Saturday, 4 January 2014

A rice survivor participant tells her story: transplanting rice mechanically could be fun the second time around*

It’s transplanting time for Team B-IRRI-Ani. We were supposed to transplant on January 2, but when we went to the Experiment Station, the wetland leveler would still have to be done.  So we were advised to come back on January 3, 730 AM.

I took a deep breath because this is the second time I will be transplanting. The first one was way, way back in the late 90s during my Sophomore year (and I dreaded that activity). That time, I did manual transplanting in a very small plot (I guess, four times smaller than our plot now). This time, it will be a mechanical transplanter—the mechanical transplanter I presented during Women’s Day last March 2013. During that event, I convinced visitors that women can operate the machine (coming from the perspective of a former female Rice Survivor participant). But to advocate the use of the machine is a different story. I need a first-hand experience of what I tell the visitors, especially the farmers. I feel like I really need to experience it in order to walk the talk. And of course, that’s an added advantage to my Postharvest Unit group to give them feedback if the machines that we promote are indeed easy to operate by first time and women users.

So I went first to the field.  There’s the fear of using a machine. There are a lot of controls and all. But, the ES workers had my back. They helped me operate. Since they did the first three rows, I decided to give it a try on the fourth pass (which will be my first). What I learned from the pros (kabesilya workers):

  • Look at the field straight ahead and not on the adjacent rows because you will lose grip on the handles and you will swerve to the left or right.
  • Don’t get intimidated using the machine. It’s much like driving. But I am sure that even non drivers would find it easy to operate
  • Don’t grip the handles firmly. Just grasp the handle and let the machine glide smoothly.
My added best practices:
    • Stand straight, don’t arch your back. Take a inhale, short intervals of exhales; it will calm your nerves (because I was so scared to create a skewed rows of rice tillers
    • Think that you have back up. You requested in OCS to have back up (hehe). ES guys have your back. If the pattern is swerved, apologize and charge it to experience (hey, you are a first time rice planter). Really, that’s part of life.
    • The turnaround points where there are unplanted hills? The manual transplanting will do the trick so be ready for more back breaking work
    The ES kuyas did the first few rows 
    That's me trying to make it look easy. It is actually easy :) 
    It's Hannah's turn now! I was cheering her "Go Hannah!"
    I forgot to ask if Hannah found it easy to operate. But looks like she's not having problems here

    The experience was surprisingly fun because: 1) This is not part of requirement for me to pass a course; 2)  You take in the fear and uncertainties of a rice planter (if not a farmer); you now have the added empathy for them; 3) You are able to capture significant learnings on the ground.

    Hannah and I were so in the mood to plant and finish the field I did not take a break. It’s almost ten AM (the machine bogged down in the beginning so it took us longer than expected) and we briefly finished our work and waited for the workers to return from their morning break. Once they returned, we went back to our office and let them finish.

    The turnaround points with no planted tillers? Do a manual transplanting instead. It's a good team building activity as well.

    Now that we’re finished with the crop establishment, we are excited to proceed with the crop management. Hannah immediately used the Crop Manager and submitted the results to me. I passed it on to my group mates to help me check if we got accurate results before I file necessary OCS requests.  For now, another day has passed, and if in the actual field, I would have been coming home to a banquet of fellow farmers sharing bottles of locally- available cold beer to cap off the day.  In reality,  simply I went back to my office and updated my supervisor (Martin Gummert) that the machine did work and I can operate it (and so I can tell the visitors with confidence it is easy to use), and then immediately started my official work duties. My day has just begun. 
    * The title is adapted from IRRI Youtube video channel on "Farmers tell their stories"