Thursday, 20 June 2013

Toys for the big boys (and girls)

May 29, 2013. 
"So many questions, and the answers are so few..." 
-- Side A (1996)

After the snails and field measurements, it was time to get this season's Rice Survivors acquainted with farming equipment. Leigh Vial, head of IRRI's Experiment Station kindly walked us through the garage to meet some of the big toys that we might use in the field.

Along the way, I saw tractors and farming implements that look familiar... Of course! The tools used to till the land in sugarcane farms are similar to what is used in rice fields. The only difference was that the ones used for rice are a bit smaller. I'm familiar with the disc plow, and only the disc plow, because I used to see that all the time in my grandfather's coffee and peppercorn farm (way back in the 80s).

From what I've been hearing during seminars on gender and diversity, it looks like the farms are mainly managed by women: they till the soil, they plant and take care of the crops, and they harvest the grains. But the machinery I'd seen so far during the tour looked like they're more suited for men. And men are the ones migrating to the urban areas for work, according to the seminars I've been sitting in. So there, apparently, is a mismatch... Unless, of course, the women are the ones operating the machinery themselves. 

But then there were machines that didn't need a tractor. There was a hydrotiller, that looks like it can be pushed through muddy paddies quite easily, and mechanical transplanters. Yes, mechanical transplanters! If these machines are widely available and accessible, I'm thinking that farming will be a little bit less backbreaking than it is now out in the real world.

So, why the quote from the Side A song? 

During our tour, Rice Survivors were seeking Leigh's advice about how to properly till their fields. But there's no clear cut answer, according to Leigh. Looks like there's a certain degree of gut feel and guesswork involved. For scientists and researchers who are used to linear thinking and to flow charts (like me), diving into the unknown without a clear guide is quite scary. 

I guess that we'll be winging it a lot of times this season. We'll see.

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