UP farmers rue lack of state support as erratic weather, COVID lockdown wreak the sector

08 May 2020
A wheat field, harvested by hand, in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, on 21 April 2020. Unseasonal rains during the harvest season, which starts in February, and the subsequent coronavirus lockdown have led to a crisis brewing in the farming sector of the state.
Prashanth Vishwanathan / Bloomberg / Getty Images
A wheat field, harvested by hand, in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, on 21 April 2020. Unseasonal rains during the harvest season, which starts in February, and the subsequent coronavirus lockdown have led to a crisis brewing in the farming sector of the state.
Prashanth Vishwanathan / Bloomberg / Getty Images

“There is no solution to the problems of farmers, and those who have the solutions do not want to implement them,” Narendra Singh Rana, a resident of Baghpat, in Uttar Pradesh, told me on 1 May. That day, the central government announced the second extension of the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. Rana, a farmer, is the head of the Kisan Adhikar Andolan, an organisation that works on farmers’ rights, and has led movements in the region for a long time. “We felt the brunt of unseasonal weather the most this time,” Rana said. “And now, because of the lockdown we cannot find buyers.”

Rana grows wheat, which is usually sown in between October and December, and harvested between February and May. He explained that the erratic weather had set the farmers back long before the pandemic hit India. “Sowing of wheat was less, and it was late due to the unseasonal rains. When it was the time to harvest, it rained again, there were hailstorms even, and the whole crop turned black.” He added, “And in this lock-down, in the initial weeks, all work was shut. The harvest got delayed further due to this and it’s the farmer who has suffered the most in all this.” In a tone of abject resignation he told me, “It seems like God is angry with us farmers.”

A popular saying among the farming community of the state captures their plight. “Kisan apne liye paida nahin karta aur apna paida kiya kabhi nasht nahin karta”—The farmer does not produce for himself and never destroys his produce. However, the ongoing lockdown coupled with the vagrant weather, has compelled the farming community to belie this conventional wisdom. The season that coincided with the lockdown is critical to the farming community— not just the wheat crop, but several seasonal vegetables flourish during these months. The unseasonal rains and lack of labour, accessible markets and supply-chain logistics has laid this season’s produce to waste. In addition, the commerce in fruits, flowers, fish and poultry has also been completely destroyed.

All the farmers I spoke to across several districts of the state said that government purchasing centres, which buy the harvest from farmers at weighted prices fixed by the administration, were still not functional. In addition, there seemed to be no policy or institutional support for the sector. As the country grapples with the third phase of the lockdown, the farming community has now started destroying their produce. Devendra Sharma, an expert on agricultural practices and policies, was extremely critical of the state government’s response to the farmers’ crisis. “You can say the entire agricultural sector has been wiped out,” he told me. “But no one is talking about this. The prominence that should have been given to farmers’ issues is just not there.”

Rana was unhappy with the Adityanath-led Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state and complained that “this government increased the price of electricity some time ago but our income did not increase. The sugar mills have not made payments on time and now they are delaying the parchis”—slips issued by the mills that record the weight of the sugarcane, based on which payments are released to individual farmers.  

Sunil Kashyap is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: COVID-19 Uttar Pradesh farmers coronavirus lockdown
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