Friday, April 25, 2008

Dream is far from Reality!!!!

This is a week where everything seems to have gone wrong, and 95% of the problems relate to the unreliability of the people who had tasks given them, which they have failed to complete and in some cases even start. The great excuse this time was that avurudhu season meant they could not do the work. Farming has no time void, work has to be done according to a different time table, which includes weather, water availability and machine worthiness of agricultural implements.

Agricultural labor sadly being the lowest educated and also notoriously ill disciplined, is part of the turf one deals with and so this is to be expected. I have earlier alluded to this also, where the best format to perform an agri business is fairly large where there are tiers of responsibility and accountability of a large scale unit with economies of scale, or a one man or family show where a peasant farmer just works his land and sells his produce. I am in a format that has no economic future in this current context primarily because I am not large enough to employ managers to run the organization. Spending all the time overseeing the work just to get them off their backs is counterproductive for me.

I am not the only one in this state. Many of the others have alternative income sources, and can subsidize loss making agricultural outfits, and those that I know who have larger tracts, and are making a reasonable return, say that it is the personnel issue that has prevented them from achieving a much better return. There is wholesale pilfering in this sector, as food items are easily marketable, as they cannot be distinguished from where they are sourced.

In my area the price of two coconuts is the price of the half bottle of moonshine (Rs100/-) which is readily available. I can round up in ten minutes 25 able bodied men who are now drunk at this hour of noon only with the promise of course of a free half. How can I feel sorry for these farmers? I have spent Rs 75,000/- buying paddy in the past four weeks to mill and sell in my shop and to my customers, in addition to my own paddy. Much of the money once the debts are paid, will end up in the belly of the my neighbors in the form of kassippu. Where is the sense in this? Today one of the wives squeezed another Rs 10/- a kg for her at the moment drunk husband’s paddy by shifting the date I ostensibly purchased it, just to feed her family. This cost me a paper loss today based on today’s price.
I noted in my journal yesterday that this is the most stressful job I have ever had to do as I have to juggle more crystal balls at the same time than a circus juggler, just to keep standing up. For example some of this morning’s issues.
1) The king coconut plucker has failed to come as promised, so alternative and more expensive means of plucking have to be organized, then the rains came and no one on the farm in Godagama worked from 9am though they get paid for the whole day as they turned up in the morning and no king coconuts got plucked creating a further headache to meet my commitments.
2) One staff member had a disagreement with another and I had to make various promises so she would come to work, as my revenue would suffer.
3) One farmer I made a forward purchase agreement with wants to change the terms of the agreement, to save him from dire straits and is looking to me to help him out, and of course relief is in the form of money!
4) Another farmer I made an agreement with paid the interest in Paddy, but wanted to extend the agreement so he can have a further season to pay back just when I was counting on the principal being paid today, so I can settle the wages.
5) The water from the Minneriya tank was given to our canal effective yesterday, but I have yet to see a drop into my property, so I have to set up investigation as to who is taking water without entitlement so I can get my requirements for ploughing.
6) My staff failed to dry all the paddy I had asked them to so I have to ensure it is dried and bagged for storing for later use inspecting the work.
7) My neighbor wants to borrow my weighing scale I just bought at great expense to weigh the paddy I buy and use etc. I have to decide if his friendship is worth the scale! Especially, as he is notorious for not returning.
8) One of my wholesale customers in Colombo just called asking me to get him a bag of rice. I don’t have the money to buy even knowing he will give me the cash on delivery, but I can’t tell him that, as he wont believe me.
9) We plucked the coconuts and are husking them, I have to decide which of the ones to take for sale, and leave the smaller ones to dry with husk so I can mill for coconut oil as it is more worthwhile doing that than sell small nuts.
10) I need to move the motor to end of the property to wet and plough knowing that the allocation will be insufficient. This is met with resistance on the basis that the existing tasks will not be done and moving the pipes is hard work. I am determined to move it but when I next come the ploughing will not have been done and the pump returned to normal duties.

Each day is different, it makes it interesting, but when one is juggling it is stressful in a robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario.

