Around the world, farmers are doing everything they can to prevent the coronavirus crisis from becoming a hunger crisis. Industries of all kinds have been forced to rapidly change how they work, and agriculture is no different.
Farmers are used to adapting to circumstances, whether it’s droughts, floods, or pest infestations. Overcoming unpredictable hurdles goes with the job, but the pandemic is bringing a range of new challenges to growing the food people depend upon. These challenges make it clear that more must be done to enhance the resilience of our food system. To understand these obstacles, we spoke to farmers, growers, producers and industry figures around the world to learn how they are adapting in this unprecedented time. Read more about How Farmers Are Keeping Us Fed through the Global Crisis.
Farmers of all sizes are feeling the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, from travel restrictions to market closures to social distancing requirements. Smallholder farmers and farm workers in developing countries might be among those feeling the biggest economic impact as even slight price fluctuations can have deep impacts on their lives.
Umakant Singh is a smallholder farmer in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. On his five-acre farm he grows a variety of horticulture crops, including peas, tomatoes, green chilies, beans, potatoes, and garlic, as well as wheat.
Covid-19 has had immediate implications for farmers like him, who normally sell their harvest in bulk to traders at local marketplaces known as mandis. With these now closed, selling crops has become a challenge.
“Normally, my green chili produce would fetch me 25 – 30 Indian rupees ($0.33 - 0.40) per kilogram at my local mandi,” says Singh. “With mandis being closed due to the lockdown, I cannot supply my produce outside the village. I have had to sell them five times cheaper, at 5 – 6 Indian rupees ($0.066 - $0.079) per kilogram.”
The closure of hotels and restaurants has contributed massively to reducing demand, and in turn the price, for produce like Singh’s. For some farmers these low prices mean that even transporting goods is not economically viable.
“Some farmers have preferred to throw away their produce rather than spending even minimal amounts to hire a vehicle and transport it to the nearest trader who could take it,” explains Singh. “When you hear about people going hungry and at the same time food being wasted, it is a very sad situation.”
In this difficult time for farmers, digital services have proved immensely valuable in connecting farming communities and sharing vital information when physical gatherings are impossible.
“Farmers have been using WhatsApp as a medium to ask crop-specific queries and share details of local demand, as well as connecting farmers to bulk traders and agents who can help them sell their produce,” says Singh.
“All of this has worked so well during this lockdown period that farmers have realised the importance of digitalisation in agricultural operations. We definitely need greater focus on digital going forward,” he adds.
Singh hopes that the efforts of farmers to endure this difficult time will help consumers develop a greater understanding of the value of their work. It is through the resilience and ability of farmers to adapt to new challenges that food continues to make its way to people’s tables. “While most people are staying at home to safeguard their health and safety, farmers are continuing their work to ensure a steady supply of food,” says Singh.