Farmers revive barter of labour practice post demonetisation

Kendrapara (Odisha) : With the harvesting of paddy crop drawing near, the age old practice of ‘Badalia’, a system of exchanging labour services prevalent in coastal districts, is showing signs of revival in some pockets of Odisha.

A small and marginal farmer like Jugal Kishore Lenka is all set to work in a fellow farmer’s plot during harvesting to cut down his need for cash in the post-demonetisation scenario.

Together with Sudam Sahu, a fellow farmer facing the same predicament, 45-year-old Lenka of Goda village in Jagatsinghpur district has decided to work in each other’s land as cash crunch has come in the way of landowners hiring farm labourers for paddy harvesting.

“We will begin paddy harvesting soon. Note crisis has forced me not to involve farm labourers in harvesting. Sudam Sahu of my village is facing the same crisis. We both have four workers who were engaged in kharif cultivation work. We will now exchange labour with each other for smooth crop cutting”, said Lenka, who owns half-an-acre of irrigated land.

Badalia is a system wherein a farmer, who is not necessarily a farm labourer, works in another’s field without taking any wage. Subsequently, he gets similar hours of labour in return.

In other words, it is called barter of labour. Though this practice was in vogue long back, farmers used to resort to this practice when they face crisis of farm labour, Deputy Director Agriculture, Prafulla Mishra, said.

“This practice of labour exchange is slowly picking up in some pockets due to the deepening of farm labour crisis. It was the only way out for farmers, who could not necessary arrange cash for wage payment in many coastal pockets. We have received reports of labour exchange from some areas”, he said.

Another farmer Mukund Behera (53) of Nikirai village in Kendrapara district had no clue how to harvest his paddy crop as he had little cash to pay wages to labourers.
He negotiated an understanding with a fellow farmer Gokuli Rout living in the same neighbourhood to get the harvesting done with the latter’s help. In return, he pledged to work in Rout’s field.

“We have begun the harvesting. After Rout’s harvesting comes to an end, it will be my turn. We hope to finish the joint operation in eight to ten days from now,” Behera said.

“We usually hire labourers for paddy cultivation. This year, we have a good crop and unless it is harvested in time, there will be huge waste. The Centre resorted to demonetisation move, hitting us hard. Without adequate cash, finding farm labourers was very difficult,” he said.

“It is a crisis situation. Toiling in other farmer’s field would not lower one’s dignity. But it is the need of the hour. Labour exchange also fosters a cordial social bond among farmers”, he added.