Monday, May 5, 2008

A typical day at the farm

A typical day at Galdola Farm, Godagama, Kirimetta, Meegoda.

May 3, 2008. A summary of the day, written at the end, when all are asleep.

Due to unavoidable circumstances of my Tata cab at 104,000km requiring expensive repairs this week, I was forced to spend the whole week on the farm in Meegoda, which is approximately 25km from the center of Colombo. It is a land of 10 acres, primarily planted with King Coconuts, but which have many coconut trees and I have planted a further batch of coconut seedlings, only some of which remain, having escaped the wrath heaped on them by the cattle. Much of the King Coconut is under planted with Banana, which is now fairly prolific putting out shoots, which require to be suppressed lest it reduces the size of both the bunch and the fruit, with fallen trees owing to wind and rain adding to the woes.

I was up before all at 4 am, and made my two cups of tea and watched an hour of CNN uninterrupted by anyone except the crowing of the cocks in the pen not too far from the house. Akman will also get up at 4am to milk the cows, and he has looked after cattle for most of his 74 years. (he does not have to work and has a home close by with at least one son who earns well overseas, but prefers to live in a room near the cattle shed drawing a monthly salary of Rs7,500) I then went to the shed where the hot of the cow(no pun intended as the milk is warm when taken from the animal) fresh milk was being put into the Mega bottles (one and a half litre) by Siripala for delivery. (he is another single man of about 65 who stays in the room adjoining Akman, and is also a local man with well-off family including moonshine distillers who prefers to live on the farm and helps out with milking when needed and also helps with the cattle shed working on and off in the property for 35years, but whose primary purpose now is to cut grass for the animals. His earnings are also similar to Akman, but drinks moonshine daily)

I was chatting with Siripala about the benefits of more milk after my insistence on doubling the grass fed to the cattle, as we were reminded by the vet to feed at least 10% of their body weight with grass. Paul came to take the milk in the push bicycle to the neighborhood. Paul is about 57 and lives at the far end of the property with his common law wife and is the most difficult person to manage, having lived on the farm for about 8 years. He is from a good family of Fonsekas who endowed St. Mary’s Bambalapitiya the Catholic Church, but whose father had fallen on bad times, and he has actually spent time in jail for murder and in his prime was associated with the gangsters of Colombo, and who is now living in a lovely cottage provided by us on the farm, his wife, the mother of his two children having left him decades ago to live and work overseas. The one useful thing he has been able to do is to sell the milk from 6am and this morning he took 15 bottles for sale at Rs50/- a bottle. The problem is that on his rounds he gets a drink of kasippu (moonshine) from the odd customer and then once he returns at 8.30am goes home and does not surface till the next morning (he can really finish the task by 7.30am but likes to chat with householders have tea and con around before returning.) If he is pulled up for this he sometimes does not turn up for work for two days.

Once I got back into the house at 6am, small Gamini had woken (he is a 27 yr father of one and a half staying with me in the house. I brought him back to normalcy having picked him up ten days ago from an alcoholic stupor having almost died, and de toxed him so will pay him only from May 1st, while providing all his meals. I learnt my lesson last time, where the money given before he returned home was spent on drink before getting there. I will send it to the wife this time, and he has promised to work for me for three months before going home, and has promised not to touch alcohol under my wing.) He informs me that big Gamini,(a father of four and my highest paid employee) after I had paid him an ex-gratia of Rs 400 last evening for plucking 200 coconuts, over and above his daily wage, had got drunk and had to be rushed to hospital suffering from chest pains and discomfort. I had to therefore reschedule the work to be done prior to the shop opening at 7am.

He was tasked to husk the coconuts and take them to the Kade (shop at the entrance to the farm) and only then uproot the yams from the Kiri ala plants to put in the shop. Suwaris(a sixty something man who lives nearby with wife and daughter, and comes to work when he feels like, and is cranky and has to be managed!) was asked to collect the kathurumurunga leaves, and Amaradasa asked to cut the Kehel Muwa from the banana trees for the shop. After that they were both asked to pluck the Amberella from the trees also for the Kade as soon as possible as customers come first thing to get the best pick of what is available.

Siripala was asked to bring the banana bunches into the shop. Seetha who is Amaradasa’s wife (this couple left a year back and recently returned to the farm realizing there is no paradise like the farm, and he is sickly so works when he can having looked after the cattle in days gone by. She now cooks the meals for Akman and Siripala) was asked to pluck the gotu kola and take the bunches to the shop and when there, help the shop girl Nadeesha with the sales in the morning as more than one pair of hands is required for the first hour and half before breakfast break at 9 am.

Sagara the 22 yr boy who is Amila’s replacement as driver was asked after his morning tea to go in the cab to look for Leslie, the man who plucks the King Coconut bunches, as he has been missing for days. He reported back that he has not been sighted this morning at the Meegoda rail gate, the place where people looking for him in the morning go.

Once Sagara returned at 7.15 I asked small Gamini and Sagara to check the Manioc (cassava) plants in front of the shop to see if the yams are ready to be extracted. Ten kilos of yams were taken to the shop and I asked Seetha before she went for breakfast to boil a few for my breakfast, to have with lunu miris. There is nothing like fresh manioc, the taste of the small yams was great, but Gamini and Sagara the boys staying in the house with me, need their three rice meals a day and so had rice for breakfast, a luxury only a few can afford these days, but this at my expense! It is ironic that I eat healthy and fresh yams I sell in the shop at Rs 35kg while they eat the rice I grow which I sell in the shop at Rs 75kg.

I took the Oranges from the fridge to the shop and as soon as Paul came back from milk duties I marshaled him to go with Gamini to pluck the papaya and put a selection in the shop once washed. With papaya white sap on Gamini’s body, he had to go and bathe before his breakfast as it made his skin itch.

