The state should relook at its land re­form and fo­cus on wel­fare of plan­ta­tion work­ers

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY - With in­puts from Ji­ten­dra DOWN TO EARTH

“The state should relook at its land re­form and fo­cus on adding value to plan­ta­tion crops,” says G Vi­ja­yaragha­van, mem­ber, Ker­ala State Plan­ning Board. One thing is sure that the state would never reap the kind of re­turns it used to get from its rub­ber, tea, cof­fee or car­damom plan­ta­tions, con­sid­er­ing the ris­ing cost of pro­duc­tion and de­creas­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity. So the gov­ern­ment must carry out an in-depth study on the present sce­nario and take re­quired steps to em­power its farm sec­tor, he sug­gests.

Be­sides, acute short­age of labour­ers plagues large plan­ta­tions, which re­quire regular up­keep. Long-ges­ta­tion plan­ta­tions re­quire a large num­ber of work­ers for har­vest­ing, spray­ing pes­ti­cides, weed­i­cides and fer­tilis­ers and for other farm ac­tiv­i­ties. Though Ker­ala plan­ta­tions of­fer 300 a day, the high­est in the coun­try, young gen­er­a­tion of labour­ers is mi­grat­ing to other sec­tors for more wages. For in­stance, they re­ceive up to 650 a day for work­ing in agri­cul­tural farms, while the con­struc­tion sec­tor of­fers 700-800 a day. Be­sides, the ed­u­cated young gen­er­a­tion of plan­ta­tion work­ers are opt­ing for other oc­cu­pa­tions.

Un­like in other states, large plan­ta­tions in Ker­ala have to abide by the rec­om­men­da­tions of Plan­ta­tion Labour Com­mit­tee (plc), a tri­par­tite com­mit­tee with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from gov­ern­ment, plan­ta­tion in­dus­tries and trade unions, to en­sure wel­fare of farm work­ers. “But many plan­ta­tions stop th­ese wel­fare pro­grammes, es­pe­cially dur­ing price crash, ”points of M P Joseph, ad­viser to the Ker­ala gov­ern­ment hold­ing the rank of ad­di­tional chief sec­re­tary.He had chaired the plc ear­lier.

Ex­perts say overde­pen­dence on a large num­ber of work­ers will not be good for the fail­ure of plan­ta­tions.In the wake of the acute labour short­age, planters must adopt ad­vanced farm tech­nolo­gies to re­duce their de­pen­dence on work­ers. “Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, planters should de­velop an ef­fi­cient labour force by up­grad­ing their skills and ed­u­ca­tion and by pro­vid­ing them bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties to make the sec­tor more at­trac­tive,” says Vi­ja­yaragha­van.

Su­lochana Nala­p­att, who was a doc­tor in a Tata Tea plan­ta­tion in Mun­nar for two decades, says care and wel­fare mea­sures for work­ers have come down over the years. If the plan­ta­tions wish to have a good fu­ture, they must de­velop a healthy labour force by tak­ing good wel­fare mea­sures and pro­vid­ing health­care ser­vices for work­ers. Con­tin­u­ous use of chem­i­cals to in­crease the pro­duc­tion not only af­fects the health of soil but also the health of work­ers.

To top it all, the chang­ing cli­mate has not been ben­e­fi­cial to the plan­ta­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Ja­cob, a rise of 1oC re­duces rub­ber yield by 10 per cent. Pro­longed dry spells and ex­ces­sive and un­timely rains too ad­versely af­fect pro­duc­tion. Ker­ala’s rub­ber pro­duc­tion had dras­ti­cally re­duced in 2012 due to in­ces­sant rains. “There was ex­ces­sive loss of leaf area in rub­ber hold­ings be­cause of un­usu­ally pro­longed mon­soon led to an out­break of Ab­nor­mal Leaf Fall Dis­ease in 2013,” he says. Strate­gies should be de­vel­oped for adapt­ing to chang­ing cli­mate.

This is a must be­cause trade lib­er­al­i­sa­tion is the or­der of the day, and mar­ket un­cer­tain­ties are here to stay.

Sev­eral rub­ber plan­ta­tions are now up for sale in Ker­ala be­cause they are no more prof­itable

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