Nagaland: Livelihood of daily wage earners robbed amid COVID-19 lockdown

Relief being provided to the needy by Entrepreneurs Associates.
Relief being provided to the needy by Entrepreneurs Associates.
Relief being provided to the needy by Entrepreneurs Associates.

Vishü Rita Krocha
Kohima | July 20 

Even as the COVID-19 crisis deepens in the state, thousands of daily wage earners continue in their struggle to make ends meet.

An estimated number of over 20,000 people in the daily wage and unorganized sector have been robbed of their livelihoods under the impact of the lockdown. Although a study has not been conducted in this regard, Neichute Doulo, CEO of Entrepreneurs Associates (EA) revealed that with the construction industry being affected and many people losing their jobs especially those in petty trades, small retail outlets, restaurants and hotels, the number could range between 20,000 to 30,000 people.

In an exclusive interview with The Morung Express, he said out of the hoteliers EA interviewed in four districts including Kohima, Dimapur, Phek and Mokokchung during this period, 75% of their staff have been laid off. Further citing the instance of street vendors, he said, “It is very sad to know they don’t have the capital to start business again because most of them have entirely exhausted their savings during the lockdown.”

This is the same case with petty traders and retailers, who have difficulty paying their house rents among other things, he said. He also highlighted that 90% of taxi drivers in Dimapur, Kohima, Mokokchung, Wokha and Phek do not own cars but are simply drivers. Towards this end, he asserted that during this lockdown, street vending, petty trades, taxi drivers, and restaurants are very hard hit. This group of people, he noted, were really affected and suffered a lot but is not visible to the society.

In Nagaland, he went on to state that because of high incidence of government employment, about 1.4 lakh of those employed under the state establishments are continuing to get their salary whether they go to office or not. Whereas many in the private sectors including schools and colleges and especially small retail outlets, have not been receiving their salaries.

“This didn’t get the attention of the government or the society because the bulk of the government employees are not affected and nobody felt the pinch,” Doulo opined. While we have seen the number of Nagas returning from other cities and understand their plight, another problem, he said, was that “nobody is talking about Nagas here in Nagaland whose jobs were laid off.”


Nagaland can become not just self-sufficient but ‘surplus economy’
While the lockdown has posed extraordinary challenges for the daily wage earners and unorganized sector, there is still huge potential to revive the state’s economy through farming. Entrepreneurs Associates observed this while providing relief material to farmers, street vendors, stranded students, the elderly, and people with disabilities during lockdown. The EA also extensively helped farmers in selling their produce as their access to cash income was hampered.

“Our farmers are willing to produce provided there is assured market,” Neichute Doulo put across. “For people like us, who are in the forefront of developing entrepreneurship, if we can inspire entrepreneurs to take up these agri businesses and create an assured the market, our farmers can produce more than what they are producing now,” he added.

All the vegetables that EA helped sell these last couple of months were commonly thought to be coming from Assam and other places, which Doulo affirmed is not true. One good thing that lockdown has taught us, he said is, “Nagas tend to look down on ourselves. I have heard many times from policy makers that we can’t survive because we can’t produce, but that is not true.”

Nagaland, he maintained, is doing well and it can do better to become not just a self-sufficient but also a surplus economy. But for this, he expressed the need to have a good system of aggregating the agriculture system while pointing out that, “we don’t have ware housing, cold storage, transportation facilities—these are available only in paper.” If we can put these very basic infrastructures which are not very expensive or difficult to put in place, then our agricultural produce can be increased, he emphasized.


COVID-19 crisis can unleash the entrepreneurial spirit 
As a COVID-19 response, Entrepreneurs Associates is in the process of mobilizing at least 1000 farmers to cultivate vegetables like tomatoes and onions in Kohima and Tuensang as a means for them to earn extra income. Next year, Neichute Doulo informed that the target is to enable 5000 farmers to cultivate Raja Chili while also looking at increasing cucumber production.

The pioneer organisation for entrepreneurship is further raising few interest loans for farmers and already committed about Rs 50 lakh for distribution without interest. This could impact at least 500-600 farmers. Stating that they want to scale this up in Nagaland, Doulo impressed upon that Nagas who have surplus money should help farmers by giving them loan without interest wherein they can pay back after 8-12 months. “This could be our social investment for our own Nagas,” he stated while pointing out that it will go straight to individual farmers’ accounts and not EA’s.

Likewise, he said, we should reach out to petty traders where people who have money can loan them to rebuild their lives and get back their capital in about a year. “We need to encourage and support our farmers, our state and create a more loving and caring society. The COVID-19 lockdown must bring out the humane side of us, where we care, build and nurture each other and our economy. I hope the COVID-19 crisis unleashes the entrepreneurial spirit in the Nagas,” he put across.