Friday, April 18, 2008

a relaxing time in the hills

I was a guest at a friends' place in Nuwera Eliya, and I had a really relaxing time. We went to Hakgala Gardens on one day and dashed back to the car when the rains came around 2pm after a sumptuous picnic.

We went on another day to Horton Plains National Park and other times relaxed at the comfortable home, watching some movies on DVD and reading and playing some croquet on the lawn or just vegging out as my staff were also having their celebrations at this time.

I am back at the saddle having to deal with the low sales during the holiday season and low work output of the same time.

visit to horton plaines national park

I was fortunate to be able to visit the park on Tuesday. April 15th. The friends I was staying with in Nuwera Eliya took me there. It approximately 30km from Nuwera Eliya and passes the Ambewela dairy farms, and the Ambewela and Pattipola Railway stations. It took us about 80 minutes to get to the start of the walking trail.

Entrance fees for Locals is Rs30 pe adult and Rs20 pe child with Rs 100 for a car and Rs 200 for a jeep. The old Far Inn is now the visitor center and charge a Rs100/- for a soda so bring your own refreshments as well as sandwiches.

You have to dispose of all polythene before entering the walking path as it could pollute the environment and we were politely asked to bring all empties of bottles we take with us, the slightly tricky thing was if we had candy wrappers how to we bring it back if there are no trash cans on the way and we were not allowed to take a platic bag as a makeshift trash collector?

We walked first to Worlds end via little worlds end and then on to Bakers Falls and back to base which took us 175 minutes.

The sambur in the photo greeted us on arrival and the photo of the falls in full spate and the other of a wild flower in bloom are examples of its beauty.

Wear comfortable shoes that can grip the slippery trail, as most people who came to visit were dressed as if they were out for a stroll on Galle Face after a shower with perfume and Sunday best and highish heels.

It is a strenous walk and worth every moment. The weather can turn in minutes so be prepared for all weather possibilities.

Rememember at over 2000meters altitude breathing can get difficult so dont be overambitious in trying to walk fast as you would soon tire unless you are fighting fit and there is a lot of climbing and descending.

Terrible thing was there were no distance postings to guide us as to how far were from a place.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"avurudhu wishes to you all'

It is the Sinhala and Hindu New Year and a harvest celebration, which also coincides, which we share with our common cousins in mainland India.

For me it is hell, as I have to find the funds for a bonus for my staff, who expect one no matter what my financial circumstances. I have hardly had anything to sell in the past few months, as my coconut and king coconut trees have been in low production, and my rice is only just coming into the market after the recent harvest. So the past three months have been hand to mouth with expenditure exceeding revenue.

Here in Minneriya, all my neighboring farmers are scrambling to sell some or all of their harvest to pay of the debts of the old year so they can start the new one afresh. The price of paddy has allowed many to actually clear their debts. I have on the other hand had to purchase paddy I had promised, but now at a much higher price than I envisaged. For it to turn into cash after selling rice, there is a time lag. Today, I lost a great opportunity to make a big return. A neighbor wanted me to buy his whole paddy stock for about Rs100,000, which I believe will be worth about 40% more in about two months, but I did not have the cash to give him right now. He will now go to Nipuna the biggest miller, who is ready with cash to buy at anytime.

I spent the last few days collecting my paddy and now have a reasonable stock but which has to be dried before I can either, mill or store for the long term. This has to be done carefully as it has been wet lately. I leave in a few hours back to the farm and the shop with about 8 varieties of rice I had dried and milled. I am also taking 4 bunches of kolikuttu from my trees for the avurudhu breakfast tables of my shop customers.

Most people in jobs return to their home villages today or tomorrow the 11th, the schools last day of term and avurudhu celebrations were yesterday, where the students come in traditional cloth and jacket.

The main celebrations are on Saturday and Sunday with auspicious times for various activities. The auspicious time to start work again is next Thursday evening the 17th, and Saturday happens to be Poya, so I presume people will delay their start of the work-week till Monday the 21st. So this holiday is about 11 days for people to be with their families. Don’t forget that in Sri Lanka there are many people who work away from home and though they go home from time to time, it is only for a day or two but in this period shops, factories and some establishments give the staff two weeks off, so it is looked on with much anticipation and bonuses discounted by pre-spending.

