Punjab farmers suffer from ‘labour pains’ (Feature)

July 2nd, 2008 - 11:54 am ICT by IANS  

By Jaideep Sarin
Hoshiarpur/Ludhiana (Punjab), July 2 (IANS) Young city-bred agriculturist Kultar Singh of Hoshiarpur was under severe stress due to non-availability of labour to harvest his golden wheat crop. Had it not been for Kultar’s last-minute decision to go in for a ‘walking tractor’ - a mechanised harvester costing Rs.125,000 - his crop would not have been reaped on time.

Kultar’s story of not getting adequate labour for agriculture is no different from that of hundreds of other farmers in Punjab.

“I was able to invest in the reaper but not all farmers can do that. They are dependent on labour for harvesting and other agriculture activities. This year it was particularly bad,” Kultar told IANS at his farm on the outskirts of Hoshiarpur town, 145 km from Chandigarh.

Punjab farmers, who got a bumper wheat crop this year, with the procurement target crossing the 10-million-tonne mark, are going through ‘labour pains’ due to the non-availability of migrant labour.

Farm hands, in particular from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, are not coming to Punjab in large numbers any more even though the state contributes the maximum food grains - particularly wheat and paddy - to the country’s buffer stock.

The labour problem has been so acute that farmers around Ludhiana and nearby districts have been forced to put up at the Ludhiana railway station itself during April and May to get hold of people.

“I camped near the railway station waiting for the trains from Bihar and Jharkhand to arrive and find labour. Things are going from bad to worse,” said farmer Baljit Singh from a village near Jagraon town.

Most of the migrant labourers who used to come earlier to work in the farm sector are getting better jobs in industries and the construction sector.

“Many of the migrants are not even coming to Punjab now. They prefer to go to Gujarat and Goa where construction and infrastructure development gives them more money. The only alternative that farmers now have is to go for mechanised farming,” Kultar pointed out.

Of course, there are those who are rejoicing at the new labour problem. One of them is Pradeep Gupta, manufacturer of the Kranti brand of power tillers or reapers.

“Due to the labour shortage, farmers are opting for our reapers or power tillers. These machines can harvest better and quicker than human hands. Our sales have increased in the last two to three years. Though Punjab does not give any subsidy, some other states even give subsidy on the purchase of reapers,” Gupta told IANS.

The reaper is a mini tractor-like machine - also known as a ‘walking tractor’ - which can be operated by one person for harvesting and other agricultural activities. The machine is not huge like a combined harvester and also costs much less.

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