Labour shortage makes Kerala farmers machine savvy

October 6th, 2008 - 11:53 am ICT by IANS  

Kozhikode, Oct 6 (IANS) With labour shortage becoming the most severe limiting factor in agricultural production in Kerala, machines earlier unknown are entering the farm sector here.A new device which finds more and more takers here is the weed cutter, also called the brush cutter. Those available here are imported.

Farmers are now familiar with exotic names like Husqvarna (Sweden), Tanaka, Hitachi, Honda (Japan) and Oleo Mac (Italian) that were earlier unknown to them.

“Clearing plantations of weeds is a burden. We have to do it at least twice a year, be it rubber or coconut or any other. More than the cost involved, what harries a farmer is the shortage of labour,” Arackal Mathew, who owns a rubber plantation near Kozhikode, told IANS.

The entire farming sector in Kerala is facing labour shortage. Weeding work requires the deployment of a large number of labourers, and therefore this machine is of great help.

Mathew, for instance, bought a weed cutter this year shelling out nearly Rs.34,000. The machine, which runs on petrol and can cover around two acres, needs only one operator.

Bipin Dominic is in a similar situation. He hired operators with weed cutters to clear his coconut garden. “Even at a daily wage of Rs.200 and food, people are not ready to work as farm hands. I hired three people with weed cutters to clear my farm,” said Dominic, adding he had to pay them Rs.150 per hour.

“The machine is quick and efficient. With this machine, an expert operator can do the work of 14 labourers a day,” said Tojo Abraham Kainady, a distributor of weed cutters.

“All weed cutters we sell here are foreign made. It is the Italian machine which is popular,” he added.

Abraham now sells around 40 machines a month. “It is in the last two to three years that people came to know about these machines. In 2005, the sale of the machines shot up six times. And now the demand is growing 300 percent a year,” he said. In view of the increasing demand, he is planning to open more outlets.

Demand for machines is going up as farm hands now have other avenues of employment. Social status is another factor - people prefer working as drivers or painters. Construction sector has attracted a large number of labourers because of high wages - and it is simply not viable for the farming sector to match up.

According to Sanesh Patani, who sells farm equipment in Kalpetta, the headquarters of Wayanad district, his customers come from neighbouring districts of Malappuram and Kozhikode as well.

“I sell 300-500 machines a year. There is good demand. Here the demand is for Japanese machines. The 2.5 horse power Tanaka machine costs Rs.28,000, while the 2.1 Oleo Mac comes at Rs.23,500,” he said.

Even as many farmers are opting for machines, others have curtailed farming operations for want of labourers. There are many instances where farmers have postponed operations like application of manure or harvesting due to shortage of farm hands.

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