Thursday, December 6, 2012

What A Difference A Week Can Make - Cane Harvest

Sugar Cane Trucks Awaiting Offloading
Last week, activities in the fields in Isaan centered around rice cultivation, more specifically threshing this year's rice harvest.  As you drove along the narrow country back roads you would see clusters of people in the parched paddies collecting the sheaves of rice for threshing.  You would encounter small farm trucks transporting bags of threshed rice back to the farmer's home.  Occasionally you would encounter a small farm trucks transporting sugar cane from the fields to a refinery.  Well one week has changed all of that.  The three month sugar harvest is now well underway.

A Typical Isaan Farm Truck
The back roads of Isaan on now filled with large, very large, and heavily loaded trucks transporting harvested sugar cane from the fields to the sugar refineries. These trucks will run all day and well into the night for the next three months.  The heavy trucks and amount of trucks take a heavy toll on the roads.  It seems that the roads are destroyed after two seasons of the sugar harvest requiring the roads to be replaced every three years.  yes that's right - destroyed every two years and replaced every three.  That is the way it is out in the countryside.  For one year you learn and become adept at avoiding the potholes, lumps, and bumps of the back roads.  I often joke with the local politicians and officials that if they will fix the road that year, I will vote for them.  I suspect that elections are every four years so the roads are fixed every three years as demonstration of the elected officials performance.  Right now the road out to Tahsang Village is great (the elections were in November).

Sugar Cane Laden Trucks At Kumphawapi Sugar Company Refinery
The loaded trucks take the sugar cane to sugar refineries.  On our way to Tahsang Village, just outside of Kumphawapi, Kumphawapi Sugar Company has their refinery.  Between the road and the refinery which is set a ways off from the road, is a large parking area.  The area used to be unpaved and was covered with a thick layer of very red dust.  This year the company greatly improved the parking area, it has been completely paved over with concrete and has a grass covered berm built around it. It is much better now to walk around it taking photographs than when the dust got into everything.  I suspect that the local residents are even more thankful.

The refinery has a limited capacity to offload trucks and to process the sugar cane.  The result of the refinery capacity and uncoordinated delivery of cane to the refinery, is a huge logjam of cane laden trucks at the entrance to the plant.  The parking lot is where the trucks await their turn to enter the refinery and offload their cane. During the height of the harvest, truckers can wait up to three days for their turn to be offloaded.  It reminded me somewhat of the huge line of trucks lined along the highway for about 20Km (roughly 15 miles) during the soy bean harvest waiting to enter the port of Paranagua, Brasil to ship their cargo out.

Trucks In Line to Enter the Refinery
At the Kumphawapi Sugar Company, the trucks arrive and log into the security office.  The truckers are given a number and they park their trucks to await their turn by number to get into the line to enter the refinery.  We spoke to a trucker and found out that he had already been waiting one day.

Passing Time, Waiting For Their Number To Be Called

Hearing that he had been waiting a day and knowing that some truckers end up waiting three days to offload, got me to thinking about how the truckers make money.  Do they own the trucks?  Are they hired to drive someones truck?  Are they paid by the hour?  Are they paid by the day?  Are they paid by the load?  Are they  paid by the weight of cane that is delivered?  Fortunately Duang was with me to ask and get answers for me.

For the most part, the drivers are hired by companies that own the trucks.  The drivers are paid by the amount of sugar cane that they haul.  The driver that we spoke with is paid 6 Baht ($.002 USD) per metric ton of sugar cane hauled.  For a tandem trailer, two 35 ton loads, he makes 420 baht ($14 USD).  General farm labor had been running 150 Baht a day but now it is closer to 300 Baht a day ($10 USD).  So running and offloading in one day is not that bad.  However, taking two or three days to offload is not very good.

The drivers pass away the time by socializing, listening to ethnic music, and sleeping.

Have Hammock, Will Sleep
Many of the drivers will sleep in their trucks overnight.  Food is readily available.  Townspeople have set up little stalls outside of the parking area where food and drink are available.  Some of the drivers, like the driver that we spoke to, drive their trucks back home for the night and return to wait once again early the next morning.  They keep the same number in the line until they are off loaded - whenever that may be.

Although it was a public holiday, The King's Birthday/Father's day here in Isaan, some people had to work.  Their work schedule is dictated by the ancient cycles of farming - times for sowing and times for harvesting.  There is also the need to take advantage of any opportunity to make a living.  Where opportunities are great, any opportunity, no matter when, can not be ignored.

Sugar Cane Trucks In Kumphawapi On Father's Day

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