Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Season of Tragedy Hits Kerala’s Rice Cultivators

In Kutttanad, farmers have to request powerful trade-unions for allotment of farm-hands.

SUMMER RAINS are not unusual in Kerala. Farmers know when the rains could come and they always had their own traditional contingent plans to save the crops. Yet, in the past few days rains have played havoc in the rice bowl of Kerala, Kuttanad, and other rice growing areas like Trissur, Kottayam, Palakkad and some parts of Malabar.

The government in its initial response, has said that in Kuttanad alone losses to the farmers were as much as Rs. 16 crore while it is around Rs. 11 crore in Trissur. The total loss all over Kerala is now being assessed and when all the figures are in, the losses could run into a substantial amount this season.

It is a heart-breaking situation for peasants in Kerala. The state’s agricultural sector is now in deep crisis and in the past few years, hundreds of farmers have committed suicide as they were trapped in a vicious debt crisis. Even the Indian Government took notice of this serious situation and had announced a series of measures to help save the farmers from Vidharbha to Wayanad, known as the peasant suicide belt in the country.

But the tragedy of Kuttanad farmers this season is different, it is mainly a man-made crisis thanks to over-politicization of the farm operations. In the summer puncha season, farmers have to harvest their crops before the summer rains set in, and hence the summer schedule is always a hectic one. This season, they had planted rice in around 26,000 hectares in Kuttanad, and in the past few weeks harvesting was over in as much as 15,000 hectares. What was left for harvesting there was an area of around 11,000 hectares.

But the farmers were facing an acute shortage of farm-hands as the few weeks in March are critical for their operations. The farm workers are highly organized and the Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (KSKTU) which owes allegiance to the CPM is quite strong and they do not allow any type of machines for harvesting, threshing and other activities. The Government also has put severe restrictions for bringing in machinery for farm operations. This season as the farm-hands shortage hit the operations holding up harvesting and other activities, peasants had been requesting farm-hands’ unions for permission to make use of machines, but they resisted and physically stopped them from being used in the fields.

The result was a delay in harvesting operations. Even the rice that had been harvested lay in the fields when the rains hit suddenly, flooding the entire region. Now the peasants accuse the farm-workers union of delaying the operations and the unions deny they were responsible. They claim that only where the peasants forcibly brought in the machines that they used force to stop them…

It is a sad drama indeed, where the farmers who invested so much of their money and effort are not able to harvest their crops because farm-hands are not available and still they can’t use machines instead. It is a perfect case of dog in the manger, it neither eats nor does it allow the cow to eat…

This has been going on in Kuttanad and other parts of Kerala for decades now. No machines, say the left politicians and workers unions. When they ask for supply of farm workers, they are asked to wait: there is a system where workers are allotted to each farmer by the trade union office. And often rains don’t accept this schedule fixed by politicians and it plays havoc. Net result has been that many harried peasants left their traditional vocation and there has been a drastic decline in Kerala’s rice cultivation. It has now reached a nadir and then comes the sharp rise in food prices…

And how do the Kerala politicians and Government officials respond to this rice shortage? They accuse the Federal Government of not providing sufficient food supply to the State!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

If I were a farmer, and have to seek the permission of worker's union to harvest my crop, I would look for some other occupation. What if the industrialist has to get the permission of workers to sell the final products? Isn't it trade unionism affecting Kerala's development?