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Harvesting of boro paddy in West Bengal, set to begin in about a week, is likely to be hampered by labour shortage as most of the workers have gone to their villages following the pandemic scare.

The State government is trying to deal with the manpower shortage by deploying additional combine harvesters.

Govt arrangements

According to Pradip Kumar Mazumder, Chief Advisor (Agriculture) to the Chief Minister, the State has close to 2,500 combine harvesters and it tried to induct some more just before the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed. Local labourers are available for harvesting and some migrant labourers, who got stuck at potato harvesting, will also be used for harvesting of boro paddy.

“We are keeping our ears to the ground. Depending on the situation, we have to take decisions but as of now, we feel the situation is a manageable, if not comfortable,” Mazumder told BusinessLine.

West Bengal produces 15-16 million tonnes of paddy annually in three seasons; that include aus, aman and boro. The kharif paddy (aus and aman) output accounts for about 70 per cent of the total production in the State. Boro paddy is usually cultivated on land which has canal or irrigation facility. The sowing of boro paddy, just like that of potato, was staggered this year on account of unusual weather conditions.

Though harvesting will begin by next week, it will peak by April-end or early May.

Cost escalation

While the use of combine harvesters will ensure that harvesting is not hampered much, it will push up the cost of production.

“Many paddy cutting machines have been brought from north Indian States such as Punjab and Haryana. In a normal year, if 50 per cent of harvesting is done by machines, this year it would be 90 per cent. It will increase the cost of paddy sold to millers, which will ultimately result in higher prices for rice,” said Suraj Agarwal, CEO, Tirupati Agri Trade.

The overall cost of harvesting is likely to increase by around 20 per cent. The rental cost of machines are high due to the lockdown. Labour cost is also likely to double due to the shortage. This apart, the transportation cost of paddy from farms to warehouses and then to rice mills will also be higher.

Procurement

Paddy procurement will begin in the first week of May. The Bengal government usually offers incentivised MSP to people coming to procurement centres to cover the cost of transportation. In view of the Covid-19 situation, the State government is also considering the possibility of picking up paddy from farmers’ houses, if need arises.

“If the lockdown continues in May, transportation could be an issue. The Chief Minister has instructed that we plan to pick up paddy from far-flung villages and gram panchayats. The additional cost of procurement will be borne by the State and we are preparing for that,” Mazumder said.

According to Sushil Kumar Choudhury, President, Bengal Rice Mills Association, mills are yet to receive “clear guidelines” from the State government on procurement.

Mobile app

The government is also mulling the possibility of rolling out a mobile application for farmers to place requests for collection of foodgrain from their doorstep.

“Usually the BDO informs farmers in a particular village about rice mills starting their procurement. Now this would be facilitated through a mobile app. However, we need to see how adept the people in villages are when it comes to technology adoption,” Choudhury said.

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