The Lifecycle of Rice...
I also wanted to document how rice is produced. The timetable varies depending on geographic conditions like hydrology and climate. In some places like the Mekong Delta farmers can squeeze out three harvests per year, but here in Sungai Penuh the cycle is 6 months, so two harvests per year. After two harvests the farmers let the land rest for 1 month, so in 13 months they get one harvest. There are several stages to the process, which you can see in the pictures below.
The first stage is to plant the seeds. Farmers generally start the seeds in a corner of one of their pirings, planted very close together. The seeds grow here for 2-3 weeks and then they are transplanted to where they will grow until it is time for harvest. I really like thse "nursery" plots because of the deep green color. The farmers do this so that they are only planting good seeds; after two weeks of growth they know which ones are going to grow and which ones aren't.
When it is almost time to transplant the young seedlings the farmer will flood the dry paddy so that the soil, which is about a meter deep, gets saturated. Then the farmer will till the mud, turning it over to get it ready for planting. Locally this process is called bajak. Some people use a hand tractor for this stage, others use buffalos. The lady in the picture is doing the job herself.
After the paddy is bajaked the rice is transplanted. The rice will grow until it's ready to harvest, 5-6 months later. In the interim the farmer chases off crop pests and sometimes sprays pesticide and applies fertilizer. Eventually when the grains appear and the rice turns yellow it's ready to harvest. The picture above is rice at about 3 months, the picture below is ready to harvest.
After the rice is harvested the chaf (jerami) is burned and the plot is left fallow for a bit. Rice is sold on the market or saved for household use; in the picture in the next paragraph you can see a traditional rice storage shed (lubung padi), but I don't know how frequently these are used these days.
As it turns out it's harder to navigate amidst thousands of acres of rice paddies than you might imagine. The plots are for the most part small, averaging I'd say about 30x10 feet, and they are divided by small bunds made of mud. The bunds are in varying states of repair or lack thereof, and so sometimes your route is determined by the condition of the bund. Moreover, they tend to change direction, and so it's hard to go in a straight line for an extended distance. So along the way I resigned myself to go in whichever direction the wind blew, or more accurately, whichever way the bunds lay. We ended up going from one village to another and then another, making a big loop. We arrived back in my "village" about 4 hours after we started. By this time I was quite hungry and thirsty, so I went back to my shack where I could enjoy some nice warm water and a couple of packages of condensed milk (the backbone of my Ramadan diet) and bathe with the last gallon or so of water I had from my thrice-weekly collection from the distribution point down the street (3). I'm glad we got back when we did, because shortly thereafter a storm rolled in and the sky opened up in a way I've rarely seen here. The downpour was so freakish that there was actually hail; a friend told me she's been living here for 17 years and has never seen hail. The power predictably went off, and I was a little apprehensive because we were experiencing all the signs of tornado weather, and there's no where to hide here. But eventually the storm passed, and I was able to collect about 15 gallons of water within approximately 20 minutes.
It was a nice day. I had fun with the kids, and learned a good bit about the specifics of rice production here in the Valley.
(1) There are a lot of "major rice producing regions" in Indonesia
(2) Majapahit was a powerful kingdom based on Java that gave rise to several notable personages that would become national heroes.
(3) As when I began my fieldwork odyssey, there has been no water in my shack for about two weeks running.