Farmers remain a vulnerable section of the community and with the nation-wide Corona Virus lockdown taking place during the peak of rabi season in India, when crops like paddy, wheat, gram, lentil, and mustard are at harvestable stage or almost reaching maturity, farmers have had to face increased vulnerability.
Agro-based livelihoods is one of the biggest program interventions carried out across ACF locations, with over 2 lakh farmers engaged in ACF Programs. To help and support them during this time, ACF has played a critical role in sharing information on COVID-19 and various government guidelines pertaining to farmers. During the awareness phase a variety of pamphlets were distributed among farmers and hoardings were set up in community areas of the villages. Offices of Farmer Producer Organizations and clubs were filled with leaflets, hand sanitizers and masks, specifically for the use of farmers at this critical time.
Upon lockdown, farmers were not allowed to enter into fields to continue with their work, but with growing concerns amongst farmers about harvest, the Government took stringent measures and opened access for farmers. The Union Home Ministry's circular waiving restrictions on the inter- and intra-State movements of farmers/laborers, as well as harvesting and related farm machines, was a welcome relief, however whilst ensuring availability of laborers for critical farm operations is a priority, of equal importance was their safety (from any COVID infection) and welfare.
As such, ACF took a leading role on providing a wide range of knowledge through mobile messaging systems about Government guidelines for personal safety during crop harvesting to ACF Farmers. They were advised to maintain social distancing and wear cotton masks during harvesting, transporting and even while accessing store houses and markets. Prior to the pandemic, ACF had already initiated the use of face masks and gloves for seed treatment in the Kharif and Rabi season. Thus farmers are comfortable with this new practice of precaution.
Additionally, ACF sent messages through mobiles or pamphlet distribution to farmers directly or indirectly through FPOs, Farmer clubs and field facilitators. The agricultural volunteers have also been continuing their work with treatment of animals in the community, crop harvesting assistance etc. with precautions by social distancing, using face masks and frequent hand washing.
With these efforts, farmers are taking precaution during their work in the fields and with additional help from their families they have been able to complete 50% of harvesting thus far.
There has also been widespread concern over the transport of harvested farm produce to markets, therefore, making food grains, fruits and vegetables and other essential items available to consumers, and maintaining the supply chain safely, is the most critical challenge for Government going forward during the lockdown period.