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'!

the ruin after the rain

the deluge in november 2015 and the floods of dec 2015 seem to be a distant memory now.

with this excess water, cropping area nearly tripled and the farming community looked for a prosperous and bountiful farming year.

but alas.....
it is only around 90 days since the rains stopped and already the well levels have dropped alarmingly. the lakes/tanks of the area will barely be able to cover one cropping season (till april end or so).

added to this misery, the pest levels are at astronomical levels. we have lost over 100s tomato/cauliflower/chilly plants, amongst losses of over 25% (estimated) in field crops of legumes/oil seeds.
in our 6 years, we have never seen pesticide sprays on groundnut crop (no. 1 cash crop of this area). already farmers (with cash) have resorted to 3 sprayings, and everyone at least 1. and this has barely had any effect.

paddy crop seems relatively less affected but due to oversupply offtake prices are likely to be depressed for paddy. 

as if this was not adequate misery, the farm lease rates and the daily agri labour rates had also gone up by 25-50%.

but agricultural labour never had it so good. employment was plentiful and labour rates were high. being election year mnrega allocation was in full swing and 'occupied' the time of most agri labour for better part of everyday. with mnrega taking away the 'need' for anyone to work for a living few were willing to work on agri fields. with lesser hands and hours for agri work, labour rates shot up and a lot of argi work (like field prep and de-weeding) were either not done or done very poorly with very stretched few hands.

sight from here is not pretty. pest and grass ridden fields with lone woman here and there fighting a losing battle against weeds and pests.

so in net result, it is scary to think what the farmer will be able to take home for all their efforts from this 'best growing season' of the year.