Sunday, January 14, 2018

The reality of subsistence farming in 2018 Polonnaruwa – Paddy Cultivation

I have let my paddy fields this year to a fellow farmer to cultivate, not asking for any payment in return, as I know the true situation of the struggle he will have of this venture paying off.

I will try and explain what I mean, with reference to one of my neighboring farming friends, who is currently busy, cultivating his land and some others he has got for the “poronduwa” meaning promise to pay certain amount of paddy in return for the land to cultivate.

I gave his three children all the CR books, (exercise books for this year’s school costing over Rs5,000) and I also received his book list so I know the rest of the list would be another Rs10,000 and that is on top of the free Text Books provided by the State. This is truly a big expense for a farmer to provide each of his school going kids Rs5K of stuff to begin their new school year in January.

Due to lack of water in the Minneriya Tank, and the long wait for water from the Moragahakanda Scheme that was opened by the President on January 8th, water was only given to the Minneriya Scheme Farmers on December 25th and only now are they sowing their seeds, a full three weeks later, and from tomorrow the water will be given on allotted days, as per normal. While the tank is not even half full, with limited rains, the promise of a certain amount of Moragahakanda water is some respite, as without it they may not have been able to farm all their land this season.

I was asking him on the economics of cultivation and reason why many farmers are giving up paddy cultivation, due to risk and being uneconomical. So here are some of the costs that small farmers have to incur to cultivate their lands and one of the reasons I was not willing to incur these costs to cultivate mine too.

The hire of a large tractor to plough a field of an acre now costs Rs10,000. The hire of a daily laborer costs Rs1,500. In that day, they really start only at 8.30am and finish before 5pm, and take an hour for lunch and two tea breaks, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, which effectively means working only for 6 hours at most for this pay, Rs250 an hour. Unless one is using one’s own family for this task and has their own tractor it is a lose lose proposition to cultivate hoping for 1,500kg of paddy at harvest which at the higher price today of Rs50/kg or Rs75,000 as Revenue for cultivating an acre is simply not a paying proposition.

Contrast this with farmers in the Eastern Province who pool their lands and give it to one team for cultivation. This team owns all the implements for Paddy Cultivation, including large tractors, ploughs, combined harvesters, skilled drivers and more over have agreed with large mills to supply them with the paddy too, so covering all bases and be able to buy the inputs in bulk to save money and also have the means to combat emergencies of water supply if needed. It must also be remembered that this enables them to agree terms with the owners of the land and cultivate a massive field of even 200 acres at once, and agree with all the owners how they are to be paid for the rent of their land.

In this way their cost of production is less than 50% of the subsistence farmer, and so are able to make a substantial profit to share amongst the team involved in an agreed proportion, after paying off the costs of production. In some instances some of these professional teams, none of whom may NOT even own any land can earn Rs500K to Rs1M as their share for 3 to 4 months of work!

Frankly this is the way to go, and no wonder many small farmers are leaving their land uncultivated and going to places like Colombo to work as day labor and provide for their families, making the time honored tradition of giving land to the landless to farmers a thing of the past, but the politicians who are still in the habit of doling out land for political gain, and permanent enslavement of farmers are quite unfit to hold these posts that are counterproductive.

It is no surprise then that this farmer friend, who is living hand to mouth, is not encouraging his only son to follow in his footsteps and will continue this until he is fit enough but wonders what the future holds for him, as I told him about pooling their knowledge and resources to farm large tracts to make it economical. However though he agrees and would like to join a team to do so, there is no likelihood of people willing to part with their land on these terms en mass, so a whole large field is given to one team. It is not the practice in the area to do this yet, as the idea is not freely accepted as some old fashioned ideas persist, where each man must at least have his own rice to feed his family, something that will have to be given up in this large scale system.

These are matters to be taken up by those in control of other people’s lives, public administrators and politicians, to enable subsistence farmers to lead a better quality of life, and not be permanently forced to slave themselves to a system that is broken and cannot be fixed anymore. While old habits die hard, it is for an enlightened administration to offer novel solutions, both to achieve productivity, and a good return on the use of land, and value the cost of time!

In an era where everyone has alternative means of income, it simply the responsibility of those in power, to enable those displaced to take on more remunerative work and provide the facilities to do so, knowledge and access to practical issues such as accommodation to take up new employment in distant places.


Anonymous said...

First stop giving land to landless people. They don't know how to farm. Giving land does not make a farmer. First step

Anonymous said...

Best farmers in the world DON"T own their land, they just rent it and pay the landowners an economical rent. This is the future of farming. Our laws don't assure the land owner his rights over his land, so he does not want to rent it or till it.

No wonder Sri Lanka has arable land that is not utilized, amounting to at least 500,000 hectares today, while we have agricultural graduates wasting their time learning to farm and with no intention of farming either. 10,000 of them at the last count.