A rare abundance of combine harvester machines, an encouraging yield and a high-speed harvest process had marked the first couple of weeks of the ‘puncha' (rabi) harvest in Kuttanad this season, giving the farmers a glimmer of hope.

However, as if no paddy season in the region will be bereft of trouble, the smooth progress of paddy procurement has now been hit by a severe shortage of labour.

The shortage of loading workers to move the harvested paddy from the fields to lorries in some areas, the total absence of workers to move the crop from fields to boats in the remote areas, inadequate number of boats and lorries and on top of all these, a sudden demand from the small number of available workers for higher wages are all combining and threatening to make the season turn sour for the farmers.

According to Principal Agriculture Officer B. Nalinakumar, the shortage of combine harvester machines, which had affected the harvest last season, was solved this time around with adequate number of machines arriving in Kuttanad as the harvest, which began in mid-February, progressed. This enabled fast harvesting, with the process already over in over 12,000 hectares out of the total cultivated ‘puncha' acreage of 27,000 hectares.

But with the Civil Supplies department, in charge of the procurement process, finding it unable to match the speed of the harvest, mainly due to the shortage of labourers and transport modes, the entire process looks like swerving off the tracks, more so with summer rain threatening to strike any moment. “Simultaneous movement of the harvested crop, from the field to lorries or boats, and from there to the contracted rice mills, is not happening at the desired pace, which is why the farmers are a worried lot, more so because the rains are round the corner,” Mr. Nalinakumar said.

The agriculture department, the labour department and other quarters concerned are making efforts to find solutions, he says, pointing out that if immediate solutions are not found, it would be a major loss to the region since the yield this time was over six tonnes per hectare, compared to the usual five tonnes.