Participatory Intervention Series
Paper 9 MYRADA Krishi Vigyan Kendra
Talamalai, Talavadi 638 461
Threshing Harvests on Public Roads – A Good Idea?
Mr.C.S.Satish Chandra of the Institute for Rural Studies, Bangalore, carried out the field research and wrote the original version of this paper at the request of the MYRADA Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Talamalai.
Come harvest time, and road travellers in many parts of South India do their bit and add the final touches to the farmers’ calendar of agricultural operations by running their lorries, cars and motorcycles on harvests spread out on roads to be threshed. Some are taken by surprise; others ponder appreciatively on the resourcefulness of farmers. Most, however, are dismayed at having to slow down and negotiate the piles of grain stalks stretching ahead of them.
How does this concern our Krishi Vigyan Kendra?
Extending the adage ‘Money Saved is Money Earned’ to the field of agriculture one can say that ‘Resources saved are Resources Earned’. On the other hand, it is true of agricultural research that far more emphasis is placed on improving productivity through the creation of new resources – whether they be seed varieties or irrigation facilities or input subsidies – than on improving the management of resources that already exist. The former cannot be neglected, but surely, the latter deserve emphasized attention as well.
As manager of an ‘NGO-KVK’ (which inherently assumes that it must develop a distinct identity of its own), MYRADA is constantly aware that it must strive to achieve and retain a definable relevance to farmers. Amongst other things, two features that can contribute well to this are :
• To be able to respond with sensitivity and professionalism to the field realities of farmers.
• To raise the critical consciousness of farmers with regard to issues that they can influence to their own advantage but that may hitherto not have received their full attention.
What a farmer realises by way of returns under conditions of complex, diverse and risk-prone farming is not just a function of the choice of crops and package of practices adopted during cultivation; it is also influenced by post harvest practices. Threshing, followed by produce retrieval, is therefore an important determinant of crop revenues. Having contributed the weight of our KVK jeep often enough to thresh harvests spread out on roads, it was natural for us to speculate on the advantages versus disadvantages of this practice, and whether there was any reason/scope for us to consider making a positive intervention into this aspect of farming. A study was, therefore, undertaken to understand the practice more fully. It was taken up and completed in August-September 2000. We realise that this was not the best month for studying harvesting by dryland farmers; however, we were also aware that some farmers were, indeed, engaged in threshing, having gone in for early sowing.
We started with the following Hypothesis :
There are greater harvest losses when harvests are spread on roads to be threshed by passing vehicles.
Methods used in the Study :
• In depth discussions with 6 farmers who routinely threshed their harvests on roads.
• Detailed discussions with other farmers who threshed their harvests in properly designated threshing areas.
• Observing the actual process of threshing on roads, followed by physical verification of produce retrieval amounts.
1. Threshing Practices In The Talavadi Area :
Threshing separates grains from earheads. In Talavadi, it relates to finger millet (ragi) and sorghum (jowar) that are the two major grain crops, as well as to certain pulse intercrops (e.g. horse gram) and certain oilseeds (e.g. niger) to separate seeds from pods. While it is a major operation in the case of finger millet and sorghum in terms of quantities to be threshed, in the other crops it is a relatively minor operation, generally handled manually by caning the dried stalks. The main sowing season begins in July with the onset of the south-west monsoons. Consequently, harvests are made in October – November.
Threshing in specially designated threshing areas is the most widely followed form of threshing, estimated to be practised by around 90% of the Talavadi farmers. The details involved in this process are discussed a little later in this paper.
Threshing on roads accounts for a very small percentage of practitioners in Talavadi, for reasons detailed in the pages that follow. However, the small number that engages in it does so both routinely (in some cases) and in exigencies.
Caning is practised on a very small scale, in the backyards of homes. It is taken up for minor pulses and oilseeds, and for the separation of seeds from pods in certain vegetable crops. The pods are harvested and allowed to dry completely before they are caned. This is followed by winnowing, to separate the pod covers from the seeds. As the entire process is manually done, its application is limited to very small quantities.
