Impact of Covid-19 is multidimensional on smallscale farmers: disruption of farming activities like planting or harvests, lack of labor for farming due to return of migrant laborers to their native villages, supply chain disruption (where farmers cannot take their produce to the markets due to lockdown restrictions on transport, markets, people), loss of jobs and declning demand for and affordability to buy food and other commodities, the fear and risk of infection by covid-19 in crowded market places, lack of on-farm storage that leads to spoilage of perishable vegetables and fruits after harvest as well as milk, disrupted support services like input retailers, farm machine services, seeds, and fertilizers and pesticides. Rural households also lack clean water and toilets for minimum hygiene. It's a very difficult period and a testing time for all smallholder farmers, daily wage earners, landless laborers, small traders/collectors, women, and children. Targeted external support is critical to relieve the painful impacts of covid-19 for all rural households, farmers or otherwise.
National and local governments, cooperatives, NGOs, and the private sector actors must come together to help the farmers and others in the following areas: (1) raising the covid-19 awareness among the local population and assistance on how and where to get treatment and prevent the spread of the disease; (2) improving the organization and distribution of food and financial aids to the people in need by various groups; (3) ensuring supply of seeds and other farming inputs as well as support services to farmers; (4) revamping processing and post-harvest management facilities and distribution avenues for food and other commodities by enabling marketing avenues and transport facilities; (5) improving the access to finance/credit for farming activities; (6) improving clean water, sanitation, and healthcare facilities to all rural residents; and (7) regular communications and sharing of good practices to manage during the pandemic.
Child labor is common in domestic/local supply chains. As long as it is volunatry and doesn't interfere with the children's education, it is a healthy trend in learning the life skills by helping their parents by participating in certain tasks, like delivering the vegetables to a local store, getting some supplies from shops, etc.
Often girls are engaged in fetching water from distant wells for family use and it may interfere with their regular education. In such cases, provision of potable water and sanitation to poor families is critical to prevent the engagement of children in demanding tasks that interfere with their normal development and education.
While formulating policies on child labor in agriculture or other enterprises, we must differentiate family farms vs. commercial farms or enterprises. Children often work in family farms or home gardens after school hours to help their parents and to learn the practical aspects of food production. In some schools, they have school gardens where children participate and learn on how to grow and manage crops and it is is part of the education. Thus, voluntary participation of children in family farms or home gardens is an education process and it is vital for their full development.
In commercial farms and enterprises, children are employed to supplement the family income in poor families. Unless the poor families are elevated from their level of poverty through rural employment generation and decent wages for work by adults, it is difficult to abolish the forced child labor. The root cause is poverty and it must be addressed first before preventing forced child labor.
The biggest challenge to DC will be to make the relevant information affordable, easily accessible in user-friendly forms, and made available on a timely manner to millions of smallholder farmers who are so diverse and scattered over large areas. To enhance the use of digital technologies by smallholder farmers, we need to:
Organize the smallholder farmers into producer groups for each commodity where the digital technologies can be tailor-made for each group and disseminated efficiently.
Establish digital technologies service providers who will serve their clients the required digital information and technologies on a cost-recovery basis. If the information and technologies provided are robust enough to make a significant positive difference in farmers' income and livelihood, they will be willingly pay for the services.
Timely information is critical in focused and location-specific weather forecasting, early warning of impending natural disasters, possible invasion of pests and diseases based on local weather, and demand-supply balancing and price fluctuations in markets.
Digital technologies must help demand-supply management. Assessment of regional demand for various commodities and crop planning to meet the assessed demands will help farmers prevent excessive production that will lead to market gluts and declining prices. This is especially important for the perishable produce like the vegetables and fruits.
Cost-benefit analysis of each technology must be made available to farmers so that they can make an informed choice of technologies they wish to use in their farms.
Food loss and wastes (FLW) are a serious problem worldwide.
The number one is Food Loss (FL) that occurs at every stage of the supply chain from field production to food on the table. Most of the food loss is due to two factors:
Contrllable management factors:
- Right time and proper method sowing and other crop management operations including the harvest and post-harvest processing in the field.
- Inadequate infrastructure for transport, processing, and storage of foods. This is especially important for perishables where more than half of the produce is lost due to inadequate infrastructure and poor handling of the produce.
- Lack of education and technical support in field and the next steps in supply chain management.
- Soil conservation and soil health management is critical for sustainable food production in the field.
- Water resource conservation and management for food production is critical in water-limited areas.
Factors beyond the control of individual players in the supply chain:
- Climate change: Global warming, heat waves, cold waves, drought, flood, land slides, cyclones, etc. These factors must be tackeld by government agencies and multinational organizations.
- Resource depletion and resource degradation: Again we need action at the national, regional, and global level.
