Tuesday, December 16, 2008

the field trip to Peradeniya amd Gannoruwa on 11th December 2008

I must say at the outset that I did not go on this field trip but 25 from the Gamidiriya society of our village did go along with a similar number from the equivalent society in Minneriya, who were all female also went in a hired bus. The total cost of the journey was borne by a state body that had allocated funds for the education of farmers from all parts of the Island. I gleaned information from a friendly farmer who talked about it afterwards.

Whilst the intention is honorable the whole organization is self-defeating. I was told that there were people from all parts of the country in attendance and the program on offer was extensive. Apparently topics covered include, raising goats, chicken, dairy cattle, mushroom farming, beekeeping, along with the regular fruit and vegetable farming. This is of no use to farmers who are going to improve their knowledge about a specific interest that they may have, rather than be confused into pursuing something that at that moment sounds very interesting.

I therefore feel, advance notice should have been given of all the programs available, with each participant permitted to chose from a series of alternatives in advance. Then upon arrival at the location, they can then be sent to their area of interest to study the program in depth, and obtain the necessary literature in that field of interest. General knowledge in the whole sphere of agriculture and animal husbandry is not the intention of this plan.

I learnt that true to form, the government shops were closed at 3pm, so that none of the people were able to purchase seeds or any other items on offer, as their program finished long after. It is most absurd when they know that there are so many people from all parts of the island present to close the shop at that hour just to keep to the timetable of the government service and not satisfy the critical service to the people they are paid to serve.

Farmers including myself are inundated with different possibilities we can pursue some of which are totally unsuited to the prevailing conditions in our area. We have an incredibly heavy bureaucracy assigned to assist the farmer increase their output and become more efficient and cost effective. No wonder none of the intentions are carried out because of the lack of planning in presenting all available possibilities to the audience. Some simple logical and thoughtful modifications must be made to produce better results. Lets stop the wastage of public funds and hold the officers responsible for results.

a usually overlooked fact of paddy farming

While we concentrate our energies on the cost of fertilizer and various insecticides in agriculture, and the need to minimize their use by gradually turning to organic solutions, the need to protect the young paddy plant from weeds is often overlooked. The theory is that we constantly immerse the paddy plant in a centimeter of water, so preventing the growth of weeds due to their inability to sprout in water. In fact all it takes is a couple of days where the water does not stay stagnant for the seeds to germinate and sprout, and if they are numerous can almost suffocate the paddy plant. Manual weeding of this is not an option, and the only practical solution at the moment for the hybrid varieties of paddy we use, is the use of pre-emergent and post emergent herbicides.

In places where I have not applied herbicides, I have not been able to harvest my paddy as the weeds had suffocated and taken over the fields. I have now used a variety of these under different trade names with mixed results. It is difficult to get the solution, as sometimes, the weed the herbicide does not cover, can take over and do as much damage. I have used Satunil, from Hayleys, I have used Nominee from Lankem, Solito from CIC, and Tgermax from Harrisons. It would be of interest to the reader that the cost of this herbicide, which has to be used in the stipulated proportions to be effective, exceed the cost of fertilizer I obtain from the state in a subsidized form. In addition one adds powders to the solution to cover specific weeds not covered by the particular product.

An alternative weed control requires tilling the soil after harvest letting dormant seeds grow and before they grow long enough to seed themselves, one is supposed to till again to kill them so by process of germinating and killing the weed plants, one is able to prevent weeds from sprouting after sowing. The problem is often there are weeds that somehow do not get eliminated, and a herbicide needs to be used anyway with the farmer having to bear the additional cost even after a process of double tilling.

I do not expect the layperson to immediately understand what I am saying, but once one has had experience in this one is wiser than the intentions one goes with at the outset. I have always wanted to reduce the amount of insecticides I use on my fields to the bare minimum, at a cost to my harvest, however there are no alternatives methods of preventing weeds in my fields that suffer from significant element of water shortage.

I have no option, but to use herbicides. Speaking to farmers who even own good fields where there is constant water, and upstream from the canal to me so they can always keep their fields submerged, they too use a herbicide. If this is the case, then the trade cumulatively has an income of more than Rs15B just from this. Despite the drop in crude oil prices, I have not seen any drop in the price of this but an increase. I can only say that the companies marketing this must make a tidy profit as the chemicals that go into the production of these are not expensive, and there is some payment for the use of the trade names to overseas chemical giants such as BASF but broadly is an extremely profitable business to be in, with the relatively impoverished farmer, their life blood.

It is interesting that the problem of weeds sprouting in the paddy fields is swept under the carpet in any discussion of paddy cultivation in the various fora that I have looked at. It is serious enough to warrant farmer education on alternative methods, without holding the farmer hostage to the agrochemical companies who thrive on this necessity.

It is no doubt from this discussion, that the fertilizer subsidy has a direct benefit on the Agrochemical companies who know the farmer will utilize the saving from the fertilizer to spend on the herbicides and later on pesticides, which they would be more circumspect about if they had to bear a heavier cost of the fertilizer. I know I certainly would be more cautious.

The solution to this catch 22 of fertilizer subsidy, need for necessary herbicides and optional pesticides with the correct variety of seed to suit one’s fields along with the costs of preparation of the land and some of the outdated means of preparing the soil needs to be addressed as a priority. The correct option is not chosen as the state intervention in the fertilizer subsidy creates a degree of dependence and expectation, as well as a preponderance to be inefficient in paddy cultivation. I have addressed previously how the shortage of labor has not resulted in labor saving techniques due to their inapplicability on some of the marginal lands. One area where substantial yield benefits are not pursued is that of transplanting, due primarily to a shortage of labor. In Japan however everyone transplants and they use machines. I have yet to see a transplanting machine in operation here.

I hope we can address this topic in future when discussing paddy cultivation methods and practices to improve productivity of the land.