Farmers are at their wits’ end | The Hindu

2020-04-07 | 5 minutes

Context: Different governments all over the world have announced lockdowns in order to deal with the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and a 21-day lockdown was announced by the Indian government on 24 March 2020.


  • In July 2019, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report showed that over 820 million or 82 crore people are facing malnutrition. The report was released by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  • UN FAO has also said that there may be a food crisis in the absence of steps to keep highly vulnerable people safe and to prevent disruption of global food supply chains.
  • In February 2020, 2nd advance estimates for 2019-20 have shown that India’s food grain production will remain at record level of 291.95 MT.
  • As per FAO’s monthly brief of cereal supply, 861 Million Tonnes (MT) of cereals was available in the world cereal market on 2 April, 2020.

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on food stock worldwide and in India:

  • Global food stocks: Based on data from FAO’s monthly brief showing that 861 MT of cereals were available in the world cereal market on 2 April 2020, it cannot be concluded that sufficient national stocks are available because cereal stock available in world cereal market is not similar to national stocks.
  • National food stocks: Nearly 52% of wheat stocks available globally remain with China and 20% of rice stocks available globally remain with India. If the countries having major stocks of wheat and rice stop export due to long-duration lockdowns, the countries not having sufficient stocks and dependent on imports will face food shortage and food insecurity. As per March 2020 data, two major importers of rice (Philippines and European Union) were left with rice that may be enough for three months. Some countries have enough rice for one month.
  • Food stock in India: In India, Food Corporation of India (FCI) had 5 MT of wheat and rice on 1 March 2020. Second advance estimates for 2019-20 have shown that India’s food grain production will remain at record level of 291.95 MT. Buffer norm for India’s food grain stocks is fixed at 21.04 MT. The harvest of rabi crop in April will further improve the state of food security in India.

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on food prices worldwide and in India:

  • Food prices globally and in western economies: During February and March 2020, FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) and FAO Cereal Price Index declined by 4.3% and 1.9% respectively. The main reason for the decline in FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) and FAO Cereal Price Index was low demand for food items. But, retail prices of cereals (rice and wheat) were showing increase in economies of western countries in March 2020. Main reasons for this were panic buying, restrictions on export by foreign countries and disruptions in global and domestic supply chains.
  • Food prices in India: In India, WPI and CPI were already high in 2019. They declined slightly in January and February 2020. But, the prices of vegetables continued to remain high. Indian public will be significantly affected in case of further higher food prices due to prolonged lockdown.

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on farming in India: COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown are causing the crisis in harvesting and marketing of agricultural crops due to following reasons.

  • It has disturbed food grain procurement by government Traders are not able to collect harvest from agricultural farms.
  • Workers are not available for harvesting rabi crops as migrant workers have returned home. Mechanical harvesters cannot be used due to the non-availability of drivers and operators. Milk processing plants and warehouses are also facing a shortage of labour.
  • It is problematic to transport harvested crops due to restrictions on movement and lack of sufficient truck drivers. Trucks are stuck at highways and borders of states. They are not being unloaded. So, there is a disruption in supply chain.
  • It has put limits on working of Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, and retail markets are closed. The frequency of working of APMC mandis has been reduced to two or three times per week.


Though sufficient food stocks are available globally, some countries do not have enough food stocks. The decline in global trade and supply chain disruptions due to lockdowns may lead to food insecurity in countries not having adequate food stocks. As of now, India’s food prices have not risen as happened in case of western countries. This is because, in India, supply and demand (consumption) of vegetables and food grains, both have declined. But, farming sector in India may face crisis due to prolonged lockdown. Farming sector crisis and prolonged lockdown will most affect farmers, poor and vulnerable.      

Mains Questions

Discuss the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on food stock worldwide, with particular reference to India. (150 words)

Farming in India may face food crisis due to prolonged lockdown as part of the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. Explain. (150 words)


Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

  • It is one of the 17 specialized agencies of United Nations. It is also oldest of existing agencies of UN.
  • It was formed in 1945. It is headquartered in Rome.
  • It consists of 197 member states.
  • Along with WHO, FAO developed Codex Alimentarius. It is a collection of food related standards.
  • In 1951, International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) was overseen by FAO.

FAO Food Price Index (FFPI):

  • It was started in 1996. It measures changes in prices of agricultural commodities at the international level.
  • It is seen as an indicator of food security.
  • It includes 23 agricultural commodities.