For those of us calling the United States home, it is difficult to appreciate a staple grain as the Lahu and Akha can appreciate their rice. Instead, we feast on a rich variety of starches from corn, wheat, potatoes, rice, barley and oats, to quinoa; oftentimes rendered wholly unrecognizable from field to supermarket shelf. Here, on the other hand, we eat rice; white rice, sticky rice, brown rice, red rice, black rice, and rice noodles. In Thailand, rice is life!
Over the past four months, it has been a privilege to partner with Witoon and his family from planting to harvest of the center’s new rice fields! In mid-June, we began by reinforcing the new paddy dams, plowing and leveling the flooded fields to maintain uniform water level across each terraced field.
As many of his neighbors have converted their old rice fields to grow feed corn, Witoon decided to adapt the new SRI methods of planting to show that there are high yielding, low input alternatives to traditional rice cultivation. SRI (System of Rice Intensification) is an improved system of rice cultivation that aims to improve rice yields while consuming less water and less seed than traditional systems. Instead of broadcasting seed into nursery beds and transplanting at four weeks, Witoon chose to start the seed in shallow trays and transplant at two weeks of age by throwing the young seedlings like darts. This aptly named “dart method” may sound strange but is actually much healthier for the delicate roots of the young rice plants, not to mention the backs of the farmer throwing them!
For some years now, Witoon’s grandmother has been unable to share in the rice planting as it is too difficult for her to bend over and backpedal through the thick mud. Throwing rice, however, has made it possible for her to stand at the edge of the field and throw rice with her young great-grandsons!
Over the past months, we have watched these fields flourish; their stalks become heavy with new rice. As we harvest, thresh, and enjoy this bounty, we have more time to rest and enjoy one another’s company. The seasonality of this work is one of Witoon’s favorite things about life as a farmer. We sit back and reflect on the season’s steady rain and abundant sunshine, grateful that our Creator has blessed us with another year of rice to sustain our bodies and share with our friends.