June 2020: As India begins a series of efforts to ‘unlock’, the shift from relief and rehabilitation also moves to rebuilding lives and livelihoods. A few weeks ago, we had released a series of policy briefs about the impact on rural communities and relief required especially due to the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdown. As restrictions are getting lifted and India begins ‘Unlock II’, it is time now to focus on revival and rebuilding communities. Based on our continued assessments across seven states of India and constant interaction with communities, here are a set of recommendations for rural revival.
Make the Public Distribution System universal and accessible to all, including migrants. The portability system of ration cards is a welcome move but effective implementation for the last mile is required. For instance, a quick survey by MSSRF in Koraput district, Odisha in April 2020 found that out of 2,750 households surveyed, 126 individuals were deprived of access to PDS, 135 of old age pension and 72 of widow pension, due to lack of proper documents, making them more vulnerable inthe pandemic crisis. More here:
Expand scope of MGNREGS – e.g. Govt of Odisha has introduced schemes to include household nutrition garden and fodder cultivation under the purview of MGNREGS.
Farmers’ collectives and farmer producer organizations (FPO) should get more support from local district administration in movement of goods and supplies. MSSRF has been involved in facilitating a market aggregation initiative in collaboration with the district administration and NABARD in Pudukottai. FPOs under NABARD/SFAC can be quickly ranked and funds may be provisioned for procurement of commodities.
Seeds, saplings and inputs should reach farmers on time for the Kharif season. Seed processing and seed testing facilities should be opened at block level and may be attached with trained Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) to facilitate easy access to quality seeds and saplings. We have been facilitating this to some extent on our field sites, but large-scale reach through the system is important.
Decentralized delivery of inputs and services at the Gram Panchayat and village level through SHGs/FPOs should be taken up to address issues of access to services and as well as safety of farmers. MSSRF has supporting through FPOs during lockdown.
Subsidy for horticulture equipments under National Horticulture Mission should be increased to 90% instead of 50% as an incentive to farmers to take up horticultural operations in their farms; and defer seasonal migration in view of COVID. This could also contribute to family and community nutrition outcome.
Special incentives should be given for growing rain-fed, climate-resilient and nutrient-dense crops such as pulses and millets to strengthen local food security of small and marginal farm families. Village level grain banks should be established under control of Panchayats in remote and sensitive areas where seasonal food scarcity is likely to be an issue. We are helping with kharif planning and seed procurement.
ICT based communication strategy to be deployed for all aspects of agriculture from pre-farm gate agro-advisories to post harvest management and marketing. NGOs and FPOs may be mobilized to play a proactive role in this effort. Our efforts in this direction have received growing acceptance from small and marginal farmers. This has also received positive media coverage leading to further momentum of these efforts. (The Better India, Thomson Reuters, Nature India, World Economic Forum)
Skilled labor for specific activities such as uploading of paddy harvesters, Tractors, trucks, threshers should be allowed to move intra-state for smooth kharif operations with adequate training for operators and necessary safety precautions.
Promote custom hiring centres of farm implements managed by SHGs/FPOs at Panchayat and village level.
Timely credit (Crop loan/ Jewel loans) to be extended to the farmers; if feasible at the village level through safe mobile banking systems to reduce physical movement.
Government to engage SHGs/ FPOs/ NGOs to strengthen local food systems and promote local crop varieties and home nutrition gardens to strengthen resilience.
Government and private sector to engage FPOs/ NGOs to facilitate and support value addition of local produce to minimize post harvest loss and build safer value chain to sustain local economy and meet the demand of urban consumers for safe and healthy food supply; this has been happening on some of our sites.
Decentralized e-procurement systems should be put in place to facilitate adherence to social distancing requirements.
The government should support fishers in maintaining cleanliness harbors and landing sites; People entering fish harbor for fishing / trading should be screened by the harbor management.
ID card of fishermen should be sufficient for vehicle movement in fish harbor and there should be relaxation in requirement for pass. Some of these relaxations have already come into place, but needs to be streamlined.
Support is required for storage and marketing of fish catch of small fishers.
More awareness efforts are required on precautions in carrying on work in the new normal. This is particularly important for health and hygiene in food value chain handling.
A series of initiatives to build policy momentum among all stakeholders and agents is needed. For instance, in a global webinar in partnership with Monash University, Dr Madhura Swaminathan, Chairperson MSSRF, cautioned against rising inequalities, and suggested a series of immediate relief measures including included Rs. 7,500 monthly cash transfer for six months, doubling universal rations through the PDS, including eggs, vegetables, milk, pulses, oil, salt and soap for family nutrition and hygiene.
Media articles are also important to build public awareness and gain policy makers attention. For instance, a set of recommendations on nutrition security were made in an article by MSSRF authors inScroll.in include: 1. Functioning of the Mid-Day-Meal scheme, as announced by the Centre; 2. Intensifying MGNREGS-related work, increasing work days from 100 to 200; 3. Doubling pulses quantity provided through PDS and ensure millet provisioning to meet protein and micronutrient requirements; 4. Setting up community kitchens in all panchayats, especially for elderly; 5. Increasing awareness on nutrition and immunity; 6. Interim doubling of cash transfers to Jan Dhan Accounts through the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Yojana.
Meanwhile emerging issues such as locust attacks, for instance, are also compounding the concerns of farming communities. Ongoing support for farming / fishing communities for addressing regular concerns is also important. As fishers struggled with Cyclone Amphan, our team was out there helping. MSSRF organized a webinar with recommendations to deal with locust attacks, while several thousands have been reached virtually and in person for livelihood support in multiple ways. This needs to continue and be strengthened by all players.
The focus now is beyond relief on rehabilitation and is directed towards rebuilding lives.