Agricultural extension amid COVID-19

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Dr Banarsi Lal & Dr Vikas Tandon

COVID-19 pandemic is a global emergency and it is badly impacting the population across the globe. India is also facing the crisis due to this lethal virus. Many new agricultural issues are arising due to COVID-19 pandemic. If proper measures are not taken timely then the food security crisis can arise. In India there is dire need to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihood security of small and marginal farmers. So far there is adequate supply of fruits, vegetables, foods, meats and eggs but there can be food shortage in the future. During the lockdowns the restrictions were imposed on the movements of the people and transportation. Many farmers faced problems to sale their farm produce and it disturbed the supply chain up to some extent. Innovative techniques are needed to tackle the health and socio-economic issues of people. Collaborative teams of extension personnel and medical professional should jointly create awareness on COVID-19, its mode of transmission and proper safety measures. Quality agro-inputs such as seeds, insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers etc. should reach uninterruptedly to the farmers so that they can yield more net returns. Farm machineries can also be provided to the farmers on subsidy or custom hiring basis as there is labour shortage in agriculture. Some innovative policies need to be framed so that farmers can be empowered even in COVID-19 time and they can produce more quality and quantity of food. This will help to continue flow of food production. Otherwise the domestic demands and export of agricultural items can be disturbed.COVID-19 pandemic has badly affected the health and agricultural system of the world. Timely preparation and recovery of losses at local, national and international level is the only solution of this menace. This deadly virus has killed lakhs of people and effecting billions of people directly or indirectly across the globe. This virus has given an alarm to an individual, society and nations across the globe. Post COVID-19 era can have change in the demands, priorities and alternations in our daily habits.
According to International Food Policy Research Institute (2020), even under an effective COVID-19 containment scenario, 14 million to 22 million people may have to face extreme poverty across the globe and many low-and middle income countries may have to witness about 25 per cent decline in agri-food exports. India is said as the powerhouse of agriculture in the world.
In India, about 70 per cent of people are dependent on agriculture and food security mainly depends on the production of cereals, fruits, vegetables and milk. It is worthwhile to mention here that India is the largest producer of pulses, spices and milk in the world. It has the largest area under wheat, paddy and cotton. India is also having largest cattle in the world. If all it is disturbed then there can be a havoc on food supply chain. In order to maintain the long term food security during and after COVID-19 a paradigm shift is essential with an innovative strategy.
Local system of agriculture needs to be strengthened. Immediate challenges in agriculture should be assessed and innovative mitigation measures should be suggested to strengthen the agricultural extension system during and post COVID-19 times.
Agricultural system across the globe has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As it is said that everything can wait but not the agriculture so the farmers need timely agro-inputs. Quality seed should reach in every nook and corner of the nation so that farmers can sow them for the better crops yields.
Government exempted agrarian sector even during the lockdowns. We all need to join our hands together to combat the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Awareness campaigns need to be organized to create awareness on COVID-19 pandemic. In the USA more than 40 universities have engaged their extension professional in COVID-19 related outreaches. In India also extension professional can play a significant role in COVID-19 management.
They can educate the masses on the management of this chronic pandemic. More partners can be involved for its management so that we can have a hunger free and healthy society in future. Extension personnel can use the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) effectively to educate the people on COVID-19.Farmers can be involved in the webinars and video-conferences for the latest knowledge. Mobile calls and messages can also be used to disseminate the agricultural information to the farmers.
Experts of home science, children and women development, health literacy etc. can also make connections with the people through social media and print media in this critical time of COVID-19.Indian extension personnels need to make strenuous efforts to guide the people on COVID-19 management and farm operations. There is need to change the behaviour of people towards COVID-19.
Farmers need to wear the masks and gloves to protect them while performing field activities and marketing of their farm produce. They can use cotton clothes to cover their face.
This can reduce the spread of COVID-19 virus and can sustain the food production. Extension personnel can motivate the farmers to adopt the labour saving practices and assist the farmers to market their farm produce with the close co-ordination of the distt. administration. Digital agriculture can support the farmers to reduce the inverse impact of COVID-19.Drones and other digital extension tools can help the farmers to adopt labour saving and input saving practices. Digitalization can help the farmers to have direct linkages with the buyers and logistics services. Indian government has also launched a new app ‘Kisan Rath’ to assist the farmers to sale their farm produce. Public-private partnerships can invest in the present agricultural system to minimize the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
Toll free help lines in local dialect can also help the farmers to answer their agricultural related quarries. Some states in India are helping the farmers for digital agri-solutions through ICTs. For example Haritha Kerala Mission is organizing online classes on vegetables farming using facebook live.
Disruptions in supply chains and lockdowns had widespread impact on the food supply system of India. Digital logistics can play a crucial role in reducing the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on transport and marketing system. Small farmers can join their hands together to bring the fruits and vegetables at the doorstep of the consumers.
Through this system they can eliminate the middlemen and earn more money. The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research has designed a handy solar-powered fruits and vegetables vending van to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to the consumers at their doorstep.
This van has cooling chambers and can keep the fruits and vegetables fresh for two days. Such types of innovations should be promoted to avoid the spoilage of vegetables, fruits and middlemen. Start-ups and e-commerce should be promoted. Some innovative policies need to be framed to address the issues of food security. Investments on sanitary and phyto-sanitary controls need to be increased and good transportation practices and food safety measures can build confidence in the national and global level.
Small and medium enterprises in agriculture need special attention so that employment can be generated in the rural areas. Gender sensitive issues need to be addressed during COVID-19 time. Most of farming activities are performed by the women farmers and they can get the exposure of illness due to coronavirus. Access to food, income, assets, information and social support are not equal in the society.
There should not be any gender discrimination during COVID-19 pandemic. Some innovations need to be applied in the agricultural sector otherwise COVID-19 is killing the people now but hunger can kill in future. International organizations need to join their hands together to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic on agricultural sector. Agricultural extension and research can play a significant role in helping the farmers during and after COVID-19 pandemic.
There is an urgent need to strengthen the agricultural extension and decision making system to protect the agricultural sector from COVID-19 pandemic.
More innovative models need to be developed in agricultural sector to cope with COVID-19 pandemic.
(The writers are Head, KVK Reasi and Professor SKUAST-J).