Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The style and art of paddy harvesting with a scythe, soon to be forgotten

Paddy harvesting is done twice a year for each of the harvesting seasons on paddy land. It was the case in the past when the whole family participated in this, and one leaves the home after a big breakfast as much energy is used in the day’s activity.

There are songs, dances and traditions related to this activity. Now however with increasing cost of labor and lack of labor, it is the turn of the harvester to do this. Due the fields that I had to harvest, being too wet and muddy, I had to use manual labor the most expensive alternative to harvest these fields. The daily labor rate is Rs750 plus morning tea with a bun, lunch and afternoon tea with another sweet food item. Due to the severe shortage of workers and the seasonality of the work, this puts a premium on the labor at this time of year as a lot of paddy needs to be cut and there is no one willing and able to do so, in an increasingly affluent or lazy country depending on the outlook you may have to the Sri Lanka of today.

You take whomsoever you can find, and whether they are good or bad the rate is the same, a very anachronistic system, which is partly to blame for the low productivity of the workforce. Contract work is now the preferred route due to the labor shortage. People come to the area from other areas to cut the paddy, and they charge Rs8,000 an acre to cut and bundle and carry the bundles to the place where the mechanical thresher is used to thresh the cut straw into paddy.

I am late into this line of work, but last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, (yes that is Good Friday to Easter Sunday) while others are either at church or enjoying a break from work, I was reduced to cutting the fallen paddy in much the same way as is shown in the pictures, as well as enjoying the much needed calories refreshment to carry out the work. While the paid labor start at 8 and finish at 5 with 90minutes for lunch and 15 minutes each for the morning and afternoon break, it was no such luck for me as it was from dawn to dusk.

I am alive to tell the tale nursing swollen blisters and muscle aching pains, one wonders in these circumstances about the people sweating away in air conditioned gyms in urban centers, trying to get the same work out but with less longer lasting pain. It is in these times you appreciate the manual work people do, but also realize the utmost importance to find labor saving solutions to each of these problems as it is the way of the future, both in terms of productivity and cost reduction.

If I may make one observation from my area in Polonnaruwa, I did not see any women dong this job, as they used to in the past. No wonder they are so fat in comparison to the wafer thin men, scrawny out of alcoholism and manual work.


George said...


This brought back memories of the late 1960s, when, between A levels and a job, I cultivated a small plot of paddy in the Madampe area. Fortunately, I had a Landmaster (one of the original models) for ploughing, but weeding, fertilizing, and harvesting was backbreaking work. For harvesting, some villagers turned-up. (None in jeans, I must say!) I didn't have to pay them; only the meals. We actually got some buffaloes to do the threshing.

Those were the days.

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