Farmers and the Pandemic: An account of HardoiSeptember 23, 2020
Coronavirus pandemic brought our world to a standstill with the pausing, and in several cases even shutting down, of businesses and livelihoods. When our metropolises started crumbling, the country assumed the worst about rural India. However, the real test of empowerment and facilitation happens during a crisis. For farmers of Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh, the sudden outbreak was such a moment of crisis and realisation. This is their spirited story, in the harvest season and amidst a raging pandemic.
It was around the end of Rabi season when coronavirus started spreading in India. Soon enough, protocols were implemented to shut down all public spaces and jobs. While all sectors were getting adversely affected at the time, rural India saw its farmers rendered helplessly.
Crops were ready for harvest, commitments and transactions already finalised before the country went on lockdown. With the ensuing suspension of contact between villages and cities, farmers were at a loss about how to facilitate transportation of crops to designated markets. In a jiff, the logistics and supply chain management of crops got entirely disrupted, machinery to harvest crops was stuck at borders, unable to pass through, and livelihood of farmers was at stake. At a time like this, although aid was received from the central and state governments, it appeared measly upon comparison with the losses being reported. Farmers of Hardoi reported a loss of more than 40% of their produce due to remaining stagnant in fields or destruction by rain and hailstorms. A strategic, sustainable, and swift approach was required to handle the dire situation.
HCL Samuday has been working in Hardoi since 2015. Their relationship with farmers is based on strengthening fundamentals through awareness generation, training, and capacity building. The immediate and obvious step, therefore, in this situation that had presented itself, was to make the farmers aware of the various schemes and measures introduced by the Government to especially tackle the erupting problems. As the country called for social distancing and total lockdown, the farming community resorted to a tactful solution – going Digital. Although there was a lack of smartphones, the community did what a thriving community does best. Villagers disseminated as much information as possible via word of mouth. Using the limited resources available and within days, 47 WhatsApp groups got formed. More than 40,000 registered farmers were being informed about government guidelines, ways to diversify their crops for income enhancement and how to ably manage their surplus crops.
Soon, conversations started, and problems were identified. The pressing issue was a lack of agriculture machinery for harvesting crops. HCL Samuday urged some well-off farmers to buy a common harvester and share it between others for rent. A list of farmers was prepared and this issue was expertly handled.
The last, most critical issue was the movement of farmers which was under absolute restrictions following the safety guidelines. This was alleviated by the Hardoi Kisan Producer Company Limited (HKPCL) – a farmer producer company supported by HCL Samuday in Hardoi. HKPCL decided to set up procurement centres in the villages itself so that they could procure wheat crops for Food Corporation of India (FCI) at Minimum Support Price. All activities, starting from demand assessment to finally selling to FCI, was done by the farmers with the support of HCL Samuday.
With these efforts, HCL Samuday was able to resort to its already established models and initiatives in Hardoi and avert the worsening of the situation.
Prepared for Future
For any self-sufficient and empowered community, it is not important to just insure its present circumstances, it is equally important to ensure that the future is secure. For rural India as well, although the misfortunes were abetted, the Kharif season brings its own set of issues. A plummeting market, altered supply dynamics, and the increasing cost of seeds and fertilisers bring out a picture of crippling uncertainty in the agro-economic scenario. To counter this, HCL Samuday provided a door-to-door supply of good quality seeds to registered farmers, giving them a kickstart. They contacted various vendors, bargained the correct price and helped farmers in this time of need.
The pandemic is far from over but the story of Hardoi instils a sense of fighting spirit and gives a message to always be prepared better. HCL Samuday through its many interventions has always strived to empower rural India and come up with tactful and effective solutions that work on a daily basis as well as may be tweaked to tackle the less frequent but major problems.
Through a structured approach and swift response, farmers were able to live their story of victory as we continue to battle this crushing pandemic!