What measures can (or rather) must be urgently prioritised?
There are four key steps that state governments, supported by the Centre, need to immediately prioritise.
Redirect farm supply chains to local areas
Farm supply chains can be redirected to local areas by incentivising farmers to sell more and more of their produce in local cooperative style channels. I have previously argued and emphasized on the benefits of creating (and encouraging) Commodity Based Cooperatives (CBCs), that accrue greater benefits by localising supply-chains, lowering transport costs, offering better-more direct prices to farmers themselves, and also changing the crop-cultivation pattern to localized demands that are part of the community’s palate.
A reason why this has been difficult to do is because most farmers generally prefer to choose and invest in cash-crops that are largely in demand within cities and offer greater profitability. But, because cities are less operations at this point, most mangoes, watermelons, bananas are going waste and costs aren’t even breaking even.
Move away from cash crops
Farmers should be incentivised to move away from cash crops (say, for a year or so) and towards food crops. “Food crops” largely consist of grains, pulses, cereals, legumes (including dried beans), seeds and nuts, vegetables, herbs and spices, etc. A doubling up of minimum support price (MSP) for some of these can allow farmers across different states to proximately shift their cultivation-pattern towards food-based crops which can help in addressing the larger food insecurity concern for most of those living in urban slums, or, in rural areas with limited food supplies, and, at the same time, offer better prices to farmers in local areas for food crops.
Set up mobile food vans
To ensure food supplies are frequent, more localised and involve direct procurement of a diverse food basket from farmers within different states, setting up of mobile food vans can be considered. As most weekly markets have now been suspended and may also find it difficult to enforce social distancing norms, mobile vans across each district can allow for food supplies in different societies and keep the choice of food offered to be aligned with the local palate and produce. Vegetable vendors too can coordinate directly with these mobile van operators for selling off their stock and supplies. This will also allow for retail distribution to be more seamlessly linked with largely wholesale supply-lines.