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'Farmers are Food Warriors During Coronavirus Pandemic, But They Are Not Thanked Enough'

Image used for  representation.

Image used for representation.

All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee leader VM Singh said many farmers have sold their produce at distressed rates. Now, they are losing their harvest in spells of hailstorms over the past few days.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of over 100 farmer organisations across the country, has called for a nationwide felicitation of farmers on May 16.

This is the same organisation which had organised the November 2018 march in Delhi wherein thousands of farmers from far and wide had assembled in the national capital to put pressure on the government for higher crop prices and farm loan waiver.

In an interview with News18, VM Singh, the convenor of AIKSCC, spoke about the need to hold such an event and talked about the already distressed farming sector that has been put under greater stress due to social distancing restrictions.

What have you heard from farmers about the procurement of their crops in the past few days?

I was recently in a television debate with a senior government minister who boasted that the union government had procured 170 lakh metric tonnes of wheat in the past few days. It was meant to sound like a huge, impressive number. I told him that 350 lakh metric tonnes of wheat is produced in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Farmers across the country are saying that there have been cuts in the purchase by the government. At many places, the farm produce was not allowed to move past state borders.

Many farmers, including me, have sold their farm produce at distressed rates. Getting combined harvesters to the farms has been a problem. There has not been a clear directive from the government for farmers since day one. Now, farmers are losing their harvest in spells of hailstorms over the past few days.

Why is there a need to felicitate farmers?

Farmers across the country have braved all odds to get food on your table. Tell me, in this period of crisis what are people looking for the most? Is it clothes, decorative items, luxury vehicles?

Everyone is most concerned about food these days and it is only because of farmers that fruits and vegetables are reaching your neighbourhood on time.

A lot of people are being thanked across the country but not the farmers. Not enough. You know how hard it is to harvest wheat? The small towels that you see farmers wearing is to prevent them from catching various respiratory illnesses that are caused because of the dust that’s produced when this crop is cut. This makes us vulnerable to coronavirus twice over.

Farmers are the food warriors of this nation during the pandemic. Their contribution towards the nation needs to be acknowledged. Which is why we have asked farmers across the country to blow horns of their tractors, wave the tricolour, switch on the lights of their homes, raise their spade high, so that the country knows that they are still around, working tirelessly in this crisis, to get food for all.

How soon do you see the farm sector returning to normalcy?

My only complaint is that had Prime Minister Narendra Modi informed public at large a few days before he was going to impose the nationwide lockdown, and run special trains for workers and labourers, they would have returned to their work by now. Your rural sector would have been in a much better shape than it is at the present moment.

Now you have created a situation in which I don’t see the labourers, whether they’re employed in the farms or in industries, returning before Diwali or next Holi.

People are simply not ready to return. And why should they? You saw the incident that happened in Aurangabad, when 16 people who were forced to walk back home were run over by a train. You think after incidents like this people will return to the cities?

Still if the government works proactively a lot of damage can be avoided. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the sugarcane crop needs to be harvested within the next 10-15 day otherwise it will go to waste and the farmers will lose this crucial time when they need to work for next year’s harvest.