Coping Agriculture and Livelihood Risks During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multi-stakeholder Network Success on Enabling Access

COVID-19 Impacts on Agriculture

In general, the Indian farmers face a variety of multiple stresses while practicing agricultural operations. Since last one year (2019-2020), these stresses have been further compounded by two times lockdown led by Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic situation. An estimates made with 100 farmers (telephonic conversation) of West Bengal indicated that 91% of them faced difficulties in buying inputs (seeds, fertilizers and pesticides) for Kharif followed by selling of their crop produce in the market (82%). They could not get adequate number of labourers needed to work in their fields (42%). During the lockdown (2020), farmers (~ 50%) lost their vegetables and flowers worth ranging from Rs. 5000 to 20000 of the value of their crops, followed by 16% lost around Rs. 1000 to 5000 value of their crops. Similarly, a personal and telephonic conversation held with 45 farmers of North-West India (Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat) indicated that they also faced problems in getting combine harvester and labourers for harvesting Rabi crops, and preparation of Kharif crops (~98% mostly high stress in all states). Selling of crop produce (~87% moderate to high stress in different states), access of inputs for next season crops (~ 84.0% high stress) and restrictions on mobility (~63% moderate to high stress) were another set of stresses caused by COVID-19 pandemic led lockdown. Experience indicated that access of resources and services during and just after the imposition of lockdown situation became major bottlenecks, particularly to the resource-poor farmers.

Key Coping Strategies Taken-up by Farmers

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), deployment of family members and local labours for agricultural operations, increased exchange for various inputs, evolved informal groups on supply and inputs and reduced use of input in agriculture emerged as major autonomous coping strategies in various states (Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal).
  • In addition, increased access of non-institutional loan and selling of crop produce through informal sector (other than formal marketing system), and access of migratory laborers through informal groups could support farmers across the states.
  • As part of planned coping strategies, the capable farmers could sell their crop produce (primarily wheat and rice) through government Mandi (APMC) system, access of PDS benefit (food security, more among landless), job through MGNREGA (mostly migratory labourers after reduction of COVID cases) and availing inputs and contingency measures from state agencies (collectively as well as individually) to varying extent in different states.
  • The policy of PM Kisan Nidhi Yojana was a major insulating cash help (Rs. 6000 in three installments) especially to small and marginal farmers in arranging inputs (Kharif and Rabi season crops) from different sources.
  • Both autonomous and planned strategies were integrative in nature (e.g. selling of crop produce on MSP and in formal market, and access of resources locally and formally) among the farmers depending on extent of local and formal resources in different study states.

 

Network Development with Multi-stakeholders

  • Poor access of resources by the farmers during COVID-19 pandemic was a key stress, therefore grounded with ‘theory of access and entitlement’, a network of multi-stakeholders (scientists, key farmers, informal groups, village Panchayat and few Krishi Vigyan Kendra), led by Dr. P. C. Sharma Director, ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal and Coordinated by Dr Ranjay K. Singh, was developed.
  • This network could strengthen the access of technologies, inputs and knowledge to cope-up agricultural risks during and after the COVID-19 pandemic by the needy farmers of various states (Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal).
  • Primarily, the informal institutions evolved in each village, was explored over phone and mainstreamed with network of ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal in order to enhance the access of crucial inputs to cope-up pandemic stress caused by lockdown.
  • The key leaders and farmers of various informal institutions and village Panchyat were contacted over phone and trained online (video-call and WhatsApp) about how to prepare the contingency measures on agricultural inputs following COVID-19 protocol.
  • Informal institutions recorded the needs of farmers at their own as well as with village Panchayat. They pooled the needs of various inputs from needy farmers of a particular village.
  • The key leaders hired vehicle on collective cost basis and approached ICAR-CSSRI to access the required inputs who were provided physically following COVID-19 protocol. The ICAR-CSSRI and Village Panchayat ensured (online and physically when COVID cases reduced) that inputs were provided to real farmers.

