Bali Rice Culture
Rice is the staple food of Bali, as it is throughout southeast Asia. The traditional rice, called "Bali" rice, grows to a height of about 1 meter and takes 6 months to reach maturity. It can be harvested twice each year. The newer green revolution rice only grows to about 80 centimeters, matures in 4 months, and can be harvested 3 times a year. It is called "chemical" rice. The flavor of the Bali rice is much preferred here, but the longer growing time means a higher price. Both varieties are grown -- those who can afford it eat the Bali rice, others must be satisfied with the chemical rice.
Before the rice can be planted, the field must be flooded, plowed twice and leveled. Although the plowing (or digging) was traditionally done by hand or with animals, today most fields are plowed with tractors, as in the photo at the left. Rice fields in the steeply terraced gorges must, of course, be prepared by hand. The timing of all these events is controlled by tradition and ceremonies. The result is a healthy rice crop. Other crops, including peanuts, are rotated with the rice. This helps to maintain soil fertility and to use irrigation water efficiently. Often farmers do not have enough water to irrigate all their fields at the same time if they grow rice, as it requires a great deal of water. An individual farmer can work as much as 50 ares of land (half a hectare), but 30-40 ares is more common.
The rice plants are seeded and grown close together in a small portion of the field. This allows time for the rest of the field to be prepared for planting. When the rice reaches a height of about 10 centimeters, it is transplanted to the rest of the field, as shown in the photo at the left. The plants are spaced about 10 centimeters apart. As the rice grows, the field must be "cleaned" about every 2 weeks. This means removing competing plants from the field. This was traditionally done by hand, but is now often done with chemical herbicides. The fields are alternