Saturday, March 21, 2015

Planting Cassava

Planting Cassava In NE Thailand
My last blog entry was about harvesting cassava (manioc, tapioca, Brazilian Arrowroot) on Duang's aunt's land eleven days ago, so it is logical that my next blog entry would be about replanting the cassava crop.  Replanting?  Yes.  As part of the harvesting process, the long slender stalks of the cassava plant were saved.  The stalks stripped of branches and leaves were gathered up from the field and transported back to the family home.

Back at the farmer's home or at a willing relative's home, the stalks are stacked like cord wood.  The stalks are then cut into 8 to 9 inch long pieces with a heavy cane knife - one stalk at a  time - a job performed by both men and women.  The short pieces of stalk are collected in woven baskets.  The pieces are then brought over to a tub of water where they are washed and wet down before placing them into recycled fertilizer or rice bags.  The stalk sections remain in the bags for three days, after which they are transported out to a prepared field and planted by hand.

After harvesting the field eleven days ago, Duang's family waited a few days before preparing the stalks from the harvest.  Yesterday they called to let us know that they would be replanting the field that had been previously harvested.  I grabbed my camera bag and we headed out to Tahsang Village - arriving at 10:00 A.M.

Although the cassava was being planted by hand, the actual preparation of the field is performed by a tractor.  Our weather has turned hot ... eleven days of heavily overcast grey skies with high temperatures around 38 degrees ... 38 degrees Celsius (centigrade) - 100F!  Upon our arrival, the temperature was already 34C  (94F).  Besides the heat, there was a great deal of dust.  The rains just before the harvest eleven days ago were just a tease.  The monsoon rains have not returned yet although the weather is more unsettled.  The ground is now very dry.

The heavy furrows created by the tractor plowing the ground were bone dry - fine particles of clay and slightly larger grains of sand without any organic matter or moisture to bind them together.  I placed the cover to a piece of my photo gear on a fertilizer bag laying flat on the ground.  When we packed to return to our home 30 minutes, I was stunned at the amount of dust on the cover.  I was glad that I had decided not to change lenses in that environment.

Loading Up Basket With Cassava Stems
Workers were kept busy loading up woven hand baskets with cassava stalks from the recycle fertilizer bags containing the processed stems from the house.  After loading up their baskets, the workers walked along the dusty furrows across the field.  At set intervals along the furrow, they tossed one of the 6-9 inch long stalks on top of the raised mounds bordered by the furrows.

Distributing Cassava Stalks Along the Furrows

While half of the crew distributed the stalks, the other half of the crew followed along, sticking the short stalks into the soft mounded earth.

Another Stalk In the Dirt
There was a rhythm to their labor - the work proceeded at a rather quick pace - a choreographed series of movements developed and fine tuned over many years of toil.

A Busy Morning In the Fields Outside Tahsang Village
The parked farm truck offered a little relief to the workers - a jug of cool drinking water with a common cup, a couple recycled fertilizer bags placed on the ground to sit upon, and just a tiny bit of some shade.  Things were so bad that the family dog spent all his time underneath the truck.

After one-half hour, I started gathering up my gear.  I walked over to my wife and asked her if she wanted to go home.  She quickly nodded "Yes" and actually got back to the truck before I did.

I could not imagine spending another 6 to 6-1/2 hours out there photographing let alone planting the cassava.  I could not imagine, but for the workers, it was their reality, their life.  I am impressed with people that I refer to as survivors, people who do what is necessary to support themselves as well as their family.  For many people surviving requires efforts and a life that many people can not imagine.

However, seeing and learning how people survive provides inspiration and admiration of what people are capable of.  It also demonstrates how much that we take for granted is not necessary to survive or to be happy.

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