So eventually the rice cultivator was fixed and we started plowing yesterday afternoon. Of course we could have hired local farmers to work on the land, but the labor here is expensive, which would have exceeded our budget.
The land preparation for rice here involves these procedures: 1. cleaning the weeds and straws from last season (usually in the form of slash-and-burn); 2. building bunds in the field for retaining water; 3. flooding the field to soften the soil; 4. overturning the soil (manually or by a rice cultivator); 5. letting the field to dry so the weeds will be dried out, or leaving standing water there to suffocate the weeds; 6. manually puddling the soil, incorporating weeds (and ash) into the soil. The slash-and-burn practice does not seem to be sustainable to me. All the plant materials could have been turned into the soil as a good source of soil organic matter, or used for compost. Burning is easy, but it releases much carbon to the atmosphere and the nutrients become mobile and easy to lose. Other than cleaning the field, people tend to burn everything that is not wanted. There are many brewers in this region producing alcohol with sugarcane juice. The fibers remained after pressing juice are called “bagas” which will be burned. While they are set on fire, there is always a hint of caramel-like smell in the air. To me it is so wasteful–the fibers seem to be great materials for mulching and composting. I think it will be a good idea to introduce compost and mulch to farmers, but it could take quite a while for them to understand and actually adopt these strategies. Farmers here tend to follow conventions–easier to do and the outcome is predictable. One of the reason that our last SRI trial did not turn out well is that the farmer switched back to the traditional method in the middle of the season. SRI requires a few drying periods throughout the season, but the farmer was concerned that the crops would fail, so he still kept 5-8 cm standing water in the field. This time, the foundation purchased its own land and plans to closely manage the crops, in the hope of convincing them that new ideas and strategies can be beneficial.
This is a traditional brewer. After pressing the juice out, people boil the juice, and then ferment it in huge containers (they added some yellowish liquid to the juice for fermentation). Afterward, the liquid is to be distilled. The product is colorless and transparent. It gains great favor among local people. It is said that sometimes temporary farm workers will be paid in the form of a big jar of liquor. Sugarcane needs 1 year to mature. In this area, farmers grow 2 kinds of sugarcane–pale green skin type and blackish purple skin type. The later is called “pineapple sugarcane” and is super sweet. It is common to see horses loaded with sugarcanes heading to the brewers. Although the liquor is very popular, sugarcane brings little profits. Many farmers grow sugarcane because they and their fathers have been doing so. Also, sugarcane is easy to grow and requires much less care than other crops like beans, rice, and cabbage. Below are photos showing each step of brewing alcohol from sugarcane: Pressing juice, fermentation, distilling. The fermentation and distilling generate a lot of effluent which is simply discharged.
The past Friday, we ran our rice mill to process last season’s harvest. The head rice yield (the amount of intact grains) was quite low and almost half of the grains were broken. Varieties, moisture content at harvest, and moisture contents at milling are common factors influencing milling quality, but in this case, the way people thresh rice accounts for another important factor. Farmers have no access to any kind of threshers, so once they harvest the crop, they beat bunches of panicles on a hard surface to knock off the grains. This can create cracks on the kernels before milling, and then lead to the breaking of kernels when experiencing pressure in the miller.
We plan to do an experiment later after harvest to examine all the possible factors affecting rice milling quality and hope to find out the optimal harvest and storage condition for a high head rice yield.