TIME FOR PLANTATION REFORM
The state should relook at its land reform and focus on welfare of plantation workers
“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