Pandemic’s first wave had minimal impact on farming pattern and practices in India
Indian farmers experienced disrupted labour, supply chains, and access to credit and markets owing to Covid-19, but did not significantly shift their cropping patterns and cultivation practices, research led by the Global Academy and Council on Energy, Environment and Water shows.
The research examines the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in a nation where nearly half of the population works in agriculture, in a system largely based on input-intensive monocropping of staple crops.
Researchers interviewed more than 3,500 farmers across India following the first wave of coronavirus, in December 2020 and January 2021, to understand how the pandemic had impacted on farmers’ choice of crops planted and their adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.
The team expected that the high cost and limited availability of fertiliser and pesticides, coupled with consumer demand for organic and healthy food and variable availability of agricultural labour, might have led some farmers to consider organic farming, natural farming, and other sustainable agricultural practices.
While most farmers – 84 per cent – reported no change in the types of crops they grew, about one-third reported a change in fertiliser or pesticide use, and many farmers expressed an interest in learning more about sustainable farming practices.
Despite disruptions to agri-food supply chains during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, and about one in five farmers in our national sample reporting Covid-19 symptoms in the past month, the vast majority of farmers continued with prevailing cropping patterns.
Rice remained the dominant crop in Kharif [the monsoon growing season] of 2020, and the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides continued. Government support, peer-to-peer training networks, and market linkage support will be required to shift farmers to more nutrient-dense crops and sustainable farming practices.
It is highly encouraging to note that more than half of the surveyed farmers reported following some agroecological practices to reduces the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Moreover, more than 60% of the farmers have expressed interest in learning more about sustainable farming practices. Government incentives and inspiration from peer farmers are reported as the biggest drivers for interest in agroecology.
The study, supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Scottish Government, and Medical Research Council/UK Research and Innovation, was published in PLOS Sustainability and Transformation. It was carried out in collaboration with partners in India and Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.