Ripening rice

A field of rice, almost ready for the harvest makes a lovely backdrop for the macro of a flower that I didn’t recognize. It had been planted along the border of the field, so I suppose it must be an useful plant: either a vegetable or an easy-to-grow spice. Farming is hard, and land is hardly ever wasted. You would think that the wisdom of the market would price our most important commodities, food, high enough to give farmers a living. But it seems that we are willing to pay much more for a device on which to view insta photos or tiktok videos than we are for a month’s food.

This year I’ve followed the main growing cycle of rice in India: the kharif crop, planted during the monsoon and harvested in November. Around Vaitarna lake I saw tractors and oxen plowing fields, whole families engaged in flooding them, before planting and transplanting the seedlings. It is a labour-intensive job which is open to chance. There are years when an unseasonal rain can destroy the ripening crop, or its lack wither the seedlings before they grow. In this region at the edge of Tadoba, there are dangers from pests, the many birds which I spotted around the field, insects, mold, diseases, even wild boars. Although each family owns its own piece of land, families collaborate on the larger projects around the farms: plowing, ensuring deliveries, safety.

I watched the old farmer walk through the field, inspecting it closely, making sure that there is no last minute disease that sweeps through the fields, estimating the day on which the crop would have to be harvested. This is the most productive crop, but he would have to raise at least one more crops in the year to make a living. By December there would have to be a second planting. This land was close enough to a dam for a third crop to be grown in summer. The life of a farmer is hard, and money makes it harder. No family can subsist entirely on farming. Every family in the village has one or two members working in a big city to supplement the income. More than half of the country’s population is engaged in the primary production of food, but this is responsible for only a fifth of the GDP. There is clearly an imbalance here.

A farmer of Jamnagar

As we finished our hunt for larks outside Jamnagar, a man on a motorbike stopped to inspect us. He didn’t mind being inspected in turn. Communication was difficult, since he spoke only the local dialect of Gujarati, notoriously difficult for even a native Gujarati speaker. He was undoubtedly prosperous; the motorbike, crisp white clothes, the large gold ear ring, all were signs of his local status.

On this southern shore of the Gulf of Kutch water is plentiful, and agriculture has long been a good source of income. Nowadays cash crops like sugarcane, tobacco, and cotton bolster the income that the cultivation of bajra and jowar, and fishing used to provide. As we found in late March, a month after this photo was taken, this district is also a destination for migrant agricultural labour. So I’m pretty sure this gentleman was a local landowner. He gave us up for a lost cause soon and drove off.