Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Saturday, March 05, 2016

sign of the times

Dec to april every year is the best growing season for this part of the world for apparent reasons – cooler weather and abundant water. Most lands are under cultivation with either paddy or groundnut or more recently water melons. With deficient rainfall over the last couple of years the area under cultivation had dropped.

Over the last six years we have noticed that there has been no addition into the agriculture labour force year on year. Young women from the rural areas are being employed in 'companies' in the SEZs and most young men either become drivers or go into catering. Quite understandably these are preferred over hard labour in the sun on the fields.

This year due to unprecedented rains, 100% of the area has been cropped uniformly post the monsoon thus increasing the requirement for farm labour. MGNREGA also was in full swing in order to fulfill the year's quota before the close of financial year. With relatively easy work and good pay under MGNREGA, more and more labour are choosing not to work in the fields (rightly so for why would anyone labour in the hard sun if not out of necessity). Unfortunately we chose this year to hand harvest our paddy and ended up doing most of the work ourselves due to lack of labour. We had to put in over 6 hours a day at a stretch for over 25 days to complete an acre and a half of paddy. It was a frustrating experience expecting promised labour to show up and continue working alone due to no-show. Tempers ran high and we thought people were delibrately giving our work a miss. But we noticed most fields in the neighbouring areas were being laboured on by lone woman or couple due to lack of helping hands. It pushed people to their edge what with Jan and Feb being quite hot!

This also happens to be the marathon season...

16000 runners – chennai marathon – jan 2016
40000 runners – mumbai marathon – jan 2016
4000 runners – auroville marathon – feb 2016

our village is roughly inbetween chennai and auroville....assuming everyone ran (expended work) for atleast 50 hours over two months including training, thats a whopping 20,000X50 = 10,00,000/5hrs = 200,000 person days - not to include all the gym times people put in. Imagine utlilising this level of energy for agriculture. Cannot see how this is not a win-win!

Wendell Berry's nails it in his essay titled 'Sanitation and the small farm',

“...physical exertion for any useful purpose is looked down upon; it is permissible to work hard for “sport” or “recreation”, but to make any practical use of the body is considered beneath dignity.”

and the man also said..'eating is an agricultural act'!


Nandakumar said...

I have never faced shortage of labour so far !!! But may happen in near future.... Try to harvest rice using a scythe, I tried it and failed without the harvesting cradle, trying to get one. One Mr. Anant from Kanpur is marketing Scythe, can give you the details.


Dev and Hema said...

We live in a village near Tiruttani. We have not attempted crops yet. Nevertheless, based on our two years of experience here, I completely agree with what you have said about people not wanting to do "real" work. The workers we have employed are above 50 years. I don't see the next generation wanting to actually work. They prefer mind numbing jobs like security guards for Chennai Apartments. Slightly more educated next generation declares that they can't be doing agricultural work or small-time construction since they are "educated". More educated and unemployed M.B.A. and B.E. degree holders are much worse of, since they have a huge educational loan that they continue to burden their parents with.
These young people can't be blamed; they are responding in a predictable way given all the choices our society has exercised. I see this as a failure of our current culture. It seems to me that people have to run the race to learn that after all we didn't need to have gotten started. But this learning takes a long time and our civilization is running out of time and resources.

csm said...

nanda - the paddy was lying lodged. cannot use a scythe. the standing paddy is actually lovely to sickle.
we tried an imported one at pr but our snath was not upto the mark.
would sure love to try it on paddy one day.
is there a video somewhere?
you are lucky with labour availability. enjoy till it lasts :-)

dnh - peri urban situation is the worst. the number of buses and vans plying within our area as transport for the young women is staggering. average time spent in transit is over 3 hours each day.
and the interesting side effect, is a huge increase in workplace love affairs and their resulting complications :-)

Shantanu said...

To expect marathon runners to expend the calories to harvest paddy is too humorous... I can understand the plight, though. The situation of the marathon runners is far more pitiable, you know. Self esteem is just not can you expect them to toil hard where no one is looking?!!