Saturday, October 27, 2012

Farm Fragrance

My father has been a passionate farmer, as he spent most of his life in farmland cultivating crops to sustain the family.
I still remember the enormous pile of corn accumulated in every corner of house that was brought from cornfield.
And we, all family members, had to work all day long for many days peeling off the skin, extracting the grain from corncob and drying the grain under the sun. Taking care of such a large quantity of corn was not easy though it was fun to work together. Especially, we had to abruptly gather the corn and stored inside when there was sudden downpour. My father used to share interesting stories and experience. Once he was roaming around the cornfield and suddenly tiger emerged from the field and he quickly backed off to the village. He then returned to same spot with Tharu men who were carrying long stick. But, tiger had already been vanished. I used to visit the farmland with my father and enjoy the atmosphere with all that beautiful colors and sweet smell.

When our ancestral property was divided among brothers and parents, I preferred the agricultural land in order to involve in farming. Some part of land had been leased to a vegetable farmer that was terminated as I wanted to do rice plantation in whole area, some two and half bigha. (Land measurement: 20 dhur  = 1 kattha, 20 kattha = 1 bigha; 1 bigha = 6772.63 sq. m.) I was obsessed and excited to grow rice in my land but did not have much idea how to accomplish it. I was happy when my father offered his guidance and help in my pursuit.

During last week of May this year, rice seed was soaked in water tank. Part of land is a bit low with lot of moisture where 'Sabitri' rice variety would be cultivated while other variety 'Radha Char' would be grown in highland. Soaked seed was stuffed and tied in the jute sack, and left it to sprout.

Nursery bed was prepared irrigating with pump-set and ploughing with tractor, upon which sprouted seeds were evenly spread. The bed was irrigated and spread with pesticide before the seedlings were ready for plantation. The seedlings were ready to plant in a month.

Elaborate preparation was made to land with both manual and machinery works. Lathe (male worker) maintained the aali (raised edge of piece of rectangular land known as koliya) using kodalo (tool to dig) so that water could not seep through the aali. Plenty of water was poured on the koliya before it was ploughed by tractor that also leveled the surface.

At the same time, ropaar (female workers who plant rice) were busy taking off the rice seedlings from nursery bed and putting together in bundles.

Organic fertilizer was spread on the land and bundles of seedling were dispatched to the land. Ropaar planted rice (some 4-5 seedlings) in a row at the distance of some half feet, gradually moving backward. It has been a great fun to plant rice as people sing typical monsoon song and also engage in mud splashing each other.

Rice seedling grew gradually so as the weeds alongside that had been removed manually. Pesticide had been sprinkled couple of times to combat with insects and diseases that attacked new plant. I had wanted to do organic farming but found no option as all adjacent rice fields were heavily used with pesticide.

Rice was ready to harvest in four months. I was delighted to see the bunch of golden grains shimmering in sunlight and swinging gracefully with gentle breeze. Enormous labor work is needed to harvest rice as there are many procedures from cutting rice stalks to storing rice sacks. And there is shortage of workers, or the fact is people are not interested to do much labor work. Whole lot of migrant workers from Terai districts: Bara, Parsa, Rautahat and Mahottari, come every year to fill this vacancy. A group of workers, generally 10-15 people, contract with land owner to do all the works at cost of some NPR 8000 - 9000 per bigha with arrangement of food and shelter for them.

They cut rice stalks using special scythe (not typical of Chitwan), tied the stalks to make a sheaf and gathered them together at the place where these sheaves were beaten on wooden bed to extract grain. Then, heap of grain was swirled on air to fall on floor and others swung naglo (flat basket) rhythmically to generate air current that blew away the dusts. Then clean rice grains were stuffed in the sack.

Radha Char rice was extracted manually whereas Sabitri was extracted using threshing machine because the grains do not come off easily. Hay was put together one upon other in circular fashion to raise it tall and it was made conical shape that is called kunyu. These haystacks were already sold at the cost of NPR 700 per kattha. There is much demand of hay, as it is used as fodder for cattle.

Total  86 sacks of rice were harvested and kept in storeroom. We will keep the rice needed for family for whole year and sell remaining ones. I will not sell now because there is no good price at the moment, just NPR 1550 per quintal. I could not to figure out net profit or loss because rice has not been weighed yet. What I gained is experience and knowledge that would help in my future pursuits.

The hard fact is: it is not easy to be a farmer. You have to cope with many things: some are within your control, for others you have to leave with mercy of weather. If weather plays spoil sport, you will ruin your all effort in a moment. And there is no insurance, no compensation, nothing at all. The price of labor work is obviously high so as the price of service of tractor and pump-set. After all, when your yield is ready, you would not get its desired price.

I did not have much time to work physically in the field but I enjoyed planting rice that is always a great fun. I love to be in the farm for its unique atmosphere. Sweet fragrance emitting from fresh crop blended with that of soil reminds me of my childhood memories.

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