India: A Broken Agri-Supply Chain Needs Quick Remedies
Every year, early in March, an army of combine harvesters manned by an operator and a foreman, make a long winding journey from the farms of Punjab to the interiors of Madhya Pradesh, writes Rashme Sehgal at NewsClick. By the middle of March, these combine harvesters get down to harvesting the standing crops of wheat in the state. Then they move on to Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, moving district to district, to arrive back in Punjab by the middle of April. Now they work 24×7 on the wheat crops in Punjab and neighboring Haryana to complete one of the largest agricultural operations anywhere in the world.
This year, a national lockdown is in place to try and slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, but it has created a massive crisis on Indian farms, especially in the northern states. Between 8,000 and 10,000 harvesters and their crew members are stranded where they were before the lockdown, which is largely in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, and there is little likelihood of their being able to return to Punjab in time to harvest the Rabi crop in other states. Wheat, Bengal Gram and mustard, are the primary crops harvested in the ongoing early-to-middle Rabi season in the northern states. Typically, this harvest is completed by the middle of May. With the lockdown, there is great uncertainty whether the combine harvesters of wheat will be able to tackle Punjab’s fourth year straight of bumper crops.
For this reason, farmers across Punjab and Haryana are nervous and working to get tractor-mounted “mini” harvesters working. This crucial period has come with a shortage of farm labor, as lakhs of them have opted to return to their villages the moment the sudden lockdown was announced. This has added to the woes of farmers, especially as there is no end in sight and no clarity on when the farm workers will be able to return.