Massive mechanisation for Indian farmers.
Nearly 70% of Indians live in rural areas and they have to share a 15% sliver of GDP, labour for agricultural operation is available for the asking. But the latest national survey shows that only 40% of the country’s 156 million households live mainly off agriculture, and even they depend on other sources for 40% of their incomes. Go to any village and one hears farmers complain of labour shortage.
The demand for farm labour tends to get bunched up during sowing and harvesting. This is the reason that mechanisation is catching up, though the pace of the last decade might get arrested because of slowing wage rate growth due to depressed commodity prices.
At a field in Kagal in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, a mowing machine looks terrifying in aspect and singular in purpose. Like a hurricane it brooks no opposition. Blades an inch below the ground neatly cut the cane. Other mechanisms chop the cane after separating it from trash, which is spat on to the ground, to enrich the soil. In two hours the harvester would have done an acre, a job which would have taken 10 workers about four days.
At Rs 265 a tonne workers are cheaper to engage; but they are hard to find and harder to please. Machine cutting costs more at Rs 300 a tonne, but the sugar recovery is higher because no stubs are left behind. As factories pay for cutting and transportation; farmers prefer machines.
The machine costs Rs 1.25 crore and has been financed mainly with a bank loan, with the local sugar factory guaranteeing business in its catchment area on the basis of a tender awarded to the one who offered to charge the lowest rate.
Agriculture in Punjab on the current scale is impossible without machines, even if workers were available and farmers were willing to pay more. In Punjab wheat is grown on 84% of the total cultivated area of 4.2 million hectares. Paddy covers 68% of the cultivated land.
Indian farmers do not need much convincing. But the cost of laser levellers, direct seeders and high horsepower tractors deters them.