India’s first case of COVID-19 was identified on January 30 in Kerala. Even before a single positive case was reported, the state had prepared to tackle this new disease that the world was still learning about. Hence, Kerala was able to ensure that no transmission occurred from the initial cases. The second occurrence of the disease was in early March, before it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. It manifested as a wave with primary and secondary transmissions and a progressive increase being reported in the number of positive cases, till upto a month later.
As of May 8, 2020, Kerala has been battling COVID-19 for 100 days. It has been two months since the wave began, and it can now be safely said that Kerala has flattened the curve. At 96.22%, the state’s recovery rate is the highest in the world, and its death rate is one of the lowest in the world at 0.60%. And now, they are receiving their migrant population from across the country and around the world, from regions far more affected by COVID-19 than Kerala. The state’s Chief Minister has assured that they are all set to take care of returned migrants and that if at all another wave breaks out, they are fully prepared to tackle and overcome it.
Despite being in the thick of a health emergency, Kerala has devised a special scheme to ensure its food security. ‘Subhiksha Keralam’ is being envisaged as a massive people’s campaign to achieve self sufficiency in food production. The programme aims at increasing farmers’ income, attracting youngsters to farming and rehabilitating return migrants, by giving new life to agriculture in the state. An infusion of Rs. 3,860 crore will be provided to the entire agricultural sector in the state, in a period of just one year. Anticipated expenses are to the tune of Rs. 1,449 crore for agriculture, Rs. 2,078 crore for fisheries, Rs. 215 crore for dairy development and Rs. 115 crore for animal husbandry.
Paddy will be cultivated in 5,000 hectares, vegetables and plantain in 7,000 hectares each, tubers in 5,000 hectares, and lentils and small grains in 500 hectares each. A total of 25,000 hectares of fallow land will be additionally cultivated under the leadership of the local self governments, with the guidance of the Department of Agriculture and public cooperation. Kitchen gardens are to be encouraged in all households, for which seeds and saplings will be provided by the government. A chain of cold storage facilities is envisaged to ensure that the produce is preserved after harvesting. The state is also preparing to adequately market their increased production so that its gets a larger market share as well.
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In addition, 10,000 cross breed cattle units are to be set up. In all local self governments, total 8,000 dairy units are to be set up. Out of these, 200 will be mechanised with government support. Farmers are to be assisted in procuring milking machines as well. Value addition of dairy products – like cheese and curd – will be augmented. Domestic poultry farms and piggeries are to be encouraged and assisted. Salt water ponds are to be set up in 3,000 hectares for farming Pearl Spot. Additionally, 5,000 units are to be set up for joint salt water fish farming so that production can be increased by 5,000 tons. Five thousand plastic ponds costing Rs. 1 lakh per unit are also to be set up. Mobile aqua labs will be set up in all 14 districts to ensure quality and disease control. The Government of Kerala is aiming to create 23,000 jobs in fisheries alone.
An initiative such as ‘Subhiksha Keralam’ is of utmost importance because Kerala is a consumer state, especially with regard to its requirement of grain, vegetables and meat. As job losses are being reported across the globe, there is an awareness that a sizeable portion of its migrant population could return back to the state. If that is the case, there will be more mouths to feed, and the state is gearing up to feed everyone. Executive Director of the World Food Programme, UN’s food relief agency, has warned that the world could soon face a famine. The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Director of Emergency and Resilience Division has said that a ‘crisis within a crisis’ could emerge, in which the health crisis will be compounded by a hunger crisis. It seems Kerala has already waken up to this reality, and is ensuring that nobody will go hungry in the state. Even while setting up community kitchens during the lockdown, the CM had stressed that not a single person would go hungry in the state.
Every challenge brings an opportunity along with it and overcoming challenges is closely connected with utilising the opportunities that emerge alongside. In the recent years, Kerala has displayed a flair for emerging out of the rubble and same has been the case this time around too. In India’s battle against COVID-19, the state has emerged as a forerunner. The fact that amid all these challenges, the entire government machinery and society as a whole – including voluntary organisations – have been in perfect sync, makes the state stand out as a safe and secure destination for investments. The Chief Minister himself has said that several investors and innovators are making enquiries about the possibilities in the state.
In this backdrop, the Government of Kerala has decided to grant all major industrial licenses and permits within one week of application, with the condition that entrepreneurs will complete due procedures within a year. Multi-modal Logistics Centres are sought to be established in Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Kannur connecting the airport, port, railways and roads in these cities. Once this plan materialises, the state could emerge as a major player in international trade and commerce. Logistics parks are to be set up in different parts of the state to take advantage of the opportunities in export and import. Azheekal Port is to be equipped to handle large volumes of cargo.
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Value addition of agricultural products are to be encouraged and land will be leased out to industries in the sector, at the Mega Food Park, Palakkad. A Coconut Park with emphasis on value addition is to be established in North Kerala. A star rating system is to be introduced which will grade industries as Gold, Silver and Bronze based on the quantum of investment made and employment generated, so that the government can ascertain benefits accrued and concessions to be made. An Investment Advisory Committee consisting of investors, policy makers and industry leaders, is being set up to assist the Chief Minister in making Kerala a preferred investment destination.
In the wake of COVID-19, the International Labour Organisation has warned that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy – that is nearly half of the global workforce – stand in immediate danger of losing their livelihoods. The IMF’s chief economist has said that the world economy stands to lose US $ 9 trillion between 2020 and 2021. During this ‘Corona Shock’, Kerala has realised that it is imperative to think outside the box. Having an abundance of human resources, which will be further enriched with the influx of returned migrants, the state is relying on its strengths and going all out to woo investments so that jobs and incomes in whatever manner possible, are ensured to its people.
Ahead of the Curve
If Kerala or even India sees a recovery of all those infected by the COVID-19, it can’t be said that they have successfully overcome the danger it poses; because till date, no specialised treatment protocol has been devised for COVID-19 and a vaccine is yet to be invented as well. Hence, the presence of SARS-CoV-2 anywhere in the world is a threat to the entire world as such. Therefore, what is required now is to be prepared with the ‘worst case scenario’ in mind. Based on the information we have till date, those countries or regions that have prepared for the most adverse situations are the ones that have been able to resist COVID-19 better than the rest. Even if the health emergency is mitigated, experts say that the agricultural and economic fallout of this pandemic will linger for a few more years.
What we are seeing right now from Kerala are proactive interventions by a small state government, bearing that ‘worst case scenario’ in mind. Well before going into a lockdown, when Kerala’s Chief Minister announced that the state government was in talks with telecom service providers to increase internet bandwidth, it was hailed as ‘next level planning’ even at the international level. Now, we are witnessing something that is far more revolutionary. Even while battling the pandemic, the state has taken up major initiatives to achieve self sufficiency in agricultural production and to attract investment. Throughout these troubled times, this is something that no other national or provincial government has announced thus far. By striving to ensure food and income security, the state has devised a two-pronged strategy for the future, which takes care of lives and livelihoods. Just like it did with its focussed health care and social interventions, Kerala is staying ahead of the curve, and already thinking of the post COVID-19 scenario.
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The author is an independent researcher. The views are personal.