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Labour shortage pushes up cost of manual plucking of cotton

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on January 20, 2020 Published on January 20, 2020

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The cotton season in Maharashtra is coming to an end but in those areas of the state where the crop is extensively cultivated over rain-fed land, the cost of manual plucking of cotton has more than doubled due to labour shortage.

Adequate number of labourers are not available in villages to pick cotton from fields. Farmers have to shell out much higher per day wages, leaving very thin profit margin.

Due to good monsoon rains in 2019, farmers owning rain-fed land had planted more cotton. But today, they are also forced to abandon their fields due to labour shortage. State Government data show that for the season about 44 lakh hectares of land was the planted area and about four lakh hectares is yet to be harvested.

Cotton in Maharashtra is cultivated from Dhule in Northern Maharashtra to Gadchiroli in Vidarbha. The farm landholdings in these areas, even for small and marginal farmers, is five to seven acres. Therefore, a major rise in cultivation cost makes cotton farming unviable.

Cotton farmer Raju Patil from Matoda village in Buldhana district said that farmers pay wages according to the plucking undertaken by the labourer. This season, the per quintal (100 kg) cotton-picking cost has increased to ₹1,500 from ₹600 per quintal. After a point, plucking of cotton became loss-making. Therefore, a large part of the 15-acre crop had to be abandoned, he said.

Chairman of Maharashtra State Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Pasha Patel told BusinessLine that due to the highly subsidised cost of grains through the Public Distribution System (PDS), farm labourers don’t want to toil in the fields. This is fuelling the rising labour costs in the state. Today, during peak farming season there are more people in the villages than in the fields. Earlier, it was the other way round, he said.

Under the Minimum Common Programme of the Government of India, poor families in the State were provided 10 kg foodgrain at half the normal rate from June 1997. The quantum was raised to 20 kg from April 2000. From April 2002, the quantum for BPL and APL beneficiaries has been enhanced to 35 kg and 15 kg respectively.

Published on January 20, 2020
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