Duality Of Farm Mechanization: Its Benefits And Detriments

Author- Mahnur Ali

Introduction

Farm mechanization means the use of machines and technology in the agriculture sector.  The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines mechanization as; “The application of tools, implements and machinery in order to achieve agricultural production”.  Farm mechanization is the process of improving farm labour productivity through the use of agricultural machinery, implements and tools. It involves the provision and use of all forms of power sources and mechanical assistance to agriculture, from simple hand tools, to animal draught power (DAP), and to mechanical power technologies.

Assam comprises both hilly terrain as well as valleys. It has three broad natural divisions namely Brahmaputra Valley, Barak Valley and the Hills. Assam is divided into six agro-climatic zones (North Bank Plain Zone, Upper Brahmaputra Valley Zone, Central Brahmaputra Valley Zone, Lower Brahmaputra Valley Zone, Barak Valley Zone and Hill Valley Zone) depending on the rainfall and temperature, climate, soil characteristics, terrain and the land use pattern. Assam has the largest cultivable plain land in North-East India but power consumption for mechanization is 0.75 kw/ha which is still below the national average of 1.5 kw/ha. For sustainable food grain production and drudgery reduction, mechanization of agriculture is mandatory to an optimum level.

As per Economic Survey in Assam, 2013-14, the state largest portion of total geographic area is net sown area (35.80 percent) followed by forest covered area (23.61 percent). A total of 17.94 percent of the geographic area is barren and uncultivable. Besides, other lands which are not available for agricultural use comprises 13.10 percent of the total geographic area followed by other uncultivable areas (5.50 percent) and land under still water (1.77 percent) respectively.  Fallow land, water logged land and social forestry consists of 1.63 percent, 0.50 percent and 0.16 percent respectively.

Present Scenario

Assam agriculture landscape is uneven and unique in many ways. While on one side we are at the bottom of the pyramid economy where over 90 percent operational farmers own less than1 hectare of land. Stretched in terms of the resources and on the other side to improve farm productivity, we need to adopt mechanisation which needs resources. Today, farm productivity is almost stagnant and we need higher output to serve an increasing population. Currently, our farm output is far lower compared to other leading market standards.

There are many reasons for low productivity including factors such as farm mechanisation, high yield variety seeds, heavy doses of fertilizer input, pesticides input. Due to heavy doses of fertilizer use in the field productivity enhances for a short period of time but after a while the land texture quality reduces and productivity goes down.  Hybrid variety seeds require more fertilizer which reduces soil fertility.  With heavy usage of pesticides pest resistance outbreak happens and once the pest is adaptable to those doses of pesticides or kind of pesticides the pest/insect is more dangerous to the crops which will reduce the production. There is a scientific reason that we can manage the pest/insect but cannot control it if pesticides are used for a long time.

In Assam, we have already exhausted the high yielding varieties (HYV) seeds and fertiliser usage. The potential option left is farm mechanisation as there is direct correlation between farm power and yield.

It is noteworthy that Assam agriculture sector is undergoing a shift and transforming gradually into mechanised way. Today’s farmers are much more aware of new technologies and machines. In the context of Kharupetia town of Darrang Districts and Barpeta Districts, farmers are ready to adopt newer ways of farm practices which of course pave a way for mechanised farming. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and investment into infrastructure sector have also pushed the mechanisation to an extent as these programmes siphoned some of farm labour into other projects.

Tractors are an integral part of farm mechanisation and critical for increasing agricultural productivity and farm output. Although India is the world’s largest tractor market in volume, Kilo Watt (KW) power is far low compared to other agriculturally developed countries. In Assam availability of tractors is not as per the need of the farmers. On close analysis, one will find four to five or fewer tractors in a village, 75percent of farmers hire tractors on rent.   Another fact is that average tractor size in Assam is less Horsepower (HP) as per the need which is much smaller compared to the other states. The usage of tractors is skewed towards land preparation and transportation.

With increased use of tractor and emergence of other farm machinery, the size and feature of tractors are undergoing change and second generation tractors are coming in the market. Today, all tractor manufacturers are investing into new technological features and we hope to see better and well equipped tractors in Assam in near future.

