A Rice Revolution - Part II Labour Companies for Cost Efficiency

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By 2017-10-16

By Ananda Ariyarathne

The process that demands extra care in the preparation of land for cultivation is the monitoring of water levels needed for rice which grows in water logged soil conditions. Thereafter, constant vigilance is needed to prevent harmful insects, stray cattle, wild animals and weeds from encroaching on the plants.

Right up to the time of harvest, threshing, winnowing, drying and storage, there needs to be adequate human resources.

Considering the anticipated food shortages in the future, the need for extra care that should be taken to rehabilitate and consolidate 'Rice Cultivation' is not something that can be postponed or ignored.

Cultivation in the past

In the past, all the paddy fields in a village were supervised by a Field Officer (Vel Vidhane) who coordinated all the manpower issues. Fields were usually situated in the lowest terrain of the village, marked by streams or rivulets which bordered the cultivated area by fairly wide bunds which were used by people as pathways. The streams did not dry up in any season and had crystal clear water with a variety of fish, some of which were popular and added flavour and protein to people's diet.

Traditionally, all able bodied men, including teenagers of families who owned paddy lands helped repair the small dams and dykes which marked rice terraces, by using new pieces of sods to fortify older surfaces by smoothening those surfaces so that they harden with exposure to the sun. This then allows the terraces to be filled with water diverted from the stream flowing by.

Normally on a terrace, it was not uncommon to see quite a number of able bodied farmers, in a row, using their hoes (mamoties) fitted to long wooden handles, to turn the thick sod upside down. Once the terrace gets filled with water and left for few days, all plant life dies and begins to rot. Then, the farmers would repeat the process in the adjoining terrace. That way, the labour needed for turning the soil could be achieved. The other method used to be the use of ploughs if draught animals are available. Such animals were a valuable part of resources and they also enriched the soil of the rice terraces after the harvest with cow dung and urine when they grazed.

A whole stretch of terraces could be made ready with the required labour becoming possible on the mutual help system that was practised. Next was the smoothening stage under which the entire terrace is muddied, aided by the presence of water all the time. This makes it more convenient in levelling the surface into smaller subsections, by carefully arranging long depressions leading to the lower end of the terrace. This process needs the water levels to be constant and equally distributed within a terrace. In the meantime, the seed paddy is prepared for sowing using the broadcasting system or transplanting.

A terrace cultivated under the 'broadcasting' system would give a lower yield compared to a 'transplanted' terrace for very scientific reasons. The second system prevents plants crowding while avoiding the possible loss of seed paddy becoming the food of the birds and it is more economical and provides ample space for plants to have more shoots from the base. In addition, it becomes easier to get rid of weeds that could choke the paddy. Up to this point, the requirement of labour is more.

Then, water management would become an easier task. The period that needs more attention starts with the rice plants maturing and it is quite normal to see the presence of insects that can destroy a whole crop by sucking out the kernels in liquid form, if left unattended. This is where chemical insecticides take over from cheap and eco friendly practices.

The traditional remedy is to prepare fly traps using gummed cloth flags held behind traditional mini-flares. Thick wicks of old cloth soaked in oil are lit when it is dark. The flies on the stalks of paddy are attracted by the lights and fly towards it, getting singed by the flames or stuck on the sticky flags positioned behind the flares. No chemical insecticides.

Labour Companies

The Concept of Labour Companies (LC) or Labour Societies (LS) is the only logical answer. It becomes a blessing in disguise as it helps the so far neglected, inadequately educated youth and economically stranded, able bodied men and women who are not effectively employed but caught up in a ruthless market oriented economy.

The LCs or LSs offer opportunities for the unemployed to stand on their own two feet. This concept is the bridge provided for the meaningful utilization of the hidden potential of two realities which look negative at face value, namely 'labour shortage' and 'the unemployed'. By localizing both those negative realities, to a manageable size, it can become a workable project to be monitored by the already existing Government Line Agencies which play a 'Facilitators Role.'

Practicality

It can be implemented on a Grama Niladhari Division (GND) basis with their offices having all the details required. Cost-wise it may prove to be that a Labour Cooperative Society is a better option. Such a 'co-operative society' can agree with land owners purely on a crop sharing basis. Although it is to be identified as the 'prime mover' in rehabilitating rice cultivation, the same society can be engaged in a variety of other activities that have been affected negatively due to the absence of labour. Rubber tapping, tea plucking, and market gardening are just a few such potential opportunities. Apart from such, some unutilized land may be made available for the establishment of 'Community Dairy Centres' (another feasible project that can be synchronized with LCs and can be included in a possible national master plan) to house up to fifty cows belonging to 'Dole Recipients.'

It is a project that can be implemented at the rate of a minimum of two community dairy centres for one GND. It can be supported by several poultry farm projects and the total revenue capacity can be for the benefit of the LC.

In view of the organic fertilizer requirements for rice cultivation, a value can be apportioned for it that can be produced to be used as inputs which can be charged to the cost of production of rice.

Although the organization looks very simple, the most crucial issue is the initial investment required for the commencement of such a production unit as it will require a minimum of Rs 1,000,000 – Rs 1,500,000 monthly to meet the salaries only and it would be approximately Rs 12 million to provide employment for fifty unemployed, for six months, taking the time that would be taken to convert the crop shares earned. For rice cultivation to generate revenue it would take at least five to six months.

However, it will not be that bad in other activities such as rubber tapping, tea plucking and cinnamon peeling. Poultry farming would also take at least six months while community dairy centres would take a longer time, those two activities will generate sufficient non monetary resources with input values, to support rice cultivation.

It shall be the responsibility of the Government and it is not the end of the road as there are enough ways to make it happen. The solution to solve the main problem of rice cultivation will spark a revolutionary process that would create enough opportunities qualifying itself to be identified a 'Rice Revolution'.

(To be continued as Part III on 19 October 2017)

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