“The only germs I have ever worried about were the ones that blighted my crop,” says Johnson in Edathua. The past week—and the peculiar dynamics of the lockdown—has then been a “learning experience”, he notes, for the roughly 50,000 farmers of Kuttanad, Alleppey, where the ‘puncha’ (rabi) harvest is underway. Unseasonal rain is a major concern at this time of the year. This season though, it is “corona” that has cast a dark cloud on Kerala’s ‘rice bowl’.
A shortage of combine harvesters and their operators—both of which mainly come from Tamil Nadu—threatened to undercut procurement even as the state guaranteed 15 kg rice for each of its 87.14 lakh ration card holders (35 kg for BPL holders). With further disbursement of free rations beginning April 1, the state leadership has enacted special health protocols for load workers, truck drivers and harvester operators. According to P.A. Thomas, a paddy farmer from Muttar, this includes close police observation and measures to ensure hygiene besides daily phone calls from the panchayat and the influential farmers’ collectives.