Changes In Rural Farming Practices And Production Enhancement

Farm mechanization has increased wage rates, prolonged stick land labour markets. It also helps in growing opportunities in non-farm employment. Due to farm mechanization, linkages between urban and rural areas have increased. Mechanization in remote areas has reduced the drudgery of labour and improved the working conditions. It has also helped in timeliness of operation. My engagements with Chandowapara Agri Business Centre of Darrang district, it is found that a family can harvest a maximum of 8 Bigha land of paddy using the paddy reaper, whereas, four labours can harvest maximum two Bigha land of paddy in a single day manually. There is also cost reduction by more than 50%. Paddy reapers expenditure comes to around Rs. 4000 whereas; it costs Rs. 9600 for manually reaping the paddy for 8 Bigha of land. The other tools such as paddy transplanting machine and weeder helps increase the production, farmers are able to increase their paddy production from 8.4 quintal to 11.2 quintal/Bigha.  A women farmer from Khas Barkala Village enhance her Kharif paddy yield from 80 mon to 120 mon through paddy transplanter. She was also able to reduce her cost of cultivation from Rs22000 to Rs18000. In the same way Renuka Deka from Chandowalpara CHC/ABC has enhance her summer paddy yield from 66 mon to 84 mon through farm mechanization. She has reduced her cost from Rs16500 to Rs12000 during summer season from paddy. Baby Bodo from Adhamapara village reduced her cost from Rs4200 to Rs 1500 using only paddy reaper. Minati Deka, an SHG member now after adopting farm mechanization, enjoys the economic benefits and also she is being recognized by other villager which was not the case earlier. The whole village is now adopting the technology to reduce drudgery of labour and cost. Farm mechanization also improved the dignity of farmers and increased economic returns to farmers. These are some farmers who are being benefited through the adoption of farm mechanization at Darrang district of Assam. This also does not signify that farm mechanization is a boon for all farmers. It also has its own set of limitations what are highlighted below.

 Challenges Of Farm Mechanisation

It is true that farm mechanization has shown good results by increasing agricultural production which thereby leads to improved standard of living for farmers within a very short period. At the same time, a number of arguments have been advanced against farm mechanization as well.

  • Land Size- Small size and scattered land holdings of farmers stand in the way of mechanization. As a result, farm machinery generally remains underutilized. Individuals who own tractors are not interested in ploughing fields of farmers who own less land; rather they prefer farmers who own three or more Bighas of land as higher land holding by a farmer means more economic returns for the tractor owner.
  • Replacing Human Power- Mechanization also leads to structural change in agriculture in respect of the occupational distribution in the rural economy. Daily wage earners and youth are migrating to urban areas in search of employment opportunities because the “machines” have taken over their jobs in the agriculture sector to an extent.  No doubt, the increasing farm mechanization is going to increase employment in secondary and tertiary sectors but it does displace labour in farm operations.
  • Lack of Proper Knowledge Of Farmers And Unavailability Of Repair Services- Farmers lack proper knowledge to purchase farm machinery, its operations and maintenance also leads to wrong choice, makes it uneconomical and risky too. The lack of repair and replacement facilities especially in the remote rural areas is another hindrance in efficient small farm mechanization. Due to the seasonal nature of agriculture, the farm machinery remains ideal during off seasons. Currently, different dealers import new sources of machinery brands/models. Lack of data/information/statistics on agricultural machinery in the states is also an issue for rural farmers. There are no back up parts and availability. Therefore, dealers face difficulties in communicating with suppliers. From my field experience of Darrang Districts,  it was found that the ABC  required to purchase some parts of  paddy reaper from one of the company, but the dealer and the company refused saying they do not have extra parts. And presently the reaper is out of date which makes it more difficult to get the parts.  Other company has not introduce the same machines or same size of machines due to which it is a problem for us to run the machines as required parts are not available but the machine was good for harvesting as it reduce cost and labour time.

What can be the way out for these challenges?

Following are some points that can help in solving the challenges that comes along the way of farm mechanization.