Many people buy new clothes for the New Year for them and family and so the shops do a roaring trade, and people in more successful companies get bonuses that can be a month’s salary and called avurudhu bonus.

Here in the village it is when we expect to see our relatives who work away, looking forward to their arrival to help with the cooking of special foods. However, the many in the Forces don’t get this time off, as we are in the midst of a war, so the celebrations are quiet and at home with visits to the near and dear ones taking place after the 14th when one is able to go out to visit according to auspicious times bearing bananas and home made eats.

My staff, in Minneriya, have got their families for the New Year so I have to cover the costs of their accommodation, and can leave this place to them. My staff on the farm will go in staggered stages so I can make sure the grass is cut and the cows are fed. The shop will be closed on Saturday and Sunday, so I have to make sure I am able to sell as much as possible on Friday, so that I can pay them a bonus before they go that evening. I have told them that 100% of the balance of funds in the shop will be available to pay their bonus, but that did not excite them to get more stuff into the shop to sell, like papayas from the trees or more coconuts plucked or bananas that are mature, or any number of leaves that are free of any chemicals, to sell.

This is another entitlement in the eyes of a wage earner who does not see how his or her effort can directly benefit them, as they always look at the others and say why should I work so hard to bring such and such in to the shop when so and so is not pulling his weight. They don’t realize that they have to mutually agree to work together to achieve the common goal of more sales so that they can equally share the spoils amongst each other.

I have a busy schedule tomorrow, to deliver my King coconuts to the Golf club and some bananas and rice to a few customers, in Colombo, before getting back to the farm to pay the bonus. I then drive for a short vacation to Nuwera Eliya tomorrow night, as I have been invited by some friends, to stay at their vacation home, they too have vacated Colombo, as their household staff have in most part gone home for the New Year and suspect Colombo will be a ghost town for a week.

we still live in different worlds a few miles apart

I was asked by a friend who lives in the big city, to ask one of my game ladies to make some authentic ‘mun kavum’ and ‘konde kavum’ for the Sinhala New Year table. She moreover asked how much it would cost.

The latter statement is the one I would like to refer to. We are now so used to using caterers to make short eats and they do it as a business with price lists, and prices rising by the day. This friends mother who was making the order wants to know exactly how much everything costs before placing the order.

So I asked this lady how much this order would cost. She looked at me incredulously, like how can she give a price, you pay what it is worth. Now that threw me off completely as now everything has a price and if I under value hers and pay her less, she is never going to accept an order from me and if I pay her too much, then I will be cheating my friend, who will pay for the food. I agree with the old dear that gas prices have gone up so her cooking cost along with coconut oil and sugar and rice flour have all risen by leaps and bounds and I suspect she is not making any eats this year due to the high cost of all the inputs.

I tried to explain to my friend that I cannot give a price, but what we will work out after she does it will not be too outrageous and certainly less than what she could buy an equivalent at a Colombo shop.

This shows in sharp contrast what has happened to our senses as we are terrified of being overcharged by anyone as it seems to be the order of the day and we need to know exactly how much everything costs before we make any commitments to purchase.

Those in the west may read this and wonder what I am making all this fuss about as they have forgotten the days when the hairies inhabited their lands that was how it was done then, it is just a timing and modernizing issue not a strange behavior of a senile old lady.

Welcome to the real world where traditional Sinhala custom rides smack in the face of the modern age now exemplified by only the Food City staff all around the country wearing the same patterned cloth in the traditional cloth and jacket dress. No locals have even brought out theirs from mothballs yet!!

I just delivered the 40 Konde Kavum and 40 Mun Kavum to he house a few minutes ago for a total cost of Rs 1250/-

How to teach a farmer who thinks he knows all?

It is a very sad reflection of our society in 2008, when farmers are finally able to get their head above water, when they are still determined to drown, not taking advantage of the good fortune handed to them on a platter, in terms of a very real increase in the price offered them for their produce.

