"The prospect of spending six months of the year knee-deep in brown paddy water for scant reward is encouraging rice farmers to abandon their land. About 2.5 million people, or a 10th of the state's population, work in the Middle East, where they help build apartments, hotels and offices.
The exodus has led to a tripling of wages for day laborers who stayed behind, and fueled a building boom on drained paddy fields as engineers, surveyors and construction workers send money back.
At least 60 percent of the land traditionally used for rice in the Palakkad district, about 110 kilometers northeast of Kochi, Kerala's largest city, has been lost to other crops and to the construction of homes, villas and shopping malls, said Jayachandran.
The share of agricultural land devoted to food crops, including rice, fell to 12.5 percent in the year ended March 31, 2006, from 37.5 percent in 1981.
``The younger generation no longer wants to dirty his feet and hands working in paddy fields,'' says Jayachandran. ``He prefers a job in a factory or a shop.''
Vasu may well be the last rice farmer in his family. His 29-year-old son, who earned a diploma in electronics engineering, works in a cement company.
Still, Vasu said he could be tempted to resume rice farming if the government increased subsidies above the 160 rupees an acre it pays, and provided cheaper fertilizer and pesticides.
``Rice is close to our heart,'' Vasu said. ``But we need to be practical.''"