Farmers in Mandalay are increasingly hiring combine harvesters to make up for a labour shortage in the region but there are not yet enough machines to go around.
As rural to urban migration gathers pace farmers have faced acute labour shortages. Some farmers have cut the amount of land they cultivate because they are unable to find workers, according to the Myanmar Times.
Former farmhands have left in search of more regular, higher paid work overseas in Malaysia or Thailand, or in factories or construction sites in Yangon.
To fill the gap, farmers are renting combine harvesters in groups, said U Khin Oo from Patheingyi township. The machines, used for threshing and harvesting, can significantly reduce the need for labour.
To harvest the late summer paddy, some of the richer farmers in the area have bought combine harvesters, and are renting them out to other farmers for K50,000 (around 1,500 baht) per acre, or 2.5 rai.
“The lease is shared among many of us, so we have to wait our turn to use the machine, but it cuts costs, and harvesting does not take much time,” said U Khin Oo.
“The machines are suitable for us while we face a labour shortage. But most farmers cannot afford to buy their own machine, as it costs tens of thousands of dollars.”
If the government wants farmers to adopt mechanised farming methods, it should arrange for them to be able to hire farming equipment, he added.
“If farmers can hire them easily, it would be rather convenient. To be able to buy is the next step for them.”
The government needs to develop the agricultural sector to improve living standards for farmers, who are facing difficulties in every respect, said Ko Bo Bo of Madaya township.
“Machines can reduce labour costs. If a farmer has a close relationship with the owner of a combine harvester, he does not even need to come to his farmland and grains will be delivered to the farmer’s house,” he said.
“A machine can easily harvest more than 10 acres of paddy a day if farms are close to each other. I hire out my machine as soon as I have harvested my own farm. Machines are efficient and can also reduce waste. They only require three workers including a driver for harvesting an acre of paddy.”
Some farmers in Mandalay Region have been unable to make a profit and have sold their farms to become daily wage workers in factories, contributing to the shortage of skilled labour. The price of farmland in the area is also rising, prompting others to sell out of the industry.
“When it comes to harvesting, we used around 15 people per acre. But combine harvesters are available now, so we hope they will solve the labour shortage a little,” said U Kyaw San Oo from Patheingyi township.
“Young men in our village were once given driving lessons under a government initiative to transition into mechanised farming. So it would be better if the government facilitates a machine rental service,” he said.