None to reap

Farmers are facing labour shortage amid the lockdown. With wheat harvesting just round the corner, will their crop go to waste?

Published 4 years ago on Apr 16, 2020 1 minute Read

It is that time of the year when Bollywood directors rush to Punjab to film in the expansive mustard and wheat farms, with ripening grain. After the lead pair wanders around the golden fields confessing their love for each other, the cast and crew is probably shooed off and the farmers begin harvesting the crops. Every year, harvesting of winter (rabi) crops, especially wheat, begins with onset of April. This year though, the situation has taken a turn for the worse. Coronavirus-triggered lockdown has caused a severe shortage of labour, disrupting the harvest season in the agrarian country. This is because the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, the largest contributors of wheat to the central pool, rely on farm labourers from other states. These workers help in gathering, weighing and packing the produce. But with most of them having returned to their villages, the manpower crunch has pushed back harvesting and procurement. In its latest advisory to farmers, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) said, “The temperature in most wheat growing areas is still below long-term average… therefore, farmers can delay wheat harvesting till April 20 without incurring any significant loss.” But this would mean exposing the standing crops to unseasonal rains, state reports. Further, late harvest will lead to a smaller window to plant next season’s crops, which might prove disastrous for the debt-ridden farmers. According to latest government data, India was set to harvest a record wheat production of 106.21 million tonne in the 2019-20 crop year on the back of good rains. But under the current situation, the future looks murky.