Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Chinese gift of a two wheeled tractor factory in Sri Lanka – please refuse

What is it with our politicians? They take anything that people give us without a thought about the pros and cons!!! The latest is the 2 wheel tractor factory that is claimed will help ease the great need for such in the Northern Province, once the land opens up for development. Please don’t mess up the North, in the way these same self-serving politicians have messed up the South. Giving a farmer a two-wheeled tractor is a death sentence, forever impoverishing people to the land.

Trust me, I know. It enslaves one struggling to survive in the harsh world of agriculture where not a farmer with a two-wheeled tractor in SL makes a decent living. The land to tractor ratio, as well as the heavy wastage of imported energy, namely diesel per hectare tilled or ploughed is just unforgivable. A four wheel tractor’s energy usage is less than a quarter of the two wheel for the same work, and in fact better and faster and more productive. Just as the Tsunami, the tractor driven thresher has now given way to the Combine Harvester, the Two wheeled tractor should be consigned to the annals of history. The Chinese version that is being envisaged is neither here nor there, too heavy for the mud and not powerful enough for the dry fields, the former which can be tackled by the lighter and less powerful Kubotas, and the latter which will more efficiently be done by the four wheeled varieties.

In the interests of improving the productivity of the agriculture we must as soon as practical, direct our best people to work in productive larger extent farm-lands. Do not give landless peasants land for agriculture. A few perches for a home is quite sufficient. We need the best skills to go into farming, even those with the best education in the land, leaving these supposed farmers a better alternative of training them in more productive non farm employment.

It is extremely time consuming (read that also as unproductive) to change wheels, ploughs rotaries, and sort out all the niggly things that can go wrong with Chinese made products where razors need replacement at regular intervals and maintenance is a continuous process. It just is not worth it. Please please don’t let our country down again.

It is amazing how these stupid projects are lapped up. I know as there was a race amongst some of the greedy I know to get this project for themselves. That was so they could make some money along the way without the slightest knowledge of farming or its usefulness for the intended purpose. I have had to learn from costly mistakes and I don’t want others to make the same mistake.

I do not have a hidden agenda, all I want is for us to produce twice the current food output for no extra effort, and possible with a considerable reduction in the numbers currently engaged in agriculture, where they are enslaved by the very laws and rules by which the land is given to them with conditions attached by the government. I just hate to see so many farmers trying to work unproductive paddy fields using old methods out of fear their lands will be taken over. It is costing them twice the cost of the rice to actually plant the land, which can only be productively cultivate using capital intensive means.

Is it an old factory that is being dismantled and sent here, so we become dependent on Chinese spare parts. Please spare a thought!!


nswnotill said...

I am afraid that you logic does not stand up.
I have been involved in a conservation farming project in Bangladesh with power tillers. there are >350,000 of them in Bangladesh and 80% of the crop land is now prepared using power tillers.
First they are only 10-20% of the capital cost of a normal 4 wheel tractor.
Second they are very manouverable in small fields,and 4 wheel tractors lose too much area for headlands.
Third they are very simple to operate, and can be repaired by local labour when they need maintenance. -Try that when a 4 wheel tractor breaks down!
Fourth, the motor can be used for other things like driving an irrigation pump or a rice thresher.
Go to Bangladesh a have a look.
Also go to Google and look up 'power tiller seed drill' and you will find the latest research.
Power tillers can be adapted well to conservation agriculture, and are a low capital way of getting into mechanised agriculture for the small farmers of South Asia.

Rajaratarala said...

I appreciate the comments above. I also accept your comments in the case of Bangladesh.

In Sri Lanka's case we have now graduated from the 2wheel tractor phase, that broadly has not taken the majority of farmers who use it out of poverty. We already have a surplus of two wheeled tractors.

In our case we have a shortage of labor, less than 1% of farmers use a plough with the tractor to turn the soil over (see articles below), most only use the Rotary to merely scratch the surface and not turn the soil, a must for optimum benefit from the soil. Less than 1% use the irrigation option as they use electric pumps at lower running cost. ( I am one of few who use it for pumping water- see articles below)

Lately with the abysmal performance by farmers despite the heavy fertilizer subsidy, they have had to return the tractors they purchased on a lease as they are now unable to meet their payments. The country is full of lease returns gathering dust or shall I say corroding to the elements.

This country is replete with white elephents, as we do not think through any project, I will upset our farmers if I say that the Bangladeshi farmers with the same tools in SL soil will do a better job. They have more of a hunger for results than us. They are not as blessed with so many alternatives of living as SL people have.

Jack Point said...

There are always big bucks$$$ to be made from such projects.

Have'nt you heard of gold-plated infrastructure in Nigeria? Gold plated in terms of cost but which have little utility due to lack of maintenance or poor construction.

Remember the falling bridges on the Southern Highway?

Anonymous said...

Sir. this is an amazing post and excellent blog.

There's a story about infrastructure in developing countries which I think is kind of apt in this case, if you don't mind. Two ministers, one from Nigeria and one from Bangladesh, are at a conference in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi minister hosts the Nigerian in his palatial home. When the Nigerian complements the Bangladeshi on his home and asks how he can afford such a place on his modest public salary, the Bangladeshi minister moves to his window and points to a bridge and says, "see that bridge over there which the Chinese government helped us to build?" He then points to himself and says "10 percent."

A year later, the Bangladeshi minister travels to Nigeria for a conference and the Nigerian Minister hosts the Bangladshi minister at his palacial estate. The Bangladeshi is awed by the grandeur of the Nigerian minister's home and asks how he can afford such a place on his public salary. The Nigerian minister then goes to his window and says "see that bridge over there?" The Bangladeshi minister says "what bridge?" The Nigerian Minister then points to himself, smiles, and says "100 percent."

SEJ said...

Just have to chime in here and provide testimony in support of nswnotill. Here in Nepal where there are now over 11,000 Chinese power tillers there have been many tillage experiments that have shown that these 2-Wheel Tractors, as we like to term them, in fact use 40% - 60% less diesel per hectare as compared to a 30 HP Indian tractor using cultivator or harrow (for primary and secondary tillage). They can do this precisely as Rajaratarala says, they simply scratch the surface with their rotovators down 2-3 inches only. There is a bit of evidence showing reduced yields or yidld stagnation in the neighboring north Indian rice-wheat systems with their 4WT deep plowing. There is less documentation of any yield reductions or stagnation under the various cropping systems of Bangladesh that have been using 2WTs, just scratching the surface, for almost two decades. And as nswnotill and millions of other notill farmers in the world can tell you even better yields are available with out any tillage at all under a conservation agriculture system.

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