1. Agriculture World

Rice farmers and potato traders in West Bengal concerned due to labor shortage

Chintu Das
Chintu Das
Labour Shortage

Rice farmers and potato merchants in riparian West Bengal are facing a labor shortage as of this month's end, owing to an increase in Covid cases in the state, which is hosting one of the most fiercely fought assembly elections in recent memory spanning a full calendar month.

Paddy farmers in south-central West Bengal are harvesting the winter-sown grain, or bodo rice, starting in late April. Similarly, the potato industry in Gangetic West Bengal may be concerned about the supply of labor from the first week of May to unload potatoes from cold storages in order to meet the demand of domestic markets before the arrival of the next season's crop in December.

The wave of Covid-19 cases continues in West Bengal, which is in the middle of an eight-phase balloting marathon – the first of its kind – for the 294-member conference. In Kolkata and its outlying suburbs, polls will be held for three additional phases.

Bodo rice is usually harvested between the last week of April and the second week of May, and with the spread of the coronavirus, tens of millions of small farmers and farm workers are facing an unpredictable season.

“Covid is rapidly expanding. We are concerned that once the new government is formed, there will be a lockdown and restrictions,” said Sanjay Aguri, a paddy farmer from Burdwan, West Bengal's rice bowl. “It would be difficult for us to persuade people to harvest the paddy crop that has been lying dormant in the fields. We're talking to locals, but we're not sure if there will be enough farmhands available for the rice harvest.”

During the previous year's lockdown, farmers and agricultural workers were granted exemptions. Nonetheless, a scarcity of laborers had presented a problem in the harvesting process. “We are concerned that the same thing could happen this year,” Aguri said. It's possible that the potato trade would be involved. About 7.1 million tonnes of potatoes are currently stored in 450 cold storages around the province.

“Given the current state of covid, the new authorities could decide to declare a lockdown. From the end of April, we'll need workers to load and unload potatoes stored in cold storage,” says Patin Paban De, a member of the West Bengal Cold Storage Association and a tuber veteran. “In the next seven to eight months, these potatoes will most likely be depleted. This crop will feed your whole jap, north jap, and a portion of South India, apart from West Bengal.”

If labor isn't available on a daily basis, offloading can be delayed. “If there is a labor shortage starting in late April, the cold storages will have to unload 50 percent to 60 percent of the shares, which means 4 lakh packets of potatoes per day rather than 6 lakh packets per day,” De said.

Like this article?

Hey! I am Chintu Das. Did you liked this article and have suggestions to improve this article? Mail me your suggestions and feedback.

Share your comments

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters