Livelihoods during and post curfew

What about the Small Planters and Sellers?

By TP Saran

After the unexpected announcement by the Prime Minister during a press conference on Monday March 23 of the couvre-feu sanitaire, there then came the realization by the unprepared population that perhaps there hadn’t been any prior thought-through strategy by the authorities about the fallouts of this drastic measure. That may explain why, on a daily basis since then, some new arrangement is being made public.

“On Tuesday March 24, the police were seen to be chasing small planters who had gone to their fields. This sends a very wrong signal, and the police have clearly not been briefed – and that’s not the only instance. We must not complicate the crisis further. The people will need vegetables and fruits. Much if not most of it is grown by small planters and farmers. The fundamental issue is: how will people get access to vegetables and fruits while respecting the basic sanitary norm imposed, namely social distancing?”


The latest is the memo issued on behalf of the PMO headlined ‘MEMO on Control access to shops with Social Distancing during opening of supermarkets and superettes post curfew COVID 19’.

The message contained is that restrictions on movements are likely to continue even post curfew.

The MEMO addresses the problem of supply of food items to the people – but incompletely. Just like the packages distributed to the 35,000 families on the social register. But what about the rest of the population of about 1.3 million? Does this afterthought of a MEMO apply to all of them? It is a fact that during the week starting on March 16, people had already started panic buying, as evidenced by the crowds and queues at the supermarkets.

But, as the editorial in the last issue (March 27) of this paper pointed out, ‘there is another aspect of equally critical concern: that the provision of food, especially vegetables, is also a matter of livelihood for hundreds of small to medium scale vendors who meet the daily needs of those categories of people who do not have the means to do bulk buying at supermarkets. As no one knows how long this crisis will last and the restrictions maintained, some serious thinking will have to be done involving the vegetable growers’ representatives, and work out how to make sure that our citizens have access to vegetables and fruits, as well as ensuring the livelihoods of those engaged in this sector’.

“There is much sophisticated talk about supply chains and such things meant for drawing rooms. The reality is that both the crisis and the post crisis look set to be prolonged, and both imports and exports are going to be curtailed: all countries will give priority to their own needs. Specifically, we will have no choice but to rely on our own local supplies, and increasingly this will mean vegetables and fruits…”


The MEMO doesn’t address this concern.

The reality is that the supermarkets buy from bulk suppliers, and they have their favourite ones: the small planters are excluded. And licences to the bulk suppliers is on the basis of personal and political contacts.

There is much sophisticated talk about supply chains and such things meant for drawing rooms. The reality is that both the crisis and the post crisis look set to be prolonged, and both imports and exports are going to be curtailed: all countries will give priority to their own needs. Specifically, we will have no choice but to rely on our own local supplies, and increasingly this will mean vegetables and fruits.

On Tuesday March 24, the police were seen to be chasing small planters who had gone to their fields. This sends a very wrong signal, and the police have clearly not been briefed – and that’s not the only instance.

We must not complicate the crisis further.

The people will need vegetables and fruits. Much if not most of it is grown by small planters and farmers. The fundamental issue is: how will people get access to vegetables and fruits while respecting the basic sanitary norm imposed, namely social distancing?

And here the principle is to limit physical contact between people, by not clustering, self-protecting, and keeping a safe distance (minimum: one metre).

On the other hand, it is not known when la foire and bazaar will be allowed to operate.

So there is a need to reconcile the supply of vegetables and fruits to the people while abiding by sanitary rules about Covid-19.

Is there a solution? Yes, and it is not rocket science.

  1. It must start with daily messaging about ‘contact at a safe distance’ for as long as is required, and use of masks and gloves.
  2. The sellers (marchands) have their Business Registration RN and a mode of transport.
  3. The BRN should be authorized for use as an authorisation for them to source produce from their usual planters/growers.
  4. Similarly, with the BRN they then go about in their locality and sell to families, with only one member of the family coming out to collect and pay – and again, both parties keeping the same distance and wearing masks and gloves.

In this manner: planters/growers will continue to produce vegetables and fruits, and supply sellers who will then distribute them to families who need them.

Through the production, supply and distribution of vegetables and fruits, an essential need of the people will be met and livelihoods will be preserved, at the same time maintaining a most important – because it is about survival – segment of economic activity.

Another advantage: this method of sourcing and distribution will also meet another important sanitary requirement: avoiding crowds.

It may eventually have to be considered for the other non-perishable food items available at the large and small (round-the-corner) outlets, as well as for bread.

The above proposal is of course amenable to fine tuning, but its implementation has become a matter of national emergency.

If Government does not regulate the flow for the planters, we will be soon facing blackmarket and astronomical pricing for vegetables sold through in black market, and it seems this may be happening already.

Better be safe than sorry – before there is a social calamity.


* Published in print edition on 30 March 2020

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