Tuesday, March 30, 2010

UPFA agricultural policies are wrong, self serving, politically expedient, patronizing and most of all destructive- read on

The mess our agriculture is in due to the populist agenda that fools the people

I speak with considerable experience having been mired in both dry zone and wet zone agriculture for the past 6 years and being the only person in Sri Lanka who farms at the same minimal peasant allotments of between 5 and 10 acres, and produces about 50 different food items, including milk, eggs and coconut oil, that I transport personally, (me being the driver) and delivers to my shop and direct to consumers homes, I work through the day and drive through the night in order to keep my small business alive and the mouths fed.(about 35 directly)

I am harassed and delayed at night, by traffic cops seeking bakshish, checkpoints because I am easier to stop than a speeding Pajero, by security forces personnel just having to check someone to justify their enormous pay in comparison to farm workers who work harder for little reward.

I challenge all comers to a debate on the nuances of marginal agriculture that 90% of the so called farmers engage in, and the perpetuation of their poverty, by the current agricultural policies of the government with well meaning slogans that are blatantly wrong misleading and downright patronizing to the hardworking people of this country who are being completely fooled, bamboozled and coerced into voting for the wrong ideals, and subjecting them into a permanent poverty trap, to be exploited by these very same politicians pretending to be their saviors.

This government has been the bane of productive farmers by only assisting unproductive ones with wasteful subsidies and false promises of help. We need a complete policy shift that can benefit the vast majority of the people in this country and the government just does not get it. The people who know no better, believe in the parroted lies hoping to find relief in promises that realistically cannot be fulfilled unless there is a complete change of emphasis and direction aimed at productivity and excellence along with the tools to do so.

We produce agriculture graduates, to be government servants as extension officers who are the bane of the farmers as they know nothing and pretend to work, whilst we are in dire need of dedicated and trained agriculturists to run and manage larger units using their knowledge, coupled with the experience of growing in more productive units using the latest techniques with access to adequate funding.

Daily, I see this humongous fertilizer subsidy washed down the fields, by uneducated incompetent farmers whose costs, if their labor is fairly priced, far exceed the selling price of their products. The larger more productive farms that could use the subsidy wisely don’t get it and they still make a profit.

The biggest political lie is that we have convinced half the electorate that they are farmers, when they are not. A farmer is someone who produces a surplus of food over and above what he consumes. Only about 10% of those classified as farmers fall into this category. The others just happen to live on productive farmland in villas and think they are poor, but work as bureaucrats, policemen, hospital staff, bus drivers and shop keepers to name just a fraction of the areas that not just supplement their income but provide most of their income.

We continue with giving land to landless to keep them mired in poverty and beholden to the politicians for giving this land, instead of making better use of this agricultural land in a productive sense, and giving people housing nearer urban areas, so they can more usefully be able to reduce the commute times and costs, and have closer access to schools and hospitals in their inevitable jobs that cannot be sustained by farming. Give them 10 perches please and not three acres.

Only 10% of the heads of households in my area would be considered worthy of being called “knowledgeable farmers”. They lack productive land as useless wastrels living on government largesse (thugs, goons, party men who got free govt. land but live elsewhere, moonshine distillers, and those looking to make a buck out of exploitation of others) are occupying prime property, received by them or their ancestors free of charge.

I have a plan that will double the nation’s food output, with no extra inputs (this will reduce imports and increase exports) reduce the wastage and reduce the price of food for the consumer, while at the same time reducing the marginal so called farmer to be more productive in other fields where his abilities can be better rewarded. We cannot afford to give farming to the least educated, but should gradually encourage the most educated as it is the vocation with greatest risk, and thereby potentially the greatest reward, which people at the margin cannot hope to understand and therefore exploit for personal gain.

If you are in any doubt as to the practicality of what I propose, read the hundreds of pages in this blog which are devoted to all the aspects of improvements, which I have through personal suffering experienced and feel is needed if we are to get ahead. I am involved in almost all varieties of agricultural production in a practical sense including tea in the green and black tea production as well as organic and non organic methods. Just to add a little more power to my words, I am the only person in Sri Lanka that grows 6 varieties of paddy and has 15 varieties of my own rice, to sell direct to my customers, who I supply myself, albeit in a very limited scale as my land extent is small and I have very marginal land to grown in.

Sadly no one in this country has the guts to take on this monolothic giant that is unpatriotic, bent on keeping the people in serfdom so they can be autocratic rulers. Worst of all when they receive an overwhelming plebiscite they will actually believe they are right, when it is the slogans that did it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The economics of being a rice farmer – we have to increase the scale

A Polonnaruwa a farmer gets Rs22/kg for nadu paddy( when it is bagged at the field where the wholesaler buys spot cash) the variety that farmers grow. Only a month ago (before the new harvest came in) the same paddy was selling at Rs40/kg
As a small scale miller, I can sell the rice at Rs33/kg to break even. The farmer loses money at Rs22/kg despite the fertilizer subsidy not covering his costs. The person who farms less than 2 acres, which accounts for half the paddy output, spends about Rs26/kg as cost of production if he uses labor on an av. crop of 1500kg. A farmer with 100 acres can reduce his costs using paid labor to Rs 12/kg WITHOUT using subsidized fertilizer. The Govt. guaranteed price of Rs28/kg is only when it is taken to the buying location in a condition suitable to them with low moisture content. This very same miller, (an actual example as I am using my local miller’s economics) sells the sudu kekulu rice not at Rs33/kg which would cover his cost, but at Rs48/kg which is commensurate with the market rate prevailing. He therefore has a clear profit of Rs15/kg.

