Labourers load wheat straw onto ractor-trolleys near Chakwal. — Dawn
Labourers load wheat straw onto ractor-trolleys near Chakwal. — Dawn

CHAKWAL: Farmers in the Potohar region are relying on labourers rendered jobless by the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to thresh the remainder of their wheat crop and transport its straw to their homes.

“More than 80pc of the wheat threshing has been completed in the Potohar region, but many farmers are still trying to store wheat straw,” Dr Mohammad Khalid, assistant director agriculture in Chakwal, told Dawn.

Wheat straw is considered a vital food item for cattle during the dry months of April, May and June when green fodder is not available. Farmers mix wheat straw, cotton seed cake and ground wheat as well as wheat husk mixed in the green fodder for livestock.

Ghulam Shabbir, a resident of Metro village, bought a heap of wheat husk for Rs65,000. On Thursday, after hearing the rain forecast, he bought three tractor-trolleys and hired 11 labourers to transport the husk to his home before it began raining in the district.

Mr Shabbir told Dawn that it has become a lot easier to hire labourers since many people are looking for work.

Scores of workers from other districts have come to Chakwal in the wake of the lockdown, and local workers are also making the most of the agricultural jobs available.

Gul Zaman, 52, used to make a living selling spare parts of machinery used in spinning mills in a flea market. But since the lockdown he, along with many other daily-wage workers, have seen their opportunities come to a halt.

The situation is worse in industrial cities such as Faisalabad, Mr Zaman’s hometown. He said that after the lockdown left him without a job, he “began to think about an alternative”.

Mr Zaman and 10 of his relatives came to Chakwal, where they found work threshing wheat and transporting husk to farmers’ homes.

In Faisalabad, wheat is harvested mainly using combined harvesters, and farmers do not need to hire workers in large numbers. But in Chakwal, farmers depend on threshers instead of combined harvesters, because combined harvesters do not produce husk.

Mr Zaman said they have been labouring day and night for three weeks, earning between Rs1,800 and Rs,2000 a day.

“We get into the work before sunset and work until the dead of night,” he said.

Mr Zaman and his team came to the Mehro-Pilo village in Chakwal three weeks ago, and they are still finding work in the village.

“We have applied for the relief announced by the government by messaging 8171, but we got nothing as only those registered with the Benazir Income Support Programme are availing the grant,” he added.

Another worker, Ali Sher from Rawalpindi, has been doing the same work in Chakwal for the last couple of weeks.

Mr Sher said he had been a daily-wage worker, mainly working in concrete and earning Rs1,000 a day, before the lockdown brought work to an end in Rawalpindi.

“There is plenty of work related to wheat harvesting, threshing and the transportation of husk in Chakwal,” he said.

Nazakat Ali, formerly an auto rickshaw driver, has also been transporting husk as an alternative source of earning.

“My brother and I have brought three heaps of husk to their owners’ houses and

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2020

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