Wheels begin to turn in India’s farm revolution
PERLE AS a shiny red harvester bounces across the black earth into the first row of sugar cane, excited schoolchildren run after it and several dozen men stand gaping in the wake of its swift progress.
It’s the first time that Perle, a village on the banks of the Krishna river in Maharashtra, has seen a machine used for cutting the tough cane.
“This machine will harvest my entire field today,” says Prashant Kadam, the young owner of the compact two-acre plot. “Had it been harvested by labourers, they would have taken at least a week.” A short drive away in a field where the sun is just getting hot enough to halt work, a team of 12 couples cut cane the way it’s been done for centuries — with machetes. They load the cane into carts each pulled by two white bullocks with gaily painted horns and head for the local mill which dominates this sugar-growing valley some 300 kilometres south of Mumbai.
It is a way of life that is fast disappearing in the world’s second- biggest producer of rice, wheat and sugar. India is finally embracing mechanisation after centuries of farming with methods the United States threw out with the British.
Interviews with farmers, tractor salesmen, economists and agricultural officials show a country on the cusp of deep change. Indian food consumption is rising and farmers are under pressure to produce more, faster and cheaper.
Yet Indian farms traditionally use far fewer farm machines than their peer nations, partly because their acreage is so small.
Lately however, farmers have been buying new tools and machines to cope with a labour shortage triggered by government policies aimed at promoting non-agricultural work.
Tractor sales have increased 42 percent in India over the last five years to an estimated 552,434 in 2011/12, according to industry figures.
The consequent boost to their productivity is helping them sustain more expensive lifestyles and that could spur India’s cantering growth, averaging 7-8 percent a year.
The sweeping changes are crucial as India adds the equivalent of an Australia to its 1.2 billion people every year. Many of them are too poor to feed themselves and rely on government subsidised grains. At the same time, the swelling middle class of Asia’s third-largest economy is demanding more and better quality foo