Taking my personal experience this year, with paddy farmers encircling me in my area here in Hingurakgoda, and Minneriya one of the initial farming schemes, where settlers were given land free (ten acres to begin with) by the government along with a guarantee of water to farm rice paddies.

My local farmers know that transplanting offers them a better yield, they refuse to do so blaming the high cost of labor to transplant not even knowing about the transplanters used elsewhere. Then they refuse to use a plough to turn the soil post harvest, as that is the quickest and best method of putting back the nutrients to increase yield. When the straw is turned over it breaks down fast and compost into the soil and the deep ploughing brings up the nutrients at the bottom back up to root level. They don’t consider it necessary and look on it as an added waste as the government provides enough water for them to flood the fields to drown the weeds just before sowing when it is too late for nutrients to help in the new planting.

The whole process of soil conditioning which even farmers in ancient times used to improve and sustain yields is not done either, finding it simpler to use subsidized fertilizer. Further once the paddy is harvested, they don’t have the ability to say if the paddy is dry enough for sale. In the case today when I took delivery of paddy from a farmer, he insisted it was dry, and when I with my limited knowledge took in to the drying floor in the mill and then weighed it after drying was able to prove that he was wrong, and that is the reason the traders do not give them market price, something they can get by drying a few bags at a time at home for only two hours in the sun.

These examples above both reduce yield based on same inputs, and also gives the farmer a lower income due to his lack of basic knowledge. I firmly believe that very small and elementary steps not resulting in much cost can increase yields by at least 50%, and the matter about drying paddy, what can I say except that they are bone lazy even if it means earning more money. This example is a sad reflection of our times where blame firmly lies with those who blame others for their ills.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rural women cheat on their husbands

This is a very interesting story so please read on till its conclusion. Lately the Ceylinco Grameen Bank concept of lending money to women to build businesses has also come to Minneriya and Hingurakgoda.

So assume a woman is lent Rs 20,000/- at 12% interest, or she promises to pay the principal and interest at the end of 12 months. So she has to payback Rs 22,400/- in a year.

She promptly goes out and buys a gold chain for Rs 20,000/- as Grameen does not appear to follow up on loan as long as she meets the repayment schedule on time, which is also underwritten by a group of women who borrow together. She then pawns the chain to Bank of Ceylon, which at the moment gives the highest percentage on pawned value, and gets Rs 15,000/-

She then lends the money to her husband or another farmer on a scheme where he promises to repay the money and give her 15 bushels of paddy as interest on harvest. So in 4 months she receives her Rs 15,000 back and if she sells her 15 bushels(bushel is 21 kg), she gets about Rs 7,875.(at Rs 25 a kilo) Now she has Rs 22,875. She then keeps Rs 2,875 and relends Rs 20,000 again for 4 months and gets 20 bushels at the end of the 4 months as well as her principal. The 20 bushels gives her Rs 10,500. She then redeems her jewelery paying Rs 15,000 for the principal and Rs 1,750 as interest. She has Rs 13,750 from her most recent transaction, when added to the earlier Rs 2,875 becomes Rs 16,625. From farm labor etc. she has been able to save an extra Rs 5,775 in the year or approx Rs 500 a month, to pay the loan and interest. So at the end of the year she has a gold chain, and she is a good credit risk and she is now given a loan of Rs 30,000 having proved herself.

Her husband was not told about the Grameen transaction or Gold chain, just that she managed to borrow from a money-lender, so she ensures he pays her loan on time. Now that is a smart women who takes Grameen for a ride but also enriches herself too in the process, saving her family from misfortune and a Gold chain now worth Rs 30,000 for future emergencies.(village credit terms are 1 bushel per Rs 1,000 lent per crop)

I must say I was impressed by the innovative use to which our rural women put the Grameen loan without doing any work, except to save Rs 500 a month, a days labor a month should see to that. Now that is a story????

Home milled rice

This rice was milled using a gal wangediya at home.If I had a wooden version,used in the past for this, the rice when pounded will separate from the husk without breaking.