Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The Era of the Combine Harvester has finally come to Polonnaruwa
The sight of four combine harvesters cutting and threshing the paddy in a small field this evening brings to light both the best and worst of Sri Lankan agriculture. Hitherto the most sophisticated tool was the Tsunami, a machine that threshed and separated into a bagging the cut paddy, which was what I used last season for my paddy. It was introduced into general use three years ago and now that has been superceded by the Kubota combine harvester that runs on a track and scoops up even fallen paddy and then cuts and threshes it and delivers the paddy into bags, much the same way the combines in the US harvest wheat.
I would first like to note that this season’s daily wage to cut paddy has risen to an astronomical 700 from 450 last season. Obviously people here aren’t even aware there is a world wide recession!! Anyway the cost of a cutting a one acre field is now Rs8000. It does not make any sense now to use manual labor as they have priced themselves out. It costs Rs10,000 per acre on the Combine which cuts and threshes and works out less than manual cutting and using the thresher once the paddy is collected in one place.
What was wrong with the site I saw was that four different people have bought 4 machines on a lease and they are working different people’s paddy land in the same large field. There is considerable duplication and waste. In the US one machine would be sufficient and so would it here, but the fields are divided into many plots owned by many farmers who have put many different varieties of rice thereby necessitating the current predicament of inefficient use of scarce resources and thereby increase the cost of productions significantly.
One wonders if this machine like the other one will also be superceded by more efficient machines, where the purchaser will find that his machine becomes obsolete before he has made his final payment on the machine. Such are the risks and vagaries of this business, where little thought goes into the all the real costs of production leaving many small farmers to eke out an existence with the providers of capital now replacing the providers of scarce labor.
I have my fields cut and threshed tomorrow by one of these combines and when I see it in operation for the first time at close proximity I am hoping to report on the process, hopefully with some photos.
Till then I leave you to contemplate what next in the scheme of agricultural innovation, and improved efficiency in paddy production. It is Japan as the supplier of the machine and the banks that are the suppliers of the lease terms that appear to me to be the major beneficiaries of this change but it is the farmer who has by demanding a larger wage for cutting who has actually cut his own self out of this participation and share of the costs of production. It really means, think about this statement logically, the role of the peasant farmer is now on its way out whatever you think about the pros and cons of the new era.
We just have to grow up to realize the consumer will get cheap rice with fewer farmers!!