Although many factors have reduced the commercial viability of agriculture, particularly paddy cultivation, what is certain is the shortage of agricultural labour – a result of increasing literacy rates and migrations in the district .

The once sprawling paddy fields in Dakshina Kannada are now gradually turning into areca plantations. And even in the few paddy fields remaining, the sight of agricultural workers standing in a line plucking paddy is a thing of the past. The field is either left unattended and uncultivated or attended by a lone couple struggling in the farm.

Although many factors have reduced the commercial viability of agriculture, particularly paddy cultivation, what is certain is the shortage of agricultural labour – a result of increasing literacy rates and migrations in the district – has severely cut into farmer’s earning.

Seventy-year-old Shahida Amin, who owns two acres of paddy field at Ganjimatt in Mangalore taluk, said her family, which ran the farm for generations, had decided to stop cultivation when it started becoming infeasible a few years ago.

“Labour was a major problem for us. Before, our family would work on the farms, and farmhands were easy to get. Now, getting labour is too difficult, and paying Rs. 300 a day is out of our grasp. Our children and their children work in the city, and my brothers and I are too old to run the farm,” she said.

Instead, the farm had been left uncultivated, and the top soil which was rich in clay sold to tile factories nearby.

The two-acre farm belonging to Seshu Sapalige (80), an arthritic, in Polali, Bantwal taluk might end up going the same way.

His children and grandchildren, unlike him, work in offices leaving care of the farm to the octogenarian.

“The cost of labour has increased to Rs. 350 from Rs. 150 five years ago. And for my two-acre land, I need at least five people.

With the rate of paddy procurement being very low, we changed over to areca. Even this has not helped, and now I earn barely enough to maintain the farm. On an average, I have only Rs. 10,000 a season as profit,” he said.

Clerical jobs

Elaborating that the shortage was a result of increasing literacy rates, Rama Shetty, member of the Badagayedapadavu Gram Panchayat near Moodbidri, said many from his village who had received basic education preferred to work in colleges around Moodbidri rather than slog it out on the fields. “In jobs such as cleaners, hostel guards, cooks, superintendents and so on, you get a fixed income and the job is not difficult. Moreover, if not this, then there are construction jobs which pay more than agricultural jobs,” he said.

The increase in job opportunities for the young is seen in the increasing age group of the average agricultural workers. Kamala, who owns a four-acre mixed paddy and areca crops at Kanneer in Mangalore taluk, said: “It is very difficult to find or even get young people to work on the fields, only people above 40 come. And even they expect six bags of rice per season, some money, lunch, and tea.”

Many agricultural workers, who talked to The Hindu, justified the increase saying it was getting difficult to cope with increased prices of essential commodities.

“The landlords bargain by offering us Rs. 200. But how can we pay our daily expenses with that? We don’t get a job every day and we have to save up to get through the off-season,” said Vishwanath, a contract worker from Bellor, Bantwal taluk.

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