Agri sector least impacted by 1st lockdown – CSD

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By Paneetha Ameresekere 

This is the second in a series of two articles, based on a recent Census and Statistics Department (CSD) report titled ‘Impact of the first wave of Covid-19 Pandemic on employment in Sri Lanka 2020-Household Survey Report.’

While last week’s article, broadly dealt with the Pandemic’s impact on poverty, this the second and the last of these series of articles mainly deals with the pandemic’s impact on the ‘agriculture self-employed sector.’

Nearly seven out of 10 agricultural self-employed persons said their main agricultural production was either more than before, or the same as before, compared to pre-Covid levels, the Census and Statistics Department (CSD) recently said. 

The study however, discounts, going forward, the seven-month ban on the import of chemical fertiliser imposed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the following year, that is, from April 2021 to November 2021 and its impact on agriculture.  

CSD in a publication dated 7 January 2022, but released on their website two weeks later on 21 January and titled ‘Impact of the first wave of Covid-19 Pandemic on employment in Sri Lanka 2020-Household Survey Report,’ further said, three out of 10 self-employed persons in the agriculture sector however said that their agriculture production was less than before or had completely stopped during the lockdown period vis-à-vis the pandemic’s first wave.

CSD defined the first wave of the pandemic as having spanned a period of two months and 10 days, that is, from 20 March 2020 to 30 May 2020.

It said that approximately 1.4 million or 17.7 per cent of the total employed and where these numbers relate to those self-employed in the agriculture sector, suffered less than the others, employed or self-employed in other fields, due to lower travel restrictions imposed on those engaged in agriculture activities.

Therefore, despite Covid-19’s impact vis-à-vis its first wave on Sri Lanka, 64.3 per cent of “agricultural self-employed persons” were engaged “as usual” in their economic activities, while “a further ” 9.3 per cent of “agricultural self-employed” had to work more hours than usual, the CSD report said.

However, 13.8 per cent of those who were self-employed in the agricultural sector had problems in getting inputs such as seeds, animal feed and capital, while 7.8 per cent found it difficult to hire persons and also to obtain the necessary tools and equipment, CSD added.

Meanwhile, nearly 175,294 (12.7 per cent) of agricultural self-employed persons had to stop or delay their activities during the first lockdown. A further 201,884 (14.6 per cent) of agricultural self-employed persons reported that their products were either not sold in the normal way or were completely damaged or spoilt during the reference period.

In related developments, 856,370 or 62.1 per cent of agricultural self-employed persons reported that their production was the same as before, while another 71,751 or 5.2 per cent reported that their production was more than before. Nonetheless, 422,820 (30.6 per cent) reported that their production was less than before, while 29,114 (2.1 per cent) came to a complete standstill during the lockdown period of the first wave of the pandemic.

Additionally, 46.2 per cent of employees in the agriculture, forestry and fishery sector had worked at least a fewer hours than usual, during the first lockdown period under the first wave of the Covid-19 Pandemic, CSD said.

New Jobs

The report also said 1,120,816 persons of employable age, that is, all those who are 15 years and above, or 6.6 per cent of all those who belong to that genre, either got a new job or started on a new self-employment venture to make ends meet during the first Covid-19 lockdown period that spanned a period of two months and 10 days, from 20 March 2020 to 30 May 2020.

CSD further said, ”Among them, 925,428 persons (5.5 per cent of all those who are 15 years and above) had taken steps to start agricultural self-employment activities.

But on the negative side, CSD said during the first Covid-19 lockdown period, only 24.9 per cent of households reported that they received the same income as before from economic activities, while  a mere three per cent of households received more income than before from their economic activities. Further, 19.2 per cent received no income at all and another 52.8 per cent, a lesser income than before the pandemic during the first lockdown period, it said.

Secondary Employment

Meanwhile, 467,966 or six per cent of the total employed population of 7,799,433, were doing a second job or involved in economic activity as a means of secondary employment, before the first lockdown period.

Among those (467,966), 14.4 per cent were paid employees, while the balance 59 and 26.6 per cent were “agricultural” and “non agricultural” self-employed persons. 

But during the first lockdown period, 85 per cent of “secondary paid” employees reported that either they were not paid at all, or were paid less, than usual, said CSD. Further, 23 per cent of “secondary” agricultural self-employed persons reported that production from secondary agricultural activities were less than before or had completely stopped. 

Vis-à-vis the Covid-19 induced first lockdown period and its impact on the self-employed, CSD said 537,905 persons comprising 29.5 per cent of all those who are employed in the non-agricultural self-employed sector, had problems in delivering products and services to clients, while 310,729 (17 per cent) had problems in getting material inputs and capital.

CSD also said prior to the pandemic, among 41.1 per cent of all self-employed, the highest share among those was the non-agricultural self-employed (23.4 per cent).

Covid Discriminates

The spread of Covid-19 depends on physical contacts, the CSD report said. Consequently, paid employees in the high skills occupation groups such as managers, senior officials and legislators, professionals, technical and associated professionals and clerks and clerical support workers who required less physical contact and who work inside a building or had a chance to work from home, virtually had their jobs intact during the first lockdown period under the first wave of the Covid-19 Pandemic, CSD said. 

But employees in the  medium and low skills levels occupation groups who required more physical contact and who had to work outside “of buildings” had to work less hours than usual or were asked not to report to work at all, CSD said.

Work from Home

Meanwhile, the highest participation of “work from home” category reported during the first lockdown period was those employees who worked in the information and communication sector (56 per cent). The reported participation of “work from home” for financial and insurance activities, education sector and the public administration, defence and compulsory social security sector were 42.9, 41.2 and 22.9 per cent.

50% ‘Absenteeism’

During the first wave of the pandemic, more than 50 per cent of employees working in certain fields had not reported to work, “temporarily,” CSD said. Those categories were the manufacturing sector, construction, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning and water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation activities, wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motor cycles sector and the transportation and storage and education sectors. 

“In addition,” their jobs were temporarily stopped without pay, impacting 17 per cent of employees who worked in the above industry sector, with the exception to this rule being the education sector, CSD said. 

‘Not Paid At All’

Meanwhile, about two out five wage employees were paid as usual or more than usual during the first lockdown period coming under the first wave of the Covid-19 Pandemic, while three out of five wage employees were paid less than usual or were not paid at all, it said.

The CSD report also said that looking at the basic salaries received from their main jobs during the period of the first wave, overall, it revealed that 1.7 million (38.1 per cent) of employees had received pay as usual, 1.6 million (36 per cent) were paid less than usual and 1.1 million (24.5 per cent) were not paid at all.

Medicines

CSD further said only 53.1 per cent of households reported that they were able to access the required medicines and/or the necessary medical attention in the first Covid-19 lockdown period that spanned a period of two months and 10 days and which lasted from 20 March 2020 to 30 May 2020. 

CSD also said 15 per cent further reported of not being able to access the necessary medicines/medical treatment for any type of illnesses during the review period, while the balance 31.9 per cent of households didn’t require any medicines/medical treatment in the period in question. 

When considering the job loss by gender, male employees showed a higher percentage of job losses than females. Additionally, a higher percentage of female employees had participated in the “work from home” model, it said. One fourth of male and female employees had to work less hours than usual, CSD also said.