A study conducted to know the effect of the COVID-19 induced lockdown on rural households has revealed that indebtedness among rural poor is rising and nearly 40% of the respondents have already had to borrow from their kin or professional money lenders to meet subsistence costs.
While the months of peak food insecurity in most rain-fed regions are July and August, the study found that people are already experiencing food insecurity. More than half of the households surveyed have begun consuming fewer items and eating fewer meals every day than similar periods in normal times.
A majority of households have very limited stocks of food grown by them in the last Kharif or Rabi cropping season and will be solely dependent on the food supply through the PDS (public distribution system).
Around one-third of the respondents have reported that Kharif stock would only last till May end while more than one-third do not have seeds for the upcoming Kharif season.
The study notes that preparedness for Kharif 2020 is low and there is need for public support in terms of seed provision and credit.
The study titled â€śCOVID-19 induced Lockdown â€“ How is the Hinterland Coping?â€ť was a collaborative effort by PRADAN, Action for Social Advancement, BAIF, Transform Rural India Foundation, Grameen Sahara, SAATHI-UP and The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India), along with research support of VikasAnvesh Foundation and Sambodhi.
Early signs of acute distress are visible: All discretionary expenses on marriages or similar ceremonies are being cut down drastically. Their children are likely to be withdrawn from schools in 30% of the households, the study states.
Households have begun depleting productive assets with households selling even bullocks or milch animals.
With only a sixth of the households reporting return of their migrant members, the workload on women has significantly increased for fetching water and fuelwood and the drudgery shows no sign of abating.
Usually, migrant family members return just prior to Kharif sowing but come with cash savings made by them in the cities. This time, however, they will return exhausted and with empty pockets and this situation can only become worse with their arrival in the villages, the study notes.
As many as 40% of households reported having no seeds nor any access to farm credit for initiating Kharif operations.
Lockdown and rumours surrounding COVID-19 have adversely affected income from key livelihood activities. Out of 56% households in poultry, more than 40% reported reduction in sales.
The survey involved 5,162 households across 12 states and 47 districts. The data collection took place between April 27 and May 2.