Fields of alternative

Deepender Deswal

SURESH Kumar, a vegetable grower of Kharkari Makhwan village in Bhiwani district, used to reap dividends yearly. He additionally offered employment to labourers in his fields. However, the coronavirus pandemic and the following lockdown have upset his financial plans. He was unable to promote his tomato grown on 22 acres, of which 17 acres was taken on lease. He struggled to even get better the enter value this season. In a cascade impact, he couldn’t retain the providers of the landless labourers employed in his fields.

“The labour is required for plucking, grading and transportation. But in the absence of a market, a large section remained without work. About 1,000 landless workers got employment during the vegetable season in our village. But, this time, due to crop failure, hardly 10 per cent of them could get work,” he says.

Suresh says the kharif season has began and the labour is required for work equivalent to paddy plantation. “The return of migrant farm workers to their native places has provided an opportunity to the local landless labour to get employed in the fields this season.”

The sarpanch of Miran village (Bhiwani), Ashok Kumar, says they provided work below MGNREGA to about 150 registered employees, whilst there’s sufficient agricultural work for the labourers. “So far, the scheme workers have not got mandatory 100 days’ employment, but our village has about 7,200 acres of cultivable land and labourers have adequate opportunities to work in the fields,” he provides.

Inderjit Singh, president of Kisan Sabha, says the agricultural employment scenario has aggravated for the reason that imposition of the lockdown as many employees have been rendered jobless within the organised and unorganised sectors.

MGNREGA can go a great distance in compensating for the shortage of demand as rural financial system had been witnessing a slowdown even earlier than Covid-19, he provides. “Expansion and strengthening of MGNREGA, with at least doubling of work days from 100 to 200 as well as enhancement of wages, could have put some cash into the pocket of small farmers and agricultural workers, which in turn could have improved the much-needed demand component. For this to happen, there should be a handsome increase in the MGNREGA allocation from the Rs 20 lakh crore package announced during the lockdown,” calls for Inderjit Singh.

The Kisan Sabha chief says paddy plantation work is struggling as expert migrant employees are staying put of their residence states, primarily Bihar and UP. To make issues worse, plantation charges are being unilaterally fastened at some locations to place a cap on the wages of the labourers. This problem may have been settled by compensating part of the plantation wages by MGNREGA. A suggestion to this impact was made collectively by the Kisan Sabha and Khet Mazdoor Union, he provides.

Prof Samar Singh, Vice Chancellor of Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University (HAU), admits that farmers suffered as a result of lockdown as their farm merchandise couldn’t attain the market. He says farmers must diversify their actions to spice up their earnings. “HAU is offering short-term skill programmes in various other agricultural activities like apiculture, food and confectionery, value addition in agricultural products etc. The Centre of Food Science and Technology initiated programmes to help farmers manage the situation during the pandemic. The university is also supporting them by setting up small-scale industries at the farmers’ level with focus on post-harvest management and value addition,” he provides.

Need to diversify

Prof Samar Singh, Vice Chancellor of Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, says farmers must diversify their actions to spice up their earnings. “HAU is supporting farmers by setting up small-scale industries with focus on post-harvest management and value addition,” he says.

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