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Farmers sort wheat crops after harvesting, during the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, at Kanachak village in Jammu. (PTI)
Farmers sort wheat crops after harvesting, during the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, at Kanachak village in Jammu. (PTI)

How startups can play a crucial role in helping covid-hit Indian farmers

  • The rabi crop stood ready for harvest in many fields when the Covid-19 crisis brought everything to a halt
  • Indian agriculture is also mostly a manual enterprise, and the exodus of migrant workers has resulted in a domino effect

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, it is imperative that good seeds and other farm inputs reach farmers in time for the Kharif season. India holds the record for the second-largest agricultural land in the world, with around 60% rural Indian households making their living from agriculture thus creating a huge scope for agritech startups in the country. India needs about 250 lakh quintals of seeds for the kharif season.

The preparation of seeds happens between March and May. It begins from the farmers’ fields, where pollination etc are monitored by teams, and after harvest, drying, and selection, the seeds are sent to processing plants. From there they are sent to labs for testing and, finally, are packaged for supply to the farmers.

The amount of wastage is more than expected and the farmers have to suffer a lot. The rabi crop stood ready for harvest in many fields when the Covid-19 crisis brought everything to a halt; this is also the time for the harvest of plantation crops like pepper, coffee, banana. In the aftermath of the lockdown, the harvest of the rabi crops has been delayed due to non-availability of labor, machinery (harvesters, threshers, tractors), transport facilities and restrictions on movement; farmers of perishable commodities like fruits, vegetables, and flowers, in particular, have been incurring losses.

According to Shivendra Singh, founder, Barton breeze “Barton Breeze has been doing hydroponic and other soil-less farming using the highest levels of hygiene and care since our inception. Our farms continue to operate even in these testing times. As a responsible and sustainable agritech company, we have sensitized and trained our staff on taking extra care to completely sanitize themselves before entering the farm. Farmers become more ‘Essential’ during Pandemic.

They play a “critical" role in feeding the country. Covid-19 should make us rethink our destructive relationship with the natural world. These are unprecedented times that require every section of society to rise to the challenge. Barton Breeze is re-deploying its resources to meet the needs of those on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight. Our farm team is working to ensure better access to food and nutrition for the underprivileged in India, who are among the hardest hit by the crisis. Our company has provided logistics and supply chain support to a not-for-profit, to help procure foods for frontline workers.

I think the government should prioritize essential services and give them a safe environment to function. Supply chain, storage, and logistics companies should work closely with government and agriculture organizations to ensure that the market works frictionlessly during the lockdown. FPO (Farmer Producing Organisation) should be given a curfew license to sell the produce. Special logistic arrangements are needed for the hour for the farm produce, the Govt should deploy a common drop ship model for the produce. And lastly, Govt should ensure there is no artificial inflation on vegetables and fruits",added Shivendra Singh

Indian agriculture is also mostly a manual enterprise, and the exodus of migrant workers has resulted in a domino effect. The lack of a helping hand may lead to large harvest crops going to waste. And those farmers who are managing to find a buyer for their produce are struggling to get good prices to support their own family and sustenance.

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