September 13, 2022

New findings reveal that COVID-19 has disrupted the agricultural sector in India, but not farming practices

A study published in PLOS Sustainability and transformation by Lindsay Jaacks of University of Edinburgh, Midlothian, UK, Abhishek Jain of Energy, Environment and Water Council, New Delhi, India and colleagues suggest that if COVID-19 disrupted agricultural labor, supply chains and farmers’ access to credit and markets, the pandemic has not significantly pushed Indian farmers to adopt more sustainable farming practices. Learn more about the study design and the researchers’ findings below or visit PLOS Sustainability and transformation to access the complete article.

Background and study design

India’s agricultural system is largely based on high-input monoculture of staple crops. Almost half of the population is employed in agricultural work, but the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on agricultural practices have not been fully documented. To quantify changes in farmers’ cropping patterns and input use, and the adoption of sustainable farming practices, researchers surveyed 3,637 farmers living in 20 Indian states and union territories by telephone between the December 1, 2020 and January 10, 2021.

Results and future research

Researchers found that 84% of farmers reported no change in the type of crops they grew and 66% reported no change in fertilizer or pesticide use. The study has its limitations, however, including low response rates in several large agricultural states, as well as possible self-reporting bias. Further studies will be needed to better understand medium and long-term changes in cropping practices and the use of chemical inputs.

According to the authors, “Contrary to our hypothesis, we did not find an association between COVID-19 and changes in cropping patterns or interest in trying agroecological practices. However, although most farmers have continued to grow the same crops with no change in input use, many have expressed a desire to learn more about practicing more sustainable agriculture.These findings will inform future directions for resilient agrifood systems.”

Jaacks adds, “Despite disruptions to agrifood supply chains during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, and around 1 in 5 farmers in our national sample reporting symptoms of COVID-19 in the past month , the vast majority of farmers continued with the current cropping patterns. Rice remained the dominant crop in Kharif (monsoon season) in 2020, and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides continued. Government support, peer-to-peer training networks and support for market linkages will be needed to steer farmers towards more nutrient-dense and sustainable cropping patterns.