Coronavirus lockdown | Dairy, vegetable farmers count losses in Assam

A man gives final touch to the beds in a quarantine centre in Guwahati on March 30, 2020.

A man gives final touch to the beds in a quarantine centre in Guwahati on March 30, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Closure of all hotels, restaurants and sweetmeat shops besides transportation hit them hard

The inability to transport their produce because of the coronavirus lockdown has forced small dairy farmers in Assam throw away hundreds of litres of milk while vegetable growers are letting their crop rot or dumping nearby for animals.

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Some 1,500 members of the Sitajakhala Dugdha Utpadak Samabai Samiti Ltd in the Morigaon district dumped about 10,000 litres of milk in rivers and streams during the first two days of the lockdown. This was because the milk could not be consumed locally after efforts to transport them to the urban centres had failed.

The milk processing plant of the 58-year-old cooperative society is situated about 65 km east of Guwahati.

“Our farmers face a combined average loss of ₹12 lakh per day with production dropping from the daily mark of 20,000 litres before the lockdown. But the main problem is availability of cattle feed, which is procured primarily from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal,” said society chairman Ranjib Sharma.

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Smaller cooperative societies at Jorabat and Rangiya near Guwahati have been facing similar problems. A major reason, said milk trader Dilip Chhetri of Jorabat, is the closure of all hotels, restaurants and sweetmeat shops that were the bulk buyers.

District authorities claimed they had streamlined the supply after the initial hiccups as dairy and milk products and shops selling animal fodder fall under essential services according to the Union Home Ministry’s guidelines.

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But small dairy farmers said this had benefited major firms and a State government-run dairy unit which have massive refrigeration units to store milk not offloaded for two-three days. More than 90% of the dairy industry in Assam is in the unorganised sector, an animal husbandry report said.

At Singimari in the Kamrup district, Mukalmua in the Nalberi district and Kharupetia in the Darrang district, most vegetable farmers have not been able to find transporters to market their produce. These places are considered the vegetable bowls of Assam.

“Officials are saying the government has relaxed restrictions on farming activities, but I lost more than 50 kg of tomatoes and other vegetables because of this bandh [lockdown]. I hope the government compensates some of my loss,” said Ramzan Ali, a farmer of Bechimari area near Kharupetia.

Agriculture Minister Atul Bora said district officials had been told to assist farmers in marketing their produce while ensuring social distancing. NGOs had also been allowed to deliver vegetables and other perishables through telemarketing and e-marketing, officials said.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 6:10:39 PM |

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