Not enough labourers, UP farmers pool resources to harvest crop

Lucknow: Hit by a shortage of labourers and machines due to the coronavirus lockdown, many Uttar Pradesh farmers are forced to summon relatives to help then harvest the wheat crop standing in the fields.

Since the labourers are not available, we have to involve the entire family in harvesting, said Ram Ishwar of Telma-Jamalidinpur village in Ballia district.

The lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus has crippled the movement of farm workers and equipment like combine harvesters, which the bigger farmers take on rent during harvest time.

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Now, farmers like Shankar in Bahraich district’s Dhawaria village are looking at solutions closer to home.

“Villagers have come together at the local level to help each other with the harvesting, he said.

Shankar said farmers in his areas have formed groups whose members help each other out. I helped my villagers to harvest their crop and they did the same for me, he said.

Similarly, Ram Kumar said farmers in his Badhauli village in Gonda district are working together so that the harvesting is not delayed any further.

Police and administration officials are aware that there is are risks involved when farmers call in their relatives from nearby places.

Amid fears over the spread of coronavirus, local residents sometimes resist the arrival of outsiders. This carries the risk of turning into a law and order problem, an official said.

Small farmers who often sow the crop, go to the city to find work and then return during harvest time are in bigger trouble.

They are stranded a long way from home and their fields because of the lockdown enforced nationwide to combat the spread of coronavirus.

My crop is ready and needs harvesting but I cannot go because of the lockdown. If it rains I will suffer a huge loss, said Raju, who owns some land Bahraich’s Hasna village.

Bigger farmers in eastern UP who rely on rented mechanical harvesters said the machines are hard to find.

The harvesters and combine machines used to come from Punjab in large numbers. This has not been the case this time because of the lockdown, said Manoj Yadav of Deoria’s Chainpur Gulaura village.

We have to depend on the local ones, and they are not easily available. This has come as a boon for those who have these machines and they are trying to dictate terms to us, he said.

The state government recently relaxed lockdown restrictions on the movement of people involved in harvesting.

At a meeting last Sunday, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also said private agencies should be encouraged to directly buy foodgrain from farmers, as long as they match the minimum support price offered by the government.

This has helped farmers in some areas.

There is no problem here. Harvesting is being done both manually and with the help of machines. Police and the administration are not stopping the movement of machines here, Om Prakash, a farmer from Sahewa gram sabha in Banda district, told PTI on phone.

But he admitted that harvesting is yet to gain momentum, and the dependence on local labourers has increased, like in other districts, as those from outside cannot travel.

While allowing some relaxations, he said, the administration has warned that anti-coronavirus precautions should be taken and there should not be any complaint from anywhere .

Wheat procurement in the state began on April 15. The UP government will buy 5.5 million tonnes of wheat, for which it has set up 5,500 purchase centres.

An online token system has been introduced to prevent crowding at the wholesale markets.

But farmers say they are running behind time in harvesting the crop.

We will be in a position to avail any facilities to sell our produce only when we are able to cut the entire crop, Deoria’s Manoj Yadav said.

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