In my case as I am not a miller, but a farmer who grows his paddy and then goes to the mill to mill his paddy and then transport it to my customers, I have the added costs, even though I get a slightly higher retail price, but his profit margin is much higher. I pay him a milling cost of Rs3/kg for paddy which works out at Rs4.50/kg of rice, an added cost to me, but zero cost to the miller as the by-product of milling, being rice bran and husk is sold at a greater revenue than what I pay for milling. All this being said the largest miller, namely a govt. agriculture minister a natural enemy of the farmer, stands to make a profit of at least Rs3M a day if his mill runs to capacity, a cool billion a year.(not counting the revenue of the electricity he generates from the husk to sell to the national grid over and above what he needs to run his mill. Rice bran now sells for Rs30/kg, a free by-product.
The carrot, that the govt. gives these poor farmers, is the subsidy. So foolishly because the govt. heavily subsidizes the fertilizer, the inefficient high cost farmer continues to gamble a high risk game of poker hoping the price he can get for his paddy is nearer Rs40/kg believing it is better not to forego such a great subsidy, little realizing that he will be better off to sell his subsidized fertilizer in the open market (that of course is illegal but is common practice) Actually this farmer is more likely to get a better income if he drops paddy and grows vegetables. One problem is that the irrigation system is designed only to supply water by way of the channel system to support paddy production. (certain days of the week, an unlimited amount and then once the harvest is near no water again till the beginning of the next season, a gap of over 60 days in some cases) Unless the farmer has his own source of water, he is then unable to engage in this cultivation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some observations of the ongoing paddy harvest

In the past few days I have been busy harvesting my rice paddies. In one property, we used a Combine Harvester to do the work. The downside of the process is that the paddy that is bagged still has fresh cut paddy however dry it is when cutting. This means that a further period of a days drying in intense sunlight, as a minimum is required before bagging for storage.

Once cut the paddy bags are strewn along the fields by the harvester. I therefore had to take my pick up truck right into the fields to collect all the paddy bags.
Once I off loaded them in one central area, I had to request some space in a mill which I use to mill my paddy to dry on their large cement area which they too use to dry parboiled paddy. Carrying 90 bags of paddy in three trips in my pick-up hauling them and spreading them around the cement floor to dry and later scooping it back up is a tiring and time consuming job. How tiring it was the reader could only imagine. One has to constantly use one’s feet to move the drying paddy from side to side to ensure the paddy gets dry. Wet paddy can have a disastrous effect on the quality as it could actually spoil.
I spoke to farmers who do not like to use the Harvester because of this even though they may have to incur higher costs of cutting by hand and using the Tsunami threshing methods to solve their harvesting. In fact that is exactly the process I am doing in the adjoining property to Harvest because the Combine Harvester cannot work those fields as it would get stuck in the permanently waterlogged fields.

In this process of cutting by hand, once cut the sheaves have a day or two to dry out and so once the Tsunami is used to thresh, they can be bagged directly from the Tsunami and stored safely. Some also say that the harvester bags too much debris which calls for costly cleaning which is easily done by the large mills, once they get cheap paddy quoting the fact that the paddy needs drying and cleaning, which results in the low balling in price to the farmer at the farm gate. An added problem for many farmers in Polonnaruwa this season was the swarm of some insect that devastated the crop, which could not be salvaged by any type of crop spraying.

The state offers to buy paddy, but to meet the standards required, farmers have to go through hoops to get these promised amounts. The drying and cleaning are the two single biggest problems. It is important therefore that some kind of mechanized means is developed to ensure all this drying can be done cost effectively. There is no reason then to use the expensive manual labor to do this work.

The paddy bags filled after drying waiting for carrying and transport

Latest Harvest of BG 352 - Sudu Kekulu

The machine disgorging the paddy late into the night.

I used the services of a combined harvester to cut, thresh and bag my paddy on Friday. The machine worked into the night as it can perform its duties at night as it has lights. The cost to me for the 3 acres was at the rate of Rs9.000 per acre. The total harvest though not weighed, was 90 bags, which is not excellent, but satisfactory when compared to my neighbors who suffered loss due to severe disease towards the end of the cycle.

The open hands collect fallen paddy by scooping it up and then cutting it with the rollers. However there is an element of paddy that gets left behind if the fallen paddy has got soaked making it difficult for the machine to scrape the sheaves from the ground.

The combined harvester at work in a paddy field, cutting, threshing, disposing of the straw and collecting the paddy to be disgorged into sacks from time to time.

Friday, March 5, 2010

one day they will either pull a cart or end up as tasty morsels, how will you know?

The one on the left born on Dec 26th 2009 is known as Tsunami as he was born on the tsunami anniversary and the other fellow born exactly two months later and at birth was almost the current size of Tsunami was named Mahanami

Thursday, March 4, 2010

recent pics from the rajarata

A tomato plant before flowering.

One of my vegetable plots with tomato in the foreground and watakolu in the background framed by the paddy fields

The photo was taken at dawn as he sun was rising from the East burning the morning dew on the rice fields. This dew also gives moisture Mornings are very cold and one has to be completely wrapped up in bed with at least a sheet. This in contrast to the unbearable heat in Colombo.