Automated threshers are not present in the area. A few farmers have tried this method by taking their harvests to Chamarajanagar (approx. 40 kms. away) but report to have given it up due to the expensive logistics involved. To establish automated (electric/diesel powered) threshers in the Talavadi area appears to be an enterprising initiative that has not yet been explored.
2. What follows, therefore, is a comparison of threshing in specially designated threshing areas with threshing on roads.
THRESHING IN DESIGNATED
THRESHING YARDS THRESHING ON ROADS
Preparation of the Threshing Area
A threshing yard is prepared every year in a portion of the farmland. 2 male labourers lightly dig up the area with pick axes on day 1. On day 2, around 4 female labourers water the area periodically, throughout the day. On day 3, bullocks harnessed with a light roller are used to trample and harden the soil. A male labourer is employed to manage this activity. From day 5, the yard is hard and ready for use. Preparation of the Threshing Area
There is no preparation involved. What is required is a hard surface road – preferably a tar road – in reasonably good condition, i.e. reasonably broad, without too many potholes, and without steeply cut edges on either side. In Talavadi, there are very few roads that meet these conditions. This is probably a good reason why such a small number threshes their harvests on roads.
Draft Power Required
A rough granite stone roller harnessed to a pair of bullocks or 4 to 8 pairs of bullocks in lieu of the stone roller or tractor wheeling is undertaken.
Draft Power Required
A fair density of moving vehicles, preferably four wheelers and preferably heavy vehicles like trucks and buses. This movement of vehicles should be good during the day, i.e. between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when there is still enough light to collect the produce and clear the road by the end of the day. In Talavadi, the road between Talavadi and Manipuram is the only one with a reasonable density of moving vehicles, making it the only road suited for threshing operations.
Harvesting and Stacking
A sickle is used to cut each plant from the bottom. The earhead along with the stalk is then stacked for at least a month before threshing. According to farmers, this helps grains to mature and harden and allows perfect levels of drying to make threshing easy. Harvesting and Stacking
The earheads are first picked separately and dried. The stalks (fodder portions) are cut a little later and stacked for future use.
A few farmers have permanent/all season threshing yards of their own but in most cases, around 5 to 6 farmers come together and share the costs and logistics of the threshing operations. The operations are continuously undertaken over a period of 4 to 8 weeks.
Farmers mostly operate singly. Dried earheads are carried to roads in bags and spread in two tracks along the paths of the rolling wheels of moving vehicles. The normal depth of the spread is 4 to 6 inches, and it is laid out in a continuous stretch over a distance of several metres. The spread stays on the road for around 6 hours. Some amount of winnowing occurs automatically due to the momentum of the vehicles. The rest is winnowed before nightfall. Grains are swept up using loose but hard broomsticks, bagged and transported back. Spent earheads are collected for use as fodder. Grain husks may either be collected for use as fodder if the quantity is high or left on the road if the quantity is low.
Depending on yields, it takes around 4 days to thresh the produce from one acre of land if only bullocks are used. This comes down to 2-3 days if granite rollers are used, and just over 1 day if tractor wheeling is carried out.
Since threshing on roads is completely dependent on the density and type of vehicular traffic, threshing time was somewhat difficult to establish in Talavadi. From discussions and physical verifications it could be estimated that an acre’s harvest could be threshed in approximately 6-7 hours if spread at a depth of 4 to 6 inches over a distance of 40 to 50 feet (earheads only).
