The market in Lasangaon, Asia’s biggest onion market in the western Indian state of Maharashtra where one-third of India’s onion production comes from, stumbled following around a week after India imposed a strict 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Though the unprecedented lockdown workers to go back to their far-flung villages all over the country, farmers were still able to go to their field, as the government made it clear that agriculture was indispensable for the country to run.
Some workers were authorised to stay back and keep the Lasangaon market running. However, a news report stating that a person has been tested positive for Covid-19 in the neighbourhood has spread panic among the people.
Panic spread among the people & consequences
The 450 tonnes of onions were waiting to be delivered throughout the country as well as to the port in Mumbai for export was left with poor attendance, as related by BBC.
“First the trucks stopped coming. Then some labourers fled. Then came the news about the virus patient. The rest of the workers fled,” Manoj Jain, an onion trader, told me. “Maintaining social distance in a crowded auction market was becoming very difficult too.”
“There’s so much stigma and misinformation here about the virus that villagers have stopped going out completely. When I told one of my workers that she should be washing her hands regularly, she asked me whether she could drink cow urine as a remedy instead. We can’t even farm while maintaining social distance in the field.”
India is one of the world’s largest producers of crops such as rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, vegetables and milk, with more than half of its workforce engaged in agriculture. Experts are worried that stopping farm activity will affect food security.
To make it worse, India’s peak farm activity occurs from the month of April to June. Mekhala Krishnamurthy, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Ashoka University said: “The lockdown has hit both these seasons”.