Farm mechanization a solution to labor crisis

The use of machinery for agriculture, particularly tilling land, harvesting crops, threshing grains and packing produce, is rising in northern districts such as Dinajpur and Rangpur as it is cheaper and more efficient compared to manual farming methods, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension.

Besides, labor crisis has become a common phenomenon during the harvesting season but this issue can easily be side-stepped with the help of technology.

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As such, farmers get quality output when modern machineries are used to cultivate and process their crops, especially rice, wheat and maize.

“From preparing the land, planting seeds, applying pesticides, harvesting and threshing to packing, all can be done with the help of machines,” said Motiur Rahman, a farmer of Biral upazila in Dinajpur.

“It also helps farmers keep down production costs,” he added.

As the demand for such machinery has increased in recent years, local manufacturers of agricultural equipment are making many of these items and marketing them at affordable prices. Even combine harvesters are now made in the district.

According to DAE officials in the region, the use of machinery in domestic agriculture began in the mid-1980s, when sprinklers, diesel powered water pumps, tractors and power-tillers were used to prepare the land for cultivation.

Later though, associated machineries such as threshers, weeders, rice transplanters, reapers, combine harvesters and maize shellers started arriving in local markets.

These modern technologies initially remained out of grasp for a large section of farmers due to their high prices. However, increased availability helped deflate costs and the overwhelmingly better results attained by using machines encouraged growers to adopt them.

The use of combine harvesters has increased manifold in the last couple of years as the government provides subsidies of between 50 per cent and 70 per cent in a bid to expedite farm mechanisation.

In addition, around 78 per cent of all the threshing, 95 per cent of applying pesticides and 98 per cent of land tilling are now done with the help of machines.

However, only 3 per cent of the harvesting is carried out through machines.

Many farmers told The Daily Star that the use of machinery is more profitable than the age-old manual system. Besides, it is a solution to the problem of manpower crisis during the harvesting and threshing seasons.

Mominul Islam of Ambari village under Chirirbandar upazila said he manually harvested his four bighas of paddy this year.

This turned out to be costlier for him as he had to employ eight laborers at a cost of about Tk 600 per person daily.

“It took three days for them to harvest all the paddy,” he added.

Later, he had to thresh and bag his crops, which brought on additional charges as well.

He had the paddy threshed with a locally developed thresher, which cost him about Tk 800 per bigha of the crop.

“This machine can thresh paddy of a bigha of land in only half an hour but the manual system requires more time and is expensive,” Islam said, adding that the quality of rice is better when threshed by a machine.

He had hired a combine harvester to pluck his paddy last year but he was unable to do the same this time around as the operators were already booked.

“I paid Tk 12,000 for harvesting paddy last year but this year, it cost almost Tk 21,000 to harvest, thresh and pack the crops.”

Jubayer Ali of Mominpur village under Rangpur sadar upazila said the use of machinery is helpful to farmers as it is possible to complete the entire process within a couple of days while conventional systems require around 15 to 20 days.

During a visit to different areas of Dinajpur, Rangpur and Joypurhat, this correspondent found that an overwhelming number of farmers are using locally developed threshers thanks to their newfound affordability in recent years.

Rashidul Islam of Tegra village under Biral Upazila said his thresher can thresh paddy of two bighas of land in an hour. He charges Tk 800 for threshing paddy of each bigha of land.

“The demand for this machine increased manifold in recent years,” he said.

According to DAE officials in Rangpur and Dinajpur, the use of machines in fertilizer application, sowing and harvesting is still low in these regions but machinery use in other stages, including the application of pesticides, irrigation and threshing, are considerably high.

“Many farmers still cannot afford such machinery for their high prices,” said agronomist Mahbubar Rahman, deputy director of the DAE in Rangpur.

“However, there has been a trend in farmers to use machines if it is affordable,” he added.

DAE officials say there are around 400 combine harvesters in eight districts of Rangpur.

Each harvester can reap about 70 hectares of paddy each season, they added.

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