ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run National Livestock Development Board (NLDB), is facing a severe shortage of farmworkers, Chairman H W Cyril said amid broader labour shortfalls in other sectors of the economy.
"We have 500 vacancies for farm workers in our farms," Cyril told a forum in Colombo, organized by Fonterra, a New Zealand based dairy firm.
"It is very difficult to find a person to work in farms. One thing is the salary is low."
Sri Lanka has followed a policy of depreciating the currency after printing money to push up inflation which has destroyed real salaries of people, making people poor despite having a job.
As a result even people with jobs try to go to the Middle East to earn a living wage, critics say.
Unlike in countries like Vietnam which also had a central bank similar of worse than Sri Lanka until recently, there is no widespread practice of denominating salaries in US dollars to escape currency depreciation.
Currency depreciation also destroys real capital, making it difficult to find funds to make investments that boost labour productivity, making it possible to pay higher real wages.
In addition to cattle, NLDB also farms chicken, goats and pigs.
Perceptions and social status is a key factor in the lack of farmworkers, which analysts say could be compounded by the low real wages.
"They do not want to get their hands dirty with cow dung or mud – especially young people," Cyril said.
"In Sri Lanka you have a low social status if you say you look after cattle. But in the West, cowboys have a high social status, but a cowherd here has no such label."
Mechanizing farms has helped.
Cyril said there was no problem with finding workers to operate tractors, combined harvesters or milking machines.
Sri Lanka’s unemployment has fallen during the last decade partly due to stronger domestic activity especially in services generating shortages in low paid jobs across sector.
Low wage export manufacturing firms are also facing labour shortages as are rice farms in the East of the country and the construction sector.
Foreign guest workers including from India and Nepal are coming to fill the void, officially and unofficially. (Colombo/Feb25/2017)