Fruit and vegetable farmers have been among the hardest hit by the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus ( COVID-19 ), facing major losses due to obstacles in harvesting and marketing their perishable produce.
The Centre has now directed all the States and Union Territories to implement the Market Intervention Scheme to ensure remunerative prices for perishable crops.
It has also begun a train service to transport perishable agricultural and horticultural commodities to markets due to the obstacles in road transport. On Thursday, 50 trains were deployed for this purpose, according to an Agriculture Ministry statement.
This was among the major issues raised by the State Agriculture Ministers at a video-conference meeting with Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Wednesday.
The Market Intervention Scheme is meant to protect the growers of perishable commodities from making distress sales, especially at times when prices fall below the cost of production. The scheme can be invoked by a State which is willing to bear half the losses of procurement, with the remainder being borne by the Centre, whenever there is a 10% fall in ruling market prices in comparison to the previous normal year.
The Agriculture Ministry also took steps to aid pulses and oilseeds farmers, most of whom are in dry-land areas. Farmers have been complaining that market prices for toor and urad dal, chickpeas and soyabean have been far below the minimum support prices in many mandis, with trading disrupted by the lockdown.
The Centre has extended the procurement window for its Price Support Scheme, under which the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limted. (NAFED) and other agencies procure pulses and oilseeds, up to 90 days from the date of commencement of the scheme in each State. It has also hiked the daily procurement limit from 25 quintals to 40 quintals per farmer for the rabi season of 2020.
Normally, the limit ensures that all farmers get an equal chance to sell their produce. However, transport restrictions make it difficult for farmers to repeatedly bring their produce for procurement, leading to this relaxation. The procuring of pulses will also aid in the implementation of the Centre’s promise to provide one kg of pulses per month to all families with ration cards for the next three months as part of a COVID-19 relief package .