Economic menace in the hill areas of Manipur, from COVID-19 to livestock epidemic

COVID-19 IS ONE of the phenomena that threatened the entire human existence in the 21st century. Despite the efforts to wade through the pandemic, many lives were lost. In Manipur too, the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 were equally colossal. The lockdown that ensued spared none.

Of all, one of the worst hit groups of people by the pandemic would be the citizens in the rural areas of Manipur. In the midst of the pandemic, these folks were pushed one step closer to the edge relatively. The outbreak of African swine fever claimed thousands of their livestock, and it still lingers. Even before one has drawn a full breath from the pandemic, this mysterious epidemic, as also known among the folks, has shaken their livelihood system again. Livelihood refers to income generation activities such as agriculture, allied activities, and business establishments that support people’s well-being and standard of living.

In India, the COVID-19 pandemic hugely affected the livestock industry. This adversely impacted the economic contribution to the household economy, let alone the national economy. In India, livestock economy plays a vital role and provides two-thirds of the livelihood in rural communities. It is, thus, pertinent to visualize the livelihood economy in the rural area vis-à-vis their contributions.

Due to the livestock epidemic, these folks in the Hill Areas of Manipur, who engage in agriculture and other allied activities, have lost thousands of livestock. A buffalo cost as much as a lakh, a pig estimated at forty thousand, and poultry at one thousand or above in Indian rupees. Livestock rearing also forms a significant part of their occupation, and income accrued therefrom is a principal source of their economic stability. These folks in the rural heavily rely on agriculture and livestock in all spheres of the family’s livelihood. The education of children is also supported through the income generated from livestock.

For these rural folks, reaching out to the concerned department is a daunting task. Unawareness of the technicalities involved, the distance from the district headquarters, and lack of proper transportation and communication have not helped their cases either. These folks have reported to the concerned department through various channels. Still, the authorities have not yet responded with any assistance. The village elders said, ‘we are told to report if any symptoms are seen of African swine flu, but we have no idea where to report and how to reach them. And now most of us are not rearing livestock due to various types of disease’.

Speaking of the adverse state of affairs at hand, the folks expressed rather sadly, “We have tried our best to save the livestock from the epidemic outbreak after the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are not able to save the lives of livestock”. Simultaneously, they insisted that “many traditional ways of treatment to save livestock have not been helpful at this time as this mysterious endemic is a new thing. So, hopefully, the intervention of the state through the concerned department on time is needed.”

One of the elders also reiterated, “swine flu symptoms during the initial stage include avoiding consuming their foods until they become frail and die. We used to feed them food with a spoon and tried our best to save them because dying is costly. Once it dies, we would lose huge income for the family. The only good source of income generation is pigs rearing. But now we are hopeless”.

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Another elder also said, “nowadays we cannot rear any domestic animals and keep livestock; when we were young, there was no such epidemic. So, we could rear lots of domestic animals, and we sustained with local livestock, and our livelihood systems were in place’” He elaborated on the grievances that development has brought about in contemporary times without actual development. Conversely, in this particular context, the epidemic has brought down the prices of livestock, the ones that have been fortunately saved. No one is willing to purchase nor exchange it.

The prevailing situation has entangled the rural folks in a vicious circle. So, the pertinent questions arise: should the rural folks deal with such a case of this magnitude, or does the concerned department need to intervene? And if the village’s economy is down, will the impact not reach the state? Who is responsible for taking up the prevention of such outbreaks? Does the village economy not support the state’s economic growth? Is it not mandatory on the part of the concerned authorities to carry out awareness programmes from village to village to save the state’s economy? The above few conditions have to be asked, and the way forward has to be visualized for the common welfare. Thus, by coordinating with one another, I firmly believe we will resolve the prevailing situation and regain the health of our economy after the COVID-19 pandemic and African Swine fever epidemic outbreaks.

SK Rinchanpam is an M.Phil. Scholar at TISS, Mumbai. The author may be reached at rinchanpamsk@gmail.com

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