Farmers in Punjab worried as labour shortage casts a shadow over paddy transplantation
Officials hope farmers will shift from labour-intensive transplantation to sowing by machines this timeUpdated: May 01, 2020 22:00 IST
Paddy transplantation, scheduled to begin in Punjab on June 20, is heading for a possible crisis due to labour shortage. The state farmers need at least 12.5 lakh labour heads to sow paddy over 75 lakh acres over a month.
Amid the lockdown imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh has hinted that 10 lakh migrant workers would go back to their home states in the coming days leaving behind a big void.
The state government tried to retain them by setting special camps, but only 2,300 migrant labourers turned up to stay in these camps.
After a bumper yield of wheat this year, Jarnail Singh of Bathinda’s Naruana village is worried about the availability of labour for paddy transplantation. He owns five-acre land and was planning to take three more acres on lease. But the pandemic has marred his expansion plan. “Workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had been sowing paddy for me for several years, but they are out of access now,” he said.
Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan), said there is a widespread anxiety among the growers regarding availability of farm labour. He also demanded permission to start sowing as early as June 1 to grant paddy growers a wider time window to complete sowing by mid-July.
Gurdeep Singh a farmer from Bajak village of Bathinda, demanded inter-district movement of labourers. “I have nine acres to sow non-basmati rice varieties, but non-availability of workers will land me in big crisis. The adjoining district of Muktsar has a group of Punjabi labourers trained in paddy sowing. The district authorities should relax restrictions to allow movement of such workers,” he adds.
However, the government is now looking at mechanised sowing as an alternative to the manual plantation.
Secretary (agriculture) Kahan Singh Pannu expressed the hope that paddy sowing in the state would shift from the labour-intensive transplantation to the mechanized sowing this season.
Referring to the trials conducted by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) during the past five years on direct seeding rice (DSR) varieties, Pannu said sowing is done with machines and it has shown encouraging results.
He added that the government is offering 40% subsidy on DSR machines. “The number of machines may not be sufficient to sow paddy across the state, but it would set a new trend,” he said.
“The yield of DSR varieties and paddy transplanted on fields with puddle of water during the trials has been the same. In fact, the new method is beneficial to farmers as it needs less irrigation,” he said, while adding that they would issue an advisory in this regard to the farmers.
“We still have 50 days left with us. Hopefully, we would deal with the issue,” he said.
Talking to HT, PAU vice-chancellor BS Dhillon said, “Now is the time to move away from traditional methods of paddy transplantation. We have made a prototype of a machine for DSR. More such machines could be manufactured and supplied to farmers.”
Dhillon said the machines manufactured during these days may not cater to the entire state, but they would mark the beginning of a good start for paddy sowing. He advocated use of happy seeders and zero-till drills for paddy sowing.
EXPANSION OF COTTON, BASMATI, MAIZE TO CUT PADDY AREA
Pannu said the agriculture department has planned to increase the area under basmati, cotton and maize so as to reduce the area under paddy.
He said cotton would be grown over 12.25 lakh acres this season as compared to last season’s 9.5 lakh acres. Similarly, the area under maize crop will increase from 4 lakh acres to 7.35 lakh acres and that of basmati from 16 lakh acres to 18.35 lakh acres. “This will reduce the area under paddy by at least 8.5 lakh acres. Accordingly, the requirement for labour will also be less.”