Monitoring the impact of COVID-19 in India

With over 40 percent of the country’s workforce employed in agriculture, India’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has lasting implications for food supply chains.

May 27, 2020

The productivity and sustainability of our agriculture and food systems are constantly threatened by pandemic outbreaks of disease and pests. The Harvest 2050 blog is providing a weekly-updated list of resources and articles that explore the threats to agricultural productivity, food security, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability from diseases and pests that sicken and kill people, livestock, and crops.

The 2020 GAP Report will also explore these themes, as well as describing technologies, practices, and policies that foster productivity growth, while also mitigating the risks of pandemic disease and threats. 

We will keep this list current, so follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn, where we’ll share as we update this blog. Past resource lists are available here, and linked at the bottom of each blog.

India’s COVID-19 lockdown impacts a vast agricultural sector

With nearly 20 percent of the world’s population, India is unsurprisingly a major food producer. The South Asian country feeds both their own population and the world’s, as the seventh-largest exporter of agricultural products.

Like every other country, India is trying to navigate the COVID-19 crisis without severely disrupting food supply chains. 

The country remains under a strict lockdown that began March 25 with designated containment zones of varying degrees. In areas where COVID-19 has spread most, no one is allowed in or out.

However, India’s government has since declared farming an essential service, leaving farmers and producers exempt from the lockdown — critical for a country in which 43.9 percent of the workforce is employed in agriculture.

While this means farmers and producers may continue to work, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to overcome logistical challenges due to a lack of transport or that they are able to bring their produce to a market full of consumers. Plus, with public transportation suspended, farmers don’t have the 40-50 million seasonal migrant workers they depend on during this critical harvest time frame.  Adding additional complexity to the situation, India is experiencing a reverse migration, as those urban workers who can travel are leaving cities for rural communities. 

How India responds to and recovers from the COVID-19 crisis is critical to the world’s future ability to produce enough food to feed 10 billion people by 2050.

India has seen strong Total Factor Productivity (TFP) growth this century.  TFP is now the largest contributor to agricultural output growth in the country.


A chart of sources of growth in agricultural output in India from 1961-2016.
Source: 2019 Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP Report).


While TFP growth is encouraging, agricultural output has been slowing. Though India remains second worldwide in farm output, average crop yields are 50 to 70 percent lower than yields of top global producers.  

According to the USDA, India’s rice yields are one-third of China’s and about half of those in Vietnam and Indonesia. While India is the largest producer and consumer of fresh dairy products in the world, productivity of their dairy cattle and buffalo is far below the U.S. and other major producing regions.



In the aftermath of COVID-19, India will need to focus on efforts to increase the productivity and sustainability of their agricultural sector, in order to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and help feed the growing populations of India and the world.

To learn more about the challenges and opportunities for Indian agricultural productivity and sustainability, read the recent blog by Tom Thompson, Associate Dean and Director of Global Programs for Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


A photo of a blue barrier blocking off a street with text that reads "COVID-19 Containment Zone" written on it.
A COVID-19 containment zone barrier in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, India. Credit: Timbaaa/Wikimedia Commons.


Communities, connection, and Covid-19 in India (Tanager; May 2020)

  • Tanager’s extension work in India quickly pivoted to assist smallholder farmers in the response to COVID-19.

Agriculture growth may see moderate deceleration in medium to long term due to COVID-19: NITI member (Deccan Herald; May 18, 2020)

  • According to an expert, consumers may see spikes in food prices while producers see price crashes following India’s response to the pandemic.

Reinventing Agriculture in the Time of COVID-19 (The Wire; April 25, 2020)

  • This thorough essay explores potential pitfalls and opportunities that the response to COVID-19 has for India’s agricultural sector, particularly for rural populations whose migrants are unable to work in urban areas due to lockdowns.

COVID-19: India’s Harvests also Locked Down (Inter Press Service; April 24 2020)

  • India’s farmers are struggling with the lockdowns imposed to deter the spread of COVID-19, and are pressing the government to do more to help.

Containing COVID-19 impacts on Indian agriculture (Prevention Web; April 16, 2020)

  • This article explores how policy can be most effective to ensure India’s food systems come out of the pandemic strengthened.

Addressing COVID-19 impacts on agriculture, food security, and livelihoods in India (International Food Policy Research Institute; April 8, 2020)

  • Measures taken in response to the pandemic can shock the economy, disproportionately affecting India’s vulnerable populations like farmers and migrants. In this article, IFPRI explores the likely impacts on agriculture, supply chains, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods.



Past Resource Lists

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