- Deforestation for farming and other pruposes: A tenth of the greenhouse gas emissions comes for clearing forests for farming and othe uses, and is responsible for loss of forests and natural biodiversity.
- Desertfication: We need to take action at national, regional and global level to minimize and or to contain the expansion of deserts.
- Farm related pollution of soil and water resources in chemical intensive agriculture. We need to encourage farmers to move away from chemical intensive agriculture and to take up regenerative farming.
The number two is food wastage (W). This is a serious problem which is responsible for avoidable food wastes due to our affluence, lack of appreciation of how hard and resource demaning it is to produce that food, sheer negligence in handling food, and lack of awareness of people going to bed hungry due to poverty. We can see enormous amounts of foods wasted and thrown away in marriages and other social functions, in canteens of affluent colleges and schools, in high class restaurants, and in super matkets. To reduce such food losses we need to do the following:
- Education and awareness creationn of the public on how they throw away foods and what they can do individually and collectively to reduce food losses at home and in restaurants.
- Education of children in schools on food and nutrition and food losses in the supply chain so thay they grow up as respobsible citizens to minimize and or prevent food losses.
- Distribution of excess foods from social functions and restaurants to the hungry and poor through voluntary organizations involved in feeding and supporting the poor.
- Pricing of foods at the right level. In Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India, we have an organization called Shanti Social Services provding 15,000 to 20,000 excellent meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) to people (rich and poor) at one fourth to one fifth of what it will cost in regular restaurants in the city. When they reduced this low price further by half, the amount of food wasted by customers doubled. As a result, they revised the price back to the original level to minimize food wastes. It is a strange behavior of people to waste food when they get food at low price or free.
- Providing incentives at testaurants for not to waste food. Even in buffet system, people do waste a lot foods.
Hope it is helpful. Thank you.
'...and provide access to nutritious foods from smallholder producers must be at the heart of...'
The assumption that nutritious foods come only from smallholder farmers or producers is misleading. Can we change it like this:
'...and provide access to nutritious foods from smallholder as well as large producers must be at the heart of...'
In Tamil Nadu, India, mid-day meal is provided to kids, especially those from poor families, in government schools. In this scheme, one egg is provided to each child every day on school days (Monday to Friday only). It has been found the health of the children taking eggs in mid-day meals has proved significantly. Eggs can rove nutrition of poor kids and their parents, if they can afford them. To keep the access of eggs to the poor, the price of egges must be as low as possible.
To keep the price of eggs low, the feed cost must be either kept low by innovative methods (e.g., converting food wastes into poultry feed) or egg price must be subsidized by local governments to improve the nutrition of the poor. Afterall, the food and nutrition security of people, especially the poor, is a key responsibility of the local and or national governments.
Rice is the most staple food in Asia. The Asian rice sector supports 140 million farmers who cultivate rice on 145 million hectares of harvested area, employs 300 million people in the rice value chain activities, and it is an important staple food for 60% of the Asian population. The mean size of one hectare per farm is too small to support a family of 5-6 members. Further continuous fragmentation of rice farms after each generation poses serious challenges to the viability of rice farming in Asia. Given the mounting pressures to quit rice farming, smallholder farmers continue to persist, especially in South and East Asia, despite fast developing economy and increasing urbanization. There is also a growing agrarian crisis in most developing countries of Asia due to a long neglect of rural areas where most of the smallholders live and farm. They suffer from poverty, malnutrition, dispossession of land assets, and death. We need an urgent and a comprehensive solution to tackle this rural degradation and agrarian crisis.
Precision farming and resource-conserving technologies are now available and new ones are being developed to tackle the technical constraints of rice-based farming systems. Farmers must be empowered and faclitated to better adopt the currently available technologies -- the Best Management Practices for lowland rice farming in Asia.
Climate change remediation by individual farmers: Farmers must make every family farm a climate-smart farm, one which is equipped with the knowledge and technologies essential to manage and mitigate the expected adverse impacts of Climate Change on agriculture. Achieving the triple objectives – adaptation, mitigation and food security – is increasingly being called “climate-smart agriculture.” In climate smart farms, farmers should use stress (flood, drought, pests and diseases) tolerant or resistant rice varieties with appropriate production technologies that reduce such stresses. In addition, farmers need to improve cropland management practices and restore organic matter into the soil. Increasing soil organic matter content in farms not only increases carbon sequestration – a climate mitigation function, but also enhances soil quality, water-holding capacity, nutrient use efficiency, and finally higher crop yields. Alternative wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation method thus has the potential to reduce the global warming impact of irrigated rice farming by one-third, relative to the continuously flooded rice system.
Governemnt actions needed to contain climate change: Important actions, ones which must be taken by national or local governments, include building irrigation-drainage facilities for farmers to cope with changing rainfall patterns. There must be an adequate supply of good quality seeds and other farm inputs at the right price. Governments should assist in the building of rural processing facilities and improve farmers’ access to key markets. Government support for affordable rural education and healthcare and renewable energy infrastructure is imperative.
