Friday, May 9, 2008
tales from the frontline, the week that was
We think of the war when the word frontline is mentioned, but what about the war for food production. It is truly a war when one looks at all aspects one has to undergo to achieve one’s objectives in agriculture.
Sudath the man who had just married and is the person in charge in Hingurakgoda, had a tiff with his wife and had suddenly left without telling me in the morning before my arrival and the wife also disappeared before I woke up on the morning after I arrived at 3am on Tuesday morning. That left me well and truly in the lurch unsure of what I need to do.
I had to carry on with the special work needed to get the paddy fields ready for sowing. Firstly I went to pay the money for the fertilizer and the official told me that as it is not in my name I cannot get it and Sudath should come. As I was not sure of Sudath, I had to cancel all the bureaucratic paperwork in his name and begin the application process all over again in my name for the fertilizer subsidy. A new form and new people to authorize and then I had to go after 8pm to the agricultural extension officer’s home to hand over the forms and pay the money so that I can get the fertilizer before I leave. A lot of duplicated work because of the lack of responsibility of a person.
I had purchased a set of new ploughing wheels for mud ploughing but on the second outing these had come apart, and the tractor had got stuck in the mud, so I had to take that to be repaired, and was promised the repaired wheel the next day. Surprise surprise its two days now and it is still not repaired. In my opinion it had not been properly made, but I cannot return it and get my money back here.
The bicycle on this property was in a bad state. The usual problem where the staff don’t take care of items given for their benefit, as they had no hand in the purchase or payment for it. I had therefore to take it to be repaired and given a list of stuff to bring as part of the repair.
Sagara had to be sent to Habarana to pay a Rs1000 speeding fine I incurred when stopped outside the Habarana Cinnamon Lodge at 2.30 am at 58kmph. What can one say when radar police stop you for speeding doing 35mph in a 30 zone at 2.30 in the morning when there is no traffic. Words fail me when we have a police force incapable of fighting crime, but capable of enforcing the law on hardworking trying to make an honest living.( I had been working all day selling my produce in Colombo and only left the farm at 11pm to go to Polonnaruwa) After I dropped him at the Minneriya bus stand I picked up two boys I knew from Ratmale who were going to computer classes at the Pirivena in Hingurakgoda and dropped them there even though it was out of my way.I used the unexpected visit to the town to look for straw hats for the work in the baking sun, but could not find any.
Then it was a case of three people coming to me for loans as it is the start of the season with promises of unbelievable rates of interest for a 4 month loan. The lowest interest would be repayment of capital in 4 months in the form of the then prevailing price of paddy with interest being a bushel of paddy for each thousand lent. At today’s price the bushel or 21kg is Rs620 so an effective 180% interest rate, inevitably in four months this price will be so much higher so this rate is likely to be the lowest one can expect if prices remain unchanged. They are all stupefied when I say I have no money to lend them and I must also be silly not to have arranged borrowing facilities to be able to take these loans. If word spread I was willing to lend I could get at least 100 people wanting on average Rs10,000 just from the immediate neighborhood. They want this money for the government fertilizer subsidy, so are willing to agree to these rates knowing they cannot afford to lose the subsidy that is of immense benefit to the paddy farmer.
Frankly I don’t know why I bust a gut working so hard if money like this was so easy to come by!! I must remember for next season that for the four weeks before sowing, there is a great opportunity to make some money on this basis, it is not an unusual method but a common system established over the years to get money in a hurry so they have to resort to this system as banks will not lend on this basis.
I then went to the CIC farm at Hingurakgoda to buy the BG358 white samba seed paddy to plant this time. The office was not manned as it should so I had to hang around for a person to come to issue an invoice and collect payment. I was shocked at the increase in price from last season, of 70% so that I paid Rs 1450/- per bushel(20.5kg) and I purchased 4 bushels to sow in the 6 bushels (3 acres) of fields. The rule of thumb is a bushel for a bushel of land, but that is far too much in my opinion as paddy plants that close will prevent sufficient growth of each plant to maximize on its potential for stalks of grain. This paddy needs to be soaked in water and shoots need to sprout before it is sowed by hand. There is an art in sowing so that the whole field gets a fairly even spread of seed with later infilling of vacant areas.