  1. Delivery mechanism

It requires adequate resource building with easy and affordable access to the farmers. Implement bank, pay per use could be a possible solution but needs diligent planning and execution. Another challenge is knowledge transfer both for usage and manufacturing. Importing new technology equipment is expensive and hence need to adapt for Indian conditions. At the same time large investment is required in skill building for correct usage.

  • Institutions

The States need to invest in design and development not only for adaption of farm machines but developing versatile equipments that can be used in multiple crops as well as which is user friendly for both male and female farmers.   Another major shift needed is the blend of agronomic practices and farm mechanisation.

  •  Rural Infrastructure

Field accessibility for farm machinery movement into the field is poor at present. The fields are smaller and not connected with roads. Hence, moving machine from one field location to other is neither possible nor efficient. The government can play a major role in building durable road connectivity which would help in mitigating this challenge. Though government has already identified the need for farm mechanisation, without proper rural infrastructure and connectivity, it is a far cry.

  • Introducing various crop schemes

Vast majority of farmers at Assam are dependent on rain for agriculture.  Poor and erratic monsoon with untimely rains affects the cropping seasons hence, reducing the farm productivity. Fallout of low disposable income is defaulting loan repayments. Hence, majority of financier has gone into cautious and selective mode that has further dampened the market momentum. The new crop insurance scheme, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, announced by the Central Government shall be helpful in protecting farmers from uncertain natural climatic conditions and reduce their risk to a large extent. Similar kind of schemes can be launched to create a positive long-term impact on farmers and on agro-based industries as well.

My personal experience and learning vis a vis farm mechanization from grass root level

I as a professional of SeSTA have tried to introduce new farm machinery i.e. paddy transplanting machine, paddy reaper and thrasher to minimise the cost and to maximise the farm productivity in Chandowalpara and Khas Barkal village of Paschim Mangaldai block under Darrang district of Assam.“Being a professional working directly in the field, introducing new technology (farm machinery) in rural areas is a challenge. It needs lots of patience to approach the new technology and to convince the farmers.”

Chandowalpara Mahila Agriculture Business Centre was started on June, 2017 through different SHGs coming together. The main purpose of the ABC (Agriculture Business Centre) is to provide farm equipments to its farmers and generate income from farm machinery and equipment renting. For the convenience of the farmers, the ABC charges lowest possible rate for rental farm equipment. There is an executive committee which conduct monthly meeting for seasonal plan and addressing agriculture related issues though sustainable solutions. The committee members consist of 2 representatives from each SHG in the village, who disseminate information, gather issues farmers are facing for discussion in the monthly committee meeting. The committee consists of a President, a Vice President, a Secretary, an Accountant and a Field Worker. Every season, the committee meeting discuss on requirement of farm machineries and its availability at a right time. The machines can be rented to limited area. The machines are issued on first come first basis which are recorded on a register by the field worker. The machineries have different rates. The Custom Hiring Centre (CHC) has 6 paddy reapers, 4 paddy transplanting machine, 6 paddy thresher, 2 zero tillage machines (seed cum fertilizer Driller).There are operators for reaper and paddy transplanting machine who works on contractual basis and is paid on the basis of land area the machine is operated. The field worker inspects and verifies the land area where the machine is operated and reports any variance in the measurement. The field worker also gets paid on basis of land area inspected and verified. The field worker also provides fuel and oil for the machines if required and maintain ledger book for further audit.

Farmers from surrounding villages are being benefited through the ABC enabling them to reduce the cost and maximise the productivity and can safe time which can be utilised for exploring other livelihood options. Through mechanised way, farmers can adopt inter-cropping so that if one crop fails, they can easily gain from the other crops.  Crop rotation can also reduce pest/insect and can enhance the quality of farm land as well. The ABC continues to support and provide assistance to the farmers, tackling challenges that come along the way.

Mahnur Ali, Executive, SeSTA, is currently posted at Mangaldai Block, Darrang district and for the past 3 years has been promoting livelihood activities and strengthening of community institutions. For further information and interaction reach out to him at mahnur@sesta.org .

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