Finally, favorable policy and institutional support are critical for:
- Identifying climate-related risks and stresses along the entire value chain
- Breeding rice varieties that are more tolerant of climate-related abiotic stress (drought, flood, cold, & high temperature) and also have increased resistance to biotic stressors (insect pests and diseases)
- Deployment of scientific findings and technologies to make farming practices much more efficient at using natural resources of soil, water, and energy, while optimizing necessary external inputs, including fertilizers and pesticides
- Equipping and empowering smallholder farmers to adopt ecologically sound conservation agriculture practices. These will include improving soil health and fertility, a better management of water and energy resources, enhancing biodiversity both on-farm and off-farm, implementing appropriate farm mechanization, and using agroforestry systems whenever feasible
- Enhancing the adoption of smallholder crop-animal production systems as a means to improve cash flow, family nutrition and health, and resilience against abrupt changes in weather and or markets.
Addressing the socio-economic and policy constraints is the most difficult for all. Rural reconstruction is the key to improving rural livelihoods and reducing rural to urban migration. What we need is to develop smart villages rather than smart cities by improving rural living conditions through better and affordable healthcare and education facilities, better rural infrastructure for farm production, processing and storage, as well as good roads and efficient transport to well-functioning markets.
Given the persistence of smallholders in Asia, the governments should enable such farmers to make a decent living out of their farms. We need to explore some smart ways to increase the effective farm size through consolidation of small holdings without farmers losing their title to their lands. Some examples of increasing effective farm size include a kind of “village farming” in China, “small farmers, large farm” in Vietnam, and professionally managed groups of small holders in Indonesia. Farmers in such large virtual farms should have decent access to good quality water resources, favorable land tenure system, favorable weather, appropriate technologies, training and technical support, credit, insurance, and adequate rural infrastructure (health, education, roads, transport, and processing and storage facilities). Such well-supported large virtual farms will adopt precision farming methods to produce adequate quantities of good quality produce for efficient marketing at attractive price.
Over all, we need appropriate policy and institutional support systems in place – ones which will allow farmers to make intensification of rice farming sustainable, profitable, regenerative, and supportive of the land and water resource bases, and of the environment. A comprehensive understanding of scientific, technical, environmental, economical, and societal issues - including re-education of farmers and stabilization of the human population – is a prerequisite to effectively implementing eco-efficient farming practices. There is, however, no assurance that all the necessary prerequisites will be met, yet the food and nutrition security of billions of human beings depends on success in implementing a truly sustainable agricultural ecosystem(s) for growing rice across Asia.
The drivers of rural to urban migration are: poor rural infrastructure (health, education, transport, services & entertainment, etc.); lack of employment opportunities; growing agrarian crisis and indebtedness; climate change and natural disasters. If we allow free flow of able bodied, but not fully trained and equipped people to urban areas, the productivity, economy, environment, housing, and health problems will mount in both rural areas and urban centers. We need a complete paradigm shift in national development:
(1) What we need urgently is to build smart villages rather than smart cities. This will help improve the rural infrastructure which in turn will help distribute the population evenly over the entire country, avoiding over crowded slums and the related problems in cities.
(2) In population-dense countries like India, the economic growth must be decentralized with labor intensive micro-small-medium enterprises and distributed components manufacturing at homes and assembly units at strategic locations will help generate the much needed jobs in the rural and urban sectors and will help reduce the overall poverty in any country. Jobless growth is the curse of the modern economy producing billionaires and a decent national GDP, but increasing rural and urban poverty and disempowering hundreds of millions of people.
(3) Farming and the related processing and value addition industries must be developed fully in rural areas to enhance the rural economy, REDUCE RURAL POVERTY AND TO MITIGATE THE AGRARIAN CRISIS and reduce the rural indebtedness, reduce rural to urban migration, and to build the national economy in a sustainable manner.
Prior to 1990s, we used the one-way rural radios or interactive HAM radios to communicate with farmers. Then came the TVs to spread the technological messages and commodity prices to farmers. Now, the widely spread smart phones are handy to interact with farmers with all sorts of information: up to the minute price updates for commodities of interest in various markets, weather information, advice to farmers on pests and disease incidences and how to control them, showing pest-damage or diseased crops to researchers and getting timely advice on control measures, showing samples of farm produce to dealers or whole salers in various markets and negotiating the price for such commodities, and so on. The introduction of video chatting in WhatsApp will further enhance the face-to-face interaction between different actors in the commodity value chain. Farmers or farmer groups can be effectively linked in the commodity value chain and empowered to deal with produce collectors and dealers, and to procure all the farm inputs at a competitive price. If properly used, all the actors in the value chain will benefit from the appropriate use of the ICTs in agriculture.