Novel Coronavirus outbreak and the lockdowns imposed by Government in March 2020 to contain the virus spread severely impacted farming operations across the country. On-time harvest of standing Rabi crops and post-harvest storage and marketing faced setback in various parts of the country leading to piled up stocks in open fields causing crop damage and fall in prices for the farm products. Rabi crops such as wheat, mustard, lentil, maize, pulses and millets are usually harvested by farmers by mid-April which coincided with the Phase-1 of Covid-19 lockdown period.
Even as Union Government provided exemptions to agriculture and allied sectors to ensure uninterrupted farming operations during the initial days of lockdown itself, but implementation of these exemptions had not been uniform across the country. Farmers faced hardships in transport of agri products to ‘mandis’ and movement of farm workers as several local authorities exercised caution putting restrictions on intra-state and inter-state movement.
Further, scarcity of farm labourers hindered harvesting of Rabi crops and planting of summer crops such as cotton, chillies, maize, pulses etc. with lakhs of migrant workers deciding to head to their native places in the absence of gainful employment during lockdown in 2020.
Covid-19 Disrupts Tobacco Auctions
Flue Cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco farming community had to undergo severe stress to sell their harvest and also to cope up with mounting labor and infrastructure charges due to lockdown-linked interruption in auctions during the first wave of the Pandemic in 2020.
The Tobacco Board suspended ongoing auctions in both Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in the second half of March 2020 and allowed gradual resumption more than a month later. This disruption in auctions impacted crop quality, offtake and prices due to the prolonged leaf storage. Even when auctions resumed, the trade remained lacklustre with lower turnout of buyers amid pandemic-linked travel restrictions. This led to the Government of Andhra Pradesh participating in tobacco auctions for the first time with the State-run AP Markfed lifting low and medium grade leaf stock in an effort to bail out the farmers.
In view of the uncertainties in global market due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, the Tobacco Board reduced the crop size for tobacco from a total of 235 million kgs for 2019 crop to 203 million kgs for 2020 crop. Due to such a reduction in crop size, farmers were left with huge unutilized land areas having no equally remunerative substitute crops to grow.
FCV tobacco farmers faced severe financial crisis and requested the Government of India to immediately sanction a compensation amount of Rs.25,000 each to all registered FCV tobacco growers for their very survival.
FAIFA demanded for a comprehensive FCV Tobacco Production plan for 2020-21 and requested for stronger efforts by the Government to promote Indian tobacco exports by studying opportunities arising out of Covid-19. Further, the Federation asked the Government to increase the tobacco crop size since there is no suitable alternative for the farmers grow and promote exports.
In 2021, FCV farmers faced serious disruptions in tobacco trade once again as the country was badly hit by the second wave of the pandemic. When farmers were hoping to recover the loss incurred in the previous year, tobacco auctions in Andhra Pradesh had to be halted for a few weeks in May 2021 with the rising numbers of Covid-19 infections.
However, good quality crop produced by the farmers ensured decent prices post resumption of auctions. This led to the Tobacco Board to increase the crop size for the 2021 crop. While Andhra Pradesh is entitled to produce 130 million kgs of FCV tobacco for the next crop, a total of 97 million kgs has been set for Karnataka.