Expenses on preparing the threshing yard work out to approximately Rs.600/-, incurred one time annually and shared by 5 to 6 farmers using the yard, at between Rs.100/- and Rs.120/- per farmer. Assuming that the yard is in use for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 60 days in the year, the above cost can be restated as adding Rs.10/- to Rs.20/- per day of threshing to the farmer who is using it on any particular day. This is a fixed cost. Variable costs on transporting the harvest to the threshing yard, engaging roller and bullocks, miscellaneous labour inputs, etc. are met by individual farmers and work out to approximately Rs.430 per acre of harvest (assuming that it takes 3 days to thresh the yield of 1 acre). Thus, the fixed and variable costs together amount to between Rs.460 and Rs.490 per acre of harvest. Often, the farmers succeed in bringing this down to around Rs.300 by making use of family labour in place of hired labour. Threshing Costs
Since yard preparation is not involved, the fixed cost component does not occur in the case of farmers threshing on roads. On the other hand, there is a little bit of extra labour involved in the harvesting process, to separate the earheads from the stalks. To this, if the costs of transporting earheads to the road,spreading them on the road, watching over them during the day, and cleaning up at the end of the day are added, the costs of threshing an acre of harvest work out to approximately Rs.320. Often, farmers succeed in bringing it down to about half the amount by using family labour in place of hired labour. Thus, if suitable conditions exist for threshing on roads, it presents itself as a cheaper option.
There is an almost complete retrieval of grain, with losses not exceeding 250 gms. per quintal of grain bagged. Fodder is also completely retrieved and is estimated to be of good quality.
To the surprise of this study, discussions with farmers and physical verifications showed an almost complete retrieval of grain even in the case of threshing on roads. In other words, grain losses in both operations are equal and small enough to be regarded by farmers as insignificant. However, farmers using roads for threshing lose out when it comes to fodder, and this loss is not insignificant. It has been elaborated more in detail towards the end of this paper.
As earlier mentioned, around 90% of the farmers adopt this method of threshing. The acceptance levels are so high not only because of farmers’ preferances but probably also because of a lack of good roads and the comparatively low density of vehicular traffic in the Talavadi region (it is made up largely of reserved forests that are home to the notorious ‘bandit’ Veerappan, and vehicular traffic in many parts is restricted by the Forest Department).
Threshing on roads is practised only by a small number of farmers (approximately 10%). That this is so despite the fact that it presents itself as a cheaper option is probably due to a combination of reasons (discussed below), not the least of which is because of the absence of suitable roads and adequate vehicular traffic.
3. In the Talavadi area, threshing on roads is preferred mainly by:
• Very marginal farmers who cultivate in small quantities under rainfed farming conditions.
• Aged farmers and women farmers who do not have adequate family labour to fall back on.
• Farmers who do not own bullocks and are not able to rent or borrow from others.
• Farmers whose lands are located close to main roads.
• Other farmers, in exigencies. This includes farmers who harvest in advance of the normal season and/or need smaller quantities of grains in an exigency and cannot wait for the designated threshing yards to be prepared.
4. As earlier mentioned, this study found that loss of grain from threshing on roads was insignificant, and no more than what was lost if designated threshing areas had been used. In fact, during physical verification it was noted that few grains if any rolled away from the road and even then, upto a maximum distance of two feet from the edge of the road. The study also found that broken grains accounted for an insignificant part of the retrieved produce. The reasons for the above have been estimated as follows:
• The earheads are spread at around 6″ thickness over the road surface.
• For fear of loss of road grip, most vehicles slow down when they approach the grain strips. This provides optimum pressure for release of grains from earheads.
• The grains move down while the spent earheads remain on top providing a cushion for the grains at the bottom.
• The grains normally roll towards the edges of the road and do not jump or spill.
5. From discussions and physical verifications, the study found the advantages of threshing on roads to be the following:
• A good road is a ready-to-use threshing yard requiring no investment to prepare it.
• It provides for discontinuation and resumption of threshing at any time.
• It does not involve long spells of manual labour. Labour work is involved only at the beginning and at the end of the day. In fact, non-road users joke that only lazy farmers use roads for threshing!
• Grains are recovered well (more or less in full) after the operations.
