Context: The Union Minister for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare interacted with senior officers to review steps for facilitating farming activities during lockdown, imposed to fight COVID-19 outbreak.

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  • The Government has taken several initiatives to ensure that farmers and workers engaged in Agriculture and allied sectors can continue to operate without difficulty. 
  • The ministry called for strict compliance of the exemptions granted to Agriculture and allied sectors and directed setting up of control rooms for regular monitoring of the various exemptions and relaxations.

Steps taken

Government has exempted from the lockdown the operations of agencies engaged in procurement of agriculture products, including 

  1. MSP operations.
  2. Mandis operated by the Agriculture Produce Market Committee or as notified by the State Government.
  3. Farming operations by farmers and farm workers in the field.
  4. Custom Hiring Centres (CHC) related to farm machinery.
  5. Manufacturing and packaging units of fertilisers, pesticides and seed.
  6. Intra and Inter-State movement of harvesting and sowing related machines like combined harvester and other agriculture/horticulture implements. 
  7. Agriculture and horticulture related suppliers have also been included in the exempt categories list. 
  8. In order to facilitate transportation of farm produce, shops of Agricultural machinery, its spare parts (including its supply chain) & repairs and shops for truck repairs on highways, preferably at fuel pumps, can remain open. 
  9. Similarly, the tea industry, including plantations can function with a maximum of 50% workers.
  10. New features added to the National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) Platform.
    1. This will strengthen agriculture marketing by farmers. 
    2. This will reduce their need to physically come to  wholesale mandis for selling their harvested produce, at a time when there is a critical need to decongest mandis to effectively fight against COVID-19. 
  11. The Government has also extended instalment repayments (to 31st May, 2020) on short term crop loans upto Rs.3 lakh. 
    1. Farmers can repay such loans upto the extended period at 4% p.a. interest without attracting any penalty.

How do these steps help farmers?

  • Farmers will not face any difficulty in harvesting crops. 
  • Farmers can sell their produce near their farmlands, besides ensuring that the farm produce is transported without hindrance within the state and inter-state. 
  • There will be no shortage of seeds and fertilizers, ensuring uninterrupted sowing of crops. 
  • Exports of foodgrains and Agricultural products will not be affected.

The current crisis is an opportunity for the government to reform Indian agriculture. This can help farmers in doubling their income by ensuring remunerative prices for their produce.

Custom hiring centres (CHCs) for farm implements were established in 100 NICRA villages which could successfully empower farmers to tide over the shortage of labour and improve efficiency of agricultural operations. 

  • Managed by: A committee of farmers nominated by the gram sabha manages the custom hiring centre. 
  • The rates for hiring the machines/ implements are decided by the Village Climate Risk Management Committee (VCRMC). 
  • This committee also uses the revenue generated from hiring charges for repair and maintenance of the implements and the remaining amount goes into the revolving fund. 
  • Each centre was established at a capital cost of Rs 6.25 lakhs funded by the NICRA project.

About NICRA:

  1. National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) is a network project of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) launched in 2011. 
  2. It was launched during the XI Five year plan.
  3. The project aims to enhance resilience of Indian agriculture to climate change and climate vulnerability through strategic research and technology demonstration. 
  4. The research on adaptation and mitigation covers crops, livestock, fisheries and natural resource management. 
  5. The project consists of four components: Strategic Research, Technology Demonstration, Capacity Building and Sponsored/Competitive Grants.
  6. The interventions in the village panchayats are finalized following a participatory approach through the Village Climate Risk Management Committee (VCRMC), after the participatory rural appraisal(PRA) to assess the climate related problems in the village and baseline survey.