The new roster was set up after breakfast at 9.30 with Asanka (young 20 something boy, a grandson of a person who worked for my grandfather, who is involved with big Gamini’s eldest 18yr daughter, can only surface at 9.30 or 10am and is paid directly by my father to do odd jobs as he is multitalented, but lazy.) asked to remove the compost with a boy who had come to help for the day. After checking the compost in the pit, he tells me that it is not ready, because for some reason he was asked to put banana leaves, which had still not composted and therefore will be a while yet before it can be cleared and a new batch put in to compost. He should have checked this long ago, as he told me yesterday he needs a helper to bag the compost, and was using this friend he got to come to work for that task. These two boys therefore spent the best part of the day, using a grass cutter to mow the lawn area around the house and clear the verges of weeds and spruce up the place. If only the grass cutter was used for the fields we may have been able to cut four loads of grass instead of the two we did today.

Sagara was sent to a local mechanic with a note of what I was told I needed to repair before the alignment could be done. I wanted to find out if that was all I needed and if the parts were obvious. When he returned, Nimal Samarajeeva who started work only on May 1st on the next door property now handled by my cousin Shani after her father Uncle Harris died, said his water pump was not working and wanted to consult a mechanic so I sent Sagara with him to see if he was home, and instead his son, a young boy came to see what was wrong. Once it was discovered that the water pump had been misused and needed repair and Aunty Neela in her 80s was staying there and needed water, I asked Asanka to see if we could do some adjustments so we can use our pump to fill their tank and to give me a list of items I needed to buy at the hardware store in order to do that.

I then left with Sagara, first to give my two old tyres I replaced yesterday with new ones, to be retreaded to be used in the rear, then to the parts shop to see if there were the parts to do the repair on the front wheels, and finally to buy the valves to redirect the water to Aunty Neela’s water tank.

Once I returned I got Asanka working on the water pump, and I went to the shop to review the performance, which was very weak today with less than the expected customers coming on a Saturday. Then my father came, with his household laundry wanting it done today, I had to rig up the washer and start the machine myself, as the girl who has been trained to use the machine was off this week. I am paranoid to let too many people use the washing machine as people here are careless and this machine that has not given a problem in over 40 months could be damaged beyond repair. So I did the complete cycle and hung the clothes out to dry and was able to send the dried clothes back with him when he left at 4 pm.

I sent Sagara to get lunch (rice and curry packets) for himself and Gamini from outside and I skipped lunch with my father eating the left over manioc for lunch with fresh coconut he had asked to be scraped.

After breakfast, Siripala and Amaradasa went to cut the grass for the cows and Asanka went in the tractor and brought a load to the cowshed. Suwaris was asked to clear the balance of the Hingurala beds that had become weed infested, and Paul asked to clear the old corn beds of weeds so we could get it ready for new plantings, while small Gamini, sent to scour the property for bananas, came back to report that there was a fallen banana bunch that needed to be rescued behind the cattle shed. Asanka’s friend was cleaning the lawn and Seetha was clearing the beds for the bandakka seeds to be put.

After lunch Paul, Gamini, Suwaris and Sagara went round putting poles on the banana plants with hanging bunches to prevent them from falling over, after trying unsuccessfully to save the ambun bunch that had fallen near the cattle shed. This was a very useful exercise, which I should ask them to continue on Monday once we leave on our sales drive. Seetha took the afternoon milk delivery route, and Siripala and Amaradasa continued to cut grass for another load which was brought back by Asanka. Small Gamini collected the stuff for my father’s weekly food selection, while Suwaris husked the coconuts and Paul and Sagara checked the stock of wood for repairing Paul’s milk box and later went with Paul to repair his push bicycle and then onto to see if they could locate Leslie to get him to come urgently to cut the 500 King coconuts we require for Monday delivery.

Paul was asked to get the recipe from his wife to prepare two person portions of dry rations to pack and take to my Colombo customers of the Galdola special ‘Kola Kanda’ so that they can easily make this at home from the wholesome organic country fresh ingredients.

Once the shop closed I tallied and paid the shop girl her wages for April. I then checked that the adjustments made to the water pump did not compromise the water pressure to my tank and filled the tank.

All left at 4.30 but I was upset that Asanka and his friend both of whom are paid directly by my father and paid the most of all the workers today, did not work a full day like the rest of the staff. Sagara and Gamini went to have their well bath. Later in the evening when Gamini started to cook, he discovered that the gas cylinder was empty, so I sent them out to look for Leslie for the 3rd time in the day and get their dinner though not for me as I don’t like the food, and my hope that I would have dinner was dashed with the gas run out. The boys went to sleep at 9pm and I at midnight, am still typing away 5 pages of just today’s work of nine males and two females.

From the above it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that this sort of multi-product farming is uneconomical with an inefficient staff, who lack motivation and have to be constantly supervised.


Boycy said...

what exactly are u trying to get going ? some agri business thing ?

Anonymous said...

Inefficiency may be due to lack of incentives. Can you think of a better incentive system to get your employees to work more efficiently? Perhaps rather than paying salary you could figure out a pay-for-performance scheme. Would your staff be motivated knowing that their compensation is directly linked with their performance????

mottapala said...

You give them good but free food, good wages, accomodation and respect. You are making a mistake. They dont understand value of been an employee of yours. Present day sri lankan wants glamour. They will be happier to do somesort of security job with a uniform, which looks nice with a paultry salary in 12 hour shifts.

Give them names, Manager, assistant manager, Consultant in diary products etc. Free food is the worst thing you can give in SL.