priced cuts of meat and other food items usually consumed at restaurants. Though dairy farmers will benefit in the short term from lower feed prices, it will be more than offset by the drop in dairy prices. The recent plunge in the livestock market also indicates worries of declining demand. With energy markets also taking a hit, farmers could expect less expensive fuel heading into spring planting, and if demand for agricultural goods slows, the need for diesel and propane may also decline.
The writer is head of the University Department of Political Science, Madhepura, Bihar, India. He can be reached at [email protected]