6. But on the other hand, there are also a couple of distinct advantages, as reported by the farmers:
Grain quality is said to be not so good as earheads are harvested separate from the stems without being allowed to mature properly. Further, contact with tyres may leave contamination of various kinds on the grain. (These impressions are not properly established and may have to be studied further.)
Fodder quality is apparently what is most affected.
• The earheads and stems are separately harvested. Not sufficient care is taken regarding the drying of stems. They are stacked immediately after cutting, without proper management of moisture content. Hence, they are prone to termite attacks as well as rotting. Consequently, shelf life is reduced.
• As the stems are not crushed in the process of threshing (only the earheads are spread on the road) they are not pliable and cattle discard the harder portions.
• Farmers report that the market value of such fodder is lower compared to fodder collected from designated threshing areas.
• Farmers estimate that there is approximately 40% wastage of such fodder. This assumes significance in monetary terms. An acre of finger millet yields around 1.5 tonnes of fodder. At Rs.500 per tonne, the value of fodder harvested has to be Rs.750. Even if 20% of this is lost (as against 40% claimed by farmers), it amounts to a loss of Rs.150. This offsets any gain that may have accrued from cutting down threshing costs by threshing on roads (as the following table shows), though it is not immediately experienced by farmers and therefore, may pass unnoticed.
Particulars Designated Threshing Areas Roads Threshing on
Cost of threshing an acre’s yield Rs.460 to Rs.490 Rs.320
Value realised from fodder
Rs.750(1.5 tonnes at Rs.500 per tonne) Rs.600(1.5 tonnes less 20% at Rs.500 per tonne)
Net gain Rs.270 to Rs.290 Rs.280
Thus, it may be concluded that the immediate financial advantage of threshing on roads loses out in the argument if it is viewed from a more total perspective.
In Conclusion :
The Study’s main hypothesis that threshing on roads leads to greater harvest losses stands disproved if only grain yields are taken into account, and only marginally validated if fodder value is also taken into account. In the process, it also establishes that farmers’ practices cannot be rejected outright without an adequate consideration of their rationale, merits and demerits.
Thus, in the wake of this Study the KVK realises that while threshing on roads is practised only to a very limited extent in Talavadi, the people who do practice it have their own compelling and logically convincing reasons for doing so. Is there scope for the KVK to make positive interventions in the area of threshing?
The KVK believes that the findings from this study require further confirmation, to be obtained through a closer observation of threshing losses/gains during the actual harvest season. However, intervention possibilities do exist in the areas of :
s Enabling each village to develop and manage one or more all-season community threshing yards. While on the one hand this will keep roads free for their intended purpose of facilitating vehicular traffic, on the other hand it will benefit farmers by enabling threshing to be taken up closer to their farms and in a single complete function attending to both grain and fodder. There is good scope for Panchayats/other types of people’s institutions to maintain and manage such a facility and even earn some revenue by charging the users a small fee towards the upkeep of the facility.
s Exploring the possibility of introducing automated threshing managed through private sector enterprise. A good part of land in Talavadi is under millet crops, and both farmers who have to undertake the tedious task of preparing a threshing yard each year and farmers who are compelled to use roads due to other types of exigencies, can benefit from such a facility.
While the above study cannot be regarded to conclusively prove or disprove the hypothesis with which it began, explorations of this nature are nevertheless important for KVKs if they are to remain at the cutting edge of field level extension. This may be regarded as only a beginning but it does provide staff with direction that is in keeping with the KVK’s Mission of supporting the livelihoods of farmers working under complex, diverse and risk prone conditions.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The MYRADA Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Talamalai started functioning from October 1, 1992 with the support of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The Kendra is committed to the concept of facilitating participatory processes and promoting innovations. Through the MKVK Participatory Intervention Series we attempt to share our experiences from time to time with other field functionaries. We welcome your views and suggestions on how we can add more value to our work. MYRADA’s address at Bangalore is: No.2, Service Road, Domlur Layout,BANGALORE 560 071.