Workers ran away from farm sector before pandemic began; rushed back amid lockdown

Workers ran away from farm sector before pandemic began; rushed back amid lockdown

agriculture, agri, farm sector, manufacturing, services,The farm sector had lost traction in terms of the workforce before the lockdown was imposed.

The agriculture sector single-handedly held the baton of India’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic; however, it had lost traction in terms of the workforce before the lockdown was imposed. The agriculture sector employed 5.3 per cent of total urban workers during January-March 2019, which fell to 5.1 per cent in a year, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI). The flight of workers from the farm sector was towards the services sector. In the service sector, the percentage of workers increased from 61 per cent to 62.4 per cent in the same interval during January-March 2020. 

A significant percentage of workers also moved from the manufacturing sector towards the service sector. Later, after the lockdown was imposed, the manufacturing sector came to a near-standstill and the migrant workers returned to their homelands. However, it was the agriculture sector, which was losing shine before the lockdown, that absorbed a large number of workers and gave them a meal in the tough times. 

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A large number of workers were dropped out of the labour market after the lockdown. The NSO’s PLFS survey shows that the labour participation rate was 56.7 per cent during January and March 2020. But, it fell to 40.21 per cent in May-August 2020, with the urban jobs suffering more than their rural counterpart. The labour participation rate was 37.7 per cent in urban areas during the same interval, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). 

Most of the workers who exited the labour market and managed to earn again were either absorbed by the farm sector, got MGNREGA jobs, or became a part of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rozgaar Yojana. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate shot up beyond 9 per cent in the month of December 2020. The main problem that led to the rise in unemployment in December is believed to be the failure of the farm sector to absorb labour. Farming is the last resort of many who are rendered jobless. However, in the month of December, it shed jobs, instead of absorbing. 

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