GUWAHATI, June 9 - With the farm sector, like the rest of the economy, facing an adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown, the Assam government has now set a plan of action to retrieve the situation and to neutralise the impact of the twin factors on agriculture.
Official sources told The Assam Tribune that the plan involves undertaking a number of interventions for increasing the marketable surplus of agricultural commodities as well as de-risking the farming sector through measures like easing of credit growth and reducing the burden of input cost.
Among the major impacts of the pandemic and the lockdown are problems in movement of agricultural produce, decrease in sale of produce, drop in prices of locally grown vegetables, increase in prices of staples, edible oil and other products coming from outside, and problem in getting diesel to operate machinery.
�The lockdown coincided with the time of harvesting of rabi crops and cultivation of summer paddy in Assam and badly hit our farmers both directly and indirectly. The pandemic has directly impacted our rural economy and affected the domestic food supply system, besides causing disruption in the regional agricultural value chain. It is posing risks to our household food security,� said a senior official.
He added that during the lockdown, especially during the initial phases of it, there was less than average movement of agricultural products from within the districts.
�There was a decline in sale of agricultural produce, particularly perishable and semi-perishable items, in the market. Besides, due to a sudden fall of prices of such commodities our farmers faced an unknown situation as they were unable to secure adequate prices for their products. At the same time, there was a hike in prices of staple foods like rice, wheat and pulses, as well as of edible oil, potato and onion,� said the official.
Sources added that farmers also faced the problem of securing diesel to use their pump sets for irrigation.
�Further, extended lockdown may affect cultivation of sali paddy in Assam due to non-availability of high yielding varieties as well as hybrid seeds in the local markets. It may lead to a fall in production and productivity of rice in Assam where we are self-sufficient at present,� added the official.
He said that farmers depend on timely availability of inputs in the markets, mainly seeds, fertilisers and plant protection chemicals, along with diesel for pump sets to irrigate the fields in time.
�Farmers require support from the government for easier access to credit, market and insurance. As such, the government believes that some steps are necessary to support the sector, including for increasing marketable surplus of agricultural commodities. These will involve joint efforts by the agriculture department and other stakeholders, including the Assam State Agriculture Marketing Board (ASAMB) and the Assam Seed Corporation Ltd (ASCL), besides farmers, agri-entrepreneurs and consumers,� said another official.
Steps are expected to be taken for easing farm credit growth, reducing the burden of input cost and to increase crop insurance as a safety net. These will be part of the overall effort for de-risking the agriculture sector.
In addition, the government has set its sight on supply of quality inputs, including demonstrations of rice, pulse, oil seed crops under schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana (RKVY) and National Food Security Mission (NFSM), seed village programme though medium of projects like Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI), RKVY and NFSM, private sector seed production and processing by ASCL, and promotion of seed processing infrastructure by the agriculture department for increasing the marketable surplus.
Among other interventions planned are provision for scientific package of practices, including for maize, pulse and mustard development, demonstration on climate resilient and market-led seed varieties, and production of crops as per industry specifications.
�Other areas of focus will be on multiple cropping and mixed cropping, emphasis on farm mechanisation, irrigation, and skill development. Besides, we are also looking at angles like credit support, market support and insurance support by means of issuing Kisan Credit Cards, mobile food vans, crop insurance under Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), setting up of new and modern rice mills, warehousing facilities and storage facilities, among other things. The physical and financial targets of these interventions will be worked out by the agriculture department,� sources said.