Monday, March 17, 2008
why are people silent about an impending crisis
No one in the media or government is a farmer or knows about farming.
The past two weeks have seen very unseasonable weather throughout the Island, which has resulted in large areas of the North Central and North Western Provinces as well as others being inundated with rain during the peak harvesting season for the Maha harvest. It is almost impossible to harvest paddy in the rain or when the paddy is wet.
Farmers, who were extremely hopeful of finally receiving a reasonable price for their paddy owing to the prevailing all time high prices, were in for a rude shock when they were faced with the inclement weather.
Many had staked all to obtain a good yield, borrowed money on very high short term rates of interest in order to take advantage of the expected price, that everyone failed to realize that one cannot count the chickens, until they are hatched.
This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that when it is suitable to cut the paddy there will be a shortage of people to do the work as dry weather windows are few and far between under this weather pattern. One must also realize that the machines that cut paddy cannot operate when the fields are wet, as they will get stuck in the mud and cannot propel their engines forward.
If one is fortunate enough to be able to cut the paddy and have it threshed, then one has the added cost of drying it to an acceptable standard for storage and sale. The threshing process where the machine costs Rs60/- a minute, will take longer with wet paddy. Paddy is only dried in the sun. A warm cement floor is an ideal way to dry paddy quickly. That is why one sees these drying floors outside rice mills.
The alternative is to sell as is, as in with a higher than acceptable level of humidity to traders at a lower price, who sell on to the few Mill owners who have the capacity to immediately par boil the rice and then dry and store it for future sale. This is therefore another opportunity for the bigger mill owners to obtain paddy at below market rates, ensuring they have additional profits on marketing, as wet paddy is not an issue with parboiled rice.
A worse scenario has befallen some farmers, whose crop has fallen owing to the rain as root systems are not deep when sowing as opposed to transplanting, and if the fields get flooded the paddy drowns in the water. It then gets spoilt with plants sprouting and what ever is saved in the threshing process is of a poor standard, only good for animal feed. I believe the last time it rained to a similar extent at harvesting season was over 25 years ago, so one can imagine how infrequent and unexpected this event has been. Crop insurance schemes will only cover total loss and most farmers will be able to reclaim some of their crop albeit at a lower price, which will still exceed the best price obtained last season, though their input costs have been much higher.
I am writing this in the verandah of my cabin while it is raining heavily outside and my crop is right outside, looking very bountiful but too wet to do anything about. I can fully appreciate what the other 150,000 + farmers in these areas must be feeling, as we are all faced with the same problem, expecting a record crop, only to be stifled by the unpredictability of the weather pattern.
I have an added problem as my model is to grow rice with the minimum use of pesticides and then store it and sell it direct to my customers during the rest of the year. In order the to that the stored paddy has to be very very dry so that it does not spoil. This is going to be a problem, which I have yet to resolve. If the rain came two weeks earlier or later it would have been OK but at the crucial period of harvesting is not fair!!.
On another practical note, for regular rice, it is better to harvest when the paddy is slightly raw, so when milling the rice particle does not break. In parboiling this is not an issue, added benefit to the Mill owner who can stock this paddy for when the prices rice as is inevitable again this year.
I am due quite a lot of paddy on account of transactions I have entered in the nature of forward purchase. I will have a problem again as I will inevitably receive wet and therefore under weight when dried paddy. I will further have to dry this before storage, to ensure I will have different types of rice for sale in my shop. The rains being nationwide, does not give me an option, to take my paddy to the farm in Godagama to dry it there either, which is an option I am toying with.
grains of paddy which when milled is rice still on the stalk prior to threshing