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COVID-19: Agriculture innovation to achieve food security & challenges in Manipur

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By – Dr. Ch. Basudha

The pandemic has created in an unprecedented economic, social and health crisis from COVID- 19 caused by a SARS-CoV-2 virus. Both lives and livelihoods are at risk from this pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic may likely have an extensive and long-term influence on the agriculture sector in Manipur.
The Government implemented lockdown to control the spread of the COVID-19. On 24th march a 21-day lockdown was announced in India including Manipur. Agriculture was exempted and over the following weeks guidelines were published that exempted related activities, such as inputs in fisheries and food processing. The lockdown and closure of public transport led to an exodus of labourers. This lockdown period coincided with the harvesting season of the winter-planted crops, vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, watermelon etc in the state which faced a record good harvest after a good monsoon. However, wholesale markets were closed and there was a shortage of farm labourers.
It has resulted in logistic difficulties in food production and supply chains, especially in the high value commodities such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, milk etc. Shortage of fish seed, feed, fertilizers, medicines and other inputs could affect fish production. Closures of markets, restaurants and less frequent grocery diminish demand for fresh meat, fish, poultry and their products affecting producers and suppliers Covid19 reduces demand & supply: The lockdown immediately led to a drop in domestic demand and trade. Some farmers growing high value fruits and vegetables for upmarket. Though, dairy sector showed a mixed picture. Just after the lockdown follows consumers initially crowded milk parlour to stock up. However, within a week milk prices started collapsing as office canteens, restaurants and sweet shops remained closed.
In fishery sector, during February and March normally prepared fish ponds on a normal supply of fish seeds. However, the official COVID-19 lockdown at the end of March significantly impacted the supply of fish seeds and the subsequent stocking of ponds, which resulted in a drastic fall in fish seed production and prices. Because of the resulting uncertainty in markets and also disease outbreaks, farmers carried out emergency harvests of ponds and marketed at low prices. Normally, most farmers that stocked their ponds between March to early April,
have been stocked late and could not stock till today due to non-availability of fish seeds.
Strategies for facing the pandemic in the state through Agriculture
There should be a provision of quality seeds to farmers by the seed sector— both public and private.
Amidst the current tensions, good seeds and other farm inputs must reach farmers in time for kharif season. Adoption of superior cultivars also demand higher usage of resources like water and fertilizer. Increased water use efficiency and fertilizer use efficiency is essential to derive maximum production per unit quantity of resources used. Short duration or less water requiring crops, (e.g. rapeseed & mustard, lentil, etc) should be encouraged. Such crops have better cost benefit ratio and help farmers obtained highest possible return on their investments. Automated machines should be introduced for the planting of seeds which need only a machine driver for sowing and harvesting. Indigenous manufacturing of automated machines should be promoted by the government to cut down the overall cost. Subsidies should be provided to the manufacturers of such machines so that farmers can buy them at economical prices. High yielding variety seed is another way of contributing to food and nutrition benefits while boosting agricultural production besides reducing a post-harvest loss. Synchronized efforts should be made for conservation practices such as crop diversification, zero soil tillage. An increase in the availability of nano nutrients to boost crop production will be an added
advantage. Efforts should be made to grow more crops that rely less on nitrogen as it proves to be good for acclimating with climate and resolving malnutrition at the same time. Organic production, packaging and processing of Ginger, Chilli, King chilli, vegetables, etc. Mushroom cultivation especially Oyster and Shiitake integrated with spawn production, processing and packaging. Bee keeping integrated with Honey processing and agro-forestry plantationSmooth livestock farming is accomplished of advancing nutrition both by raising producer and consuming high protein animal sources of food. Aquaculture farming is another accessible, affordable option in some regions of the state. The amalgamation of farming is required to improve the status of food security and nutrition in the state.
The government also has announced number of packages to protect the vulnerable sections including farmers from any adverse impacts of this COVID 19 pandemic viz., advance release of Rs 2000/- to bank accounts of farmers as income support under PM Kissan Scheme; Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana etc. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also announced specific measures that address the “burden of debt servicing” due to COVID19 pandemic. Agricultural term and crop loans have been granted a moratorium of three months (till May 31) by banking institutions with 3 percent concession on the interest rate of crop loans up to INR 300,000 for borrowers with good repayment behaviour.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has also issued state-wise guidelines for farmers to be followed during the lockdown period. The advisory mentions specific practices during harvest and threshing of various rabi (winter sown) crops as well as post-harvest, storage and marketing of the farm produce including fisheries and animal husbandry.
Conclusion :
The ongoing lockdown in the state needs to be reviewed and replaced with cluster specified restrictions (as required) based on epidemiological assessment, as there is no conceivable scenario of control or elimination in a short period. An interdisciplinary team of public health specialists and social scientists, along with grassroots political and social leaderships and volunteers, should continue raising awareness about the COVID-19 modes of transmission and methods of prevention in the community. There should be a proper implication of digital technologies to directly sell the produce (E-Commerce) so that farmers can sell their product directly to the consumer. The time demands to actively activate social safety nets (in form of cash or in-kind transfers) to protect the worst affected and most vulnerable ones to keep up their production. Simultaneously, it would be important to prepare trainers at government institutions to train farmers about the changing farming methods and aware them about the safety measures they need to take even after COVID-19 like social distancing, use of masks, regular washing of hands through behaviour change ommunication. Dissemination the right awareness through the right channels is important at present. Since the prevention is always better than cure. All need to bring out changes in lifestyle, dietary and behavioral modifications.

(***The writer is a Senior Scientist of ICAR Research Complex for NEH Region Manipur Centre, Lamphelpat, Imphal-795004,

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