Labour shortage in lockdown hits harvesting in Karnataka


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The sudden nationwide 21-day lockdown since March 25 to contain coronavirus spread has stalled harvesting in Karnataka due to labour shortage and a host of other problems.

A.N. Subramani, 36, a farmer in Kodagu's Hudoor village, who grows paddy, pepper, coffee, is one of the thousands of ryots grappling with the crisis due to the prolonged lockdown.

"Estate work has halted due to the sudden lockdown. Harvesting the crop is delayed for want of labour, as there is no transport to ferry workers to the fields," Subramani told IANS.

Subramani has 10 acres of coffee plantation and 5 acres of paddy field in the village, about 270 km southwest of Bengaluru.

Though farmers in the southern state hire more local labour than migrants, suspension of transport and physical distancing have put paid to their efforts in engaging them.

"Labour shortage has made hiring workers from surrounding areas expensive as they are in huge demand and those from other districts have rushed to their native place," Subramani lamented.

As the district authorities advised the farmers not to hire outsiders in the absence of transport, labour shortage is more pronounced in the region.

"We will not be able to sell the crop as harvesting is delayed. With buyers or traders also staying away from the market, we won't be able to collect money soon," Subramani said.

Watering of coffee plantations, picking pepper and manuring have also stopped due to non-availability of labour. Farm machinery cannot be used in coffee and pepper plantations, which are grown in hilly areas on gradient land.

"Pepper is picked with hands, using ladder and bamboo stick to climb tall trees. Coffee plantations are watered with aluminium or plastic pipes connected to sprinklers by workers," Subramani said.

With markets and shops shutdown, A. Nachappa, 39, another farmer from Karmad village in the same district, is unable to buy fertilisers and pesticides for his coffee and pepper plantations spread over 30 acres of land.

"The sudden disruption will lead to price fluctuation and increased input cost. Due to floods in August, the quality of coffee beans and pepper is low. They have to be sold at lesser price than last year," pointed out Nachappa.

Admitting that the state government was yet to come to terms with the crisis gripping farmers, Karnataka Agriculture Commissioner Brijesh Kumar Dixit said reverse migration of labour would have minimal impact on farm activities as more locals are hired.

"Agricultural labour is more local or from adjacent districts in the region. Some come from neighbouring Tamil Nadu when there is shortage and demand is more for farming or harvesting," Dixit told IANS.

With the central government exempting agriculture activities from lockdown since March 27, Dixit hoped farming and harvesting would revive soon. "The new guidelines from the Union Home Ministry allow farmers to hire labour, harvest crops, transport grains to the market and sell them above the minimum support price," noted Dixit.

The revised guidelines allow farmers to buy seeds and fertilisers and other stakeholders to process their produce.

As rabi crop has been harvested in the state in January, only intermediate crops are sown for harvesting by mid-April before the onset of summer.

Around 1.1 lakh hectares of farm lands are cultivated across the state, with 75,000 hectares for kharif crop (June-September), 30,000 hectares rabi crop (October-December) and the remaining 5,000 hectares for the summer crop (January-April).

Though floods in August led to a shortfall in kharif output, the rabi crop was a bumper owing to increasing ground water following heavy monsoon rains till September last year.

"As rabi crop has been harvested, only summer crop remains to be cut. Sowing operation for summer crop begin after January 15. Paddy, groundnuts, millet and sunflower are grown during the lean season," added another official.

Source: IANS

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