COVID-19 lockdown sparks harvest crises in Pakistan, India

Trees have bent, bearing the load of ripened summer fruits and a bumper crop of wheat in a golden hue is ready for harvest in the fields, spread across the plains of Pakistan and India.

But in the absence of labour and means of transportation due to a lockdown, imposed to stem the spread of Covid-19 or coronavirus, millions of farmers are staring at another disaster, watching their produce rotting in their fields. The harvest of famed fruit of the region mango is also just a month away. Experts believe that the phenomenon will have cascading effects on the region’s food security.

Ahmad Ali, a farmer from Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province, is running from pillar to post to arrange labour for the harvesting of wheat, which in his area is set to commence next week. He is one of the thousands of farmers, desperately looking for labour to harvest wheat, mainly in Punjab, and southern Sindh, the two bread-baskets for Pakistan.

Around 70 per cent of Pakistan’s small farmers rely on traditional farm labourers, who come from the remote or the low-income areas before the harvesting season. They could not make it this time due to weeks-long lockdown.

“There is an acute shortage of labour here. I am completely clueless what to do,” said Ali, 37, who owns seven-acre farmland in Okara district located some 119 kilometres from Lahore.

And, those who are available have shot up their rates.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, last week, announced the lifting of the ban on movement of transport and machinery for harvesting. The move, however, proved to be less practical.

“Most of our machinery needs repairs and overhauling every year around harvest season. The workshops remained closed,” Ali told Anadolu Agency on phone.

“Some workshops have reopened during the last four-five days [after prime minister’s order] but they cannot meet the workloads,” he added.

In nearby India, the situation is no different. Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat — the key food basket states — are desperately looking for labor to harvest wheat and gram.

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