The Union Agriculture Ministry has specified guidelines for farmers in the time of the global health crisis but most of the farmers remain unaware.
By Labani Mahanandy
Farmers are hardly aware of the Union Agriculture Ministry’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to guide them on safety measures that need to be specifically followed during kharif crop planting in the face of global pandemic.
The ministry said farmers should reduce labour and use tractor-driven machinery to prepare land for sowing the kharif crops. The SOP states: “Maintain social distance at least 1-2 metres during farm operations. Workers should be assigned separate duties with regard to farm activities. All farm equipment from seed drill, plough to tractor should be sanitized before use. Those working in the farm field should wear masks or cover their face with three layers of chunnis, gamchha or towel.”
Shakuntala Kamble, a farmer from Athani, Karnataka said, “We do not have any idea about such rules. How can we wash our equipment with water every day? There is no water to drink over here. We have enough food to eat because of local farmers in my area.” A farmer from West Bengal, Tarak Samanta, reiterated that it is not possible to sanitize equipments every day as not enough water in available during the summer season. He added: “We can’t bring water from a long distance for the cleaning of these equipments after the whole tiresome day.”
A farmer from Hooghly district of West Bengal, Biswaranjan Bera, also said that he did not have any knowledge about the SOP. “I am a very poor farmer and getting a tractor for farming is like day dreaming for me. I plough in the traditional method only. Other than that tractor is hardly available in these areas. It has already become hard for me to run my family during the lockdown,” he added.
For the harvetsing of rabi crops, the SOP states, the farmers have to maintain at least 4-5 metres of distance throughout the process of harvesting, threshing, packaging, eating and resting. The crops have been suggested to be kept in the sun for at least 48 hours.
Swapan Jana from Birbhum district of West Bengal, who too was unaware about the guidelines said, “I don’t think the number of farmers can be reduced right now because it is the time for Kalbaisakhi (Violent thunderstorms in the Gangetic plains of India) and we farmers to harvest the crops as soon as possible or the Kalbasakhi will ruin it. To worsen the situation we don’t get cold stores here. And I doubt anyone could maintain this suggested distance. Though, we will try.”
B. D. Biradar, Dean of University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad said, “The guideline talks about maintaining the distance first during this harvesting of rabi crops and then preparing the land for the kharif crops sowing which starts in June. However, almost 50 percent of the harvesting of rabi crops is done and it got stopped midway due to the arrival of the pandemic.”
“The important thing is that farmers need efficient machinery to lessen the need for more labourers. It is the most important measure and that’s why we are suggesting going for the hiring of machineries. Even if it is not possible to sanitize the equipments every day, they should avoid human contact at every cost.,” he added.