Samba paddy crop in over 50,000 acres in Cuddalore district has not been harvested yet owing to acute shortage of labourers and non-availability of harvest machines.
Crops that are otherwise ready for harvest well before Pongal festival are now withering in fields and if action is not taken on a war-footing, it would inflict heavy losses, say farmers. Paddy ought to be harvested within 15 days of maturity and if left exposed to the elements in the farms hulling would become difficult as the grains would fall off the stalks, resulting in much lower yield.
Vice-president of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Association K.V. Kannan told The Hindu that it was impossible to find labourers to harvest ripe paddy crop. Harvesting ought to be done within the next 10 days and it would require either 10,000 labourers or 700 harvest machines.
But, it was a tall order to mobilise such a massive workforce and harvest machines in such as short a period. Mr Kannan pointed out that paddy crops on three lakh acres in the tail end delta region, including Chidambaram, Kattumannarkoil and Bhuvanagiri, attained maturity at the same time because of direct sowing and transplantation practices.
In such a situation there was hardly any scope for spacing out the harvest. Mr Kannan noted that in earlier days, village artisans, including carpenters and ironsmiths, would join farm hands in harvesting paddy. Then they were paid in kind at the rate of seven ‘marakkal’ (a measure) for every man and five ‘marakkal’ for every woman for a day’s work.
Those days, paddy was precious for labourers who used to store grain at their house with utmost care. But, in the past 10 years, when distribution of either subsidised or free rice through Public Distribution System had come into vogue, paddy seemed to have lost its value.
President of Kollidam-Keelanai Paasanana Vivasayigal Sangam P.Vinayagamoorthy, who vouched for such a disturbing trend, said that labourers were being attracted to Tirupur, Chennai and other urban areas for taking up jobs other than agriculture or allied activities. Therefore, labour shortage had begun to put tremendous pressure on farmers and forced them to find recourse to harvest machines. But, on this score too, there was an unbridgeable demand-supply gap.
Mr Vinayagamoorthy said that there were two types of harvest machines - track-chain type that could function with ease even in wet fields, and wheel type that could be comfortable only in dry farms. Agricultural Engineering Department in Cuddalore could boast of having only two such machines (one in each category) but even these too were either sent elsewhere or under disrepair.
Mr Kannan noted that as against the requirement of 700 harvest machines, only about 300 (both government and private-owned machines put together) were available in the district. Therefore, Mr. Kannan and Mr. Vinayagamoorthy said that since paddy harvest did not brook any delay, authorities should mobilise as many harvest machines as possible to help the farmers.