Impact of COVID-19 on Agricultural Workers -Navpreet Kaur and Amanpreet Kaur

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published Published on May 3, 2020   modified Modified on May 3, 2020

The unplanned countrywide COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in widespread distress to both principal classes among the rural population namely the peasants and agricultural workers. Peasants suffered in the first place from crop losses due to unplanned lockdown induced delay in harvesting of mechanised crops. Apart from this an additional problem for peasants was the elevated fluctuation in prices (fall in nominal prices more often than not) of both crops and their by-products. The unplanned lockdown has impacted the condition of agricultural workers more adversely due to a sudden fall in the wage employment. These workers neither have any asset stocks (including land) nor do they have savings to sustain their livelihood for what has already been a fairly extended unplanned lockdown. This note discusses the vulnerabilities of agricultural workers in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan during this period of crisis.

Agricultural land in the district is irrigated through three canals, Gang canal, Indira Gandhi Nahar (stage I) (Suratgarh and Anupgarh branches) and Bhakhra canal. Wheat, Barley, Rapeseed and Chick Pea are the principal crops grown in the rabi season in the district. Cotton and Guar (cluster beans) are the prominent kharif crops. With access to canal irrigation in the district during the winter, a relatively larger area is cultivated in rabi season. The cropping pattern of the rabi season has largely remained similar for last few years. Wage employment among the rural work force is determined by the structure of agrarian relations and the development of agriculture in different regions or villages. In Sri Ganganagar, the harvesting and threshing of wheat and barley is by and large, mechanised. Only a small fraction of households from small, marginal and semi-medium size class of agricultural land holding, harvest wheat manually. This manual harvesting of wheat is undertaken with family labour and/or hired workers, in order to reduce the cost of making the straw from wheat stubbles by the straw reaper. This possibly results in a greater net return to the peasants. Rapeseed and Chick Peas are two principal crops which are manually harvested in the district. At the time of the lockdown announcement on March 24, the harvesting of Rapeseed was already underway and wheat harvesting was about to commence in the second week of April.

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