Enabling access of knowledge, technology and resources to adapt COVID-19 led agricultural risks

A farmer in waterlogged saline soil with his CSR-30 rice nursery (seed accessed during COVID lockdown from CSSRI)

Coping Agriculture and Livelihood Risks During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multi-stakeholder Network Success on Enabling Access

Exercising the network created mostly with small and marginal farmers (~82%), a group of 5391 farmers (Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal), were enabled to get access of agroadvisories on crop, management of salt affected soils and water, agroforestry and animal health management in online mode (77.76%) (Table 1). Similarly, capacity of ~ 1542 farmers (22.24%) of different states were tried to enhance through different extension methods following COVID appropriate behavior (Table 1) to improve their decision making ability, and guidance on access of different resources as well as encouraging autonomous and planned strategies to cope-up stresses caused by supply chain disruptions.  Taking the opportunity of informal institutional network (evolved among farmers during COVID-19 lockdown), 27.27% of total benefitted farmers (3003), whose capacity was built, were provided 138.11 qt seeds of salt tolerant (Basmati CSR-30 rice, Wheat KRL-210 and Mustard CS-58) and normal seeds covering cereals, oilseeds and vegetable crops to strengthen farm intensification (Table 1).

 

Table 1. Access enabled through by ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal institutional network in salt affected agroecosystems of India1

Access  measures

Value

Farmers benefitted

Percentage

States covered2

Capacity buildingn1

 

 

 

 

WhatsApp & telephonic agroadvisories on crop, animal health & natural resources management (in nos.)

400

5391

77.76

HR, PB, UP, GJ, WB

Training, field days & farmers’ exposure visits on crop, animal health & natural resources management (in nos.)

150

1542

22.24

HR, PB, UP, GJ

Making availability of crop seedsn2

 

 

 

 

Salt tolerant rice and wheat seeds to general farmers in salt affected agroecosystems) (in qt)

63.53

198

6.59

HR, PB

Salt tolerant & normal seeds to marginalized farmers in salt affected agroecosystems (in qt)

74.58

621

20.68

HR, PB, UP, WB, GJ

Tree saplings in marginal to high salt affected agroecosystems (in nos.)

4200

232

07.73

HR, PB, WB

Agricultural implements (including sewing machine to women) (in nos)

658

658

21.91

HR, PB, UP, WB, GJ

Soil health management practices

 

 

 

 

Gypsum (in tonnes)

23.0

102

03.40

UP

Biofertilizers &  other microbial resources

21.97

372

12.39

HR, PB, UP, WB, GJ

Liquid fertilizer & plant growth promoters (in lit)

130.0

130

04.33

UP, WB

Water management (irrigation pipes) (in miter)

3600

31

01.03

UP, WB

Animal health & aquaculture management

 

 

 

 

Animal mixtures (in qt)

44.50

331

11.02

HR, PB, WB

Animal mat (in nos)

178

178

05.93

HR, PB

Pisciculture inputs (In qt)

40.0

150

05.00

WB

 

The access of agricultural implements (spray pumps, vermin-compost unit, etc.) was possible to 21.91% of total benefitted farmers. This access has also resulted in enhancing income diversification portfolio of marginalized women through SHG (Rs. 24310 annually) during and after COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, 7.73 % farmers could access Jamun, mango and other trees species (4200 sapling) to improve their farm diversification. Over 20% farmers were able to get access the inputs on soil health management (gypsum, bio-fertilizers, etc.) from different listed states to intensify their farm, while ~ 17% of total benefitted farmers could get access of inputs (44.50 qt mineral mixtures; 178 mattress) for animal health management. The 5.0% (West Bengal) of total farmers could get pisciculture inputs (40 qt) to diversify their farming system and adapt salinity stress.

Lessons Learned

During the COVID-19 pandemic stress, various autonomous (informal institutions, exchange of resources, etc.) integrated with planned coping strategies (Mandi system, PM Kisan Nidhi Yojana, PDS, etc.) were crucial to manage agricultural and food security risks (short-term to mid-term) of farmers to a different extent across the states. At this difficult time, the informal institutions emerged with a bigger strength, helped in accessing the delivery from formal institutions and the farming business could continue even under the pandemic situation. Learning suggest that extension and developmental agencies need to be vigilant in identifying local networks and strategies while devising and integrating short to mid-term planned coping agricultural strategies for COVID and similar other natural disaster when supply chain is suddenly disrupted.  

Source: ICAR-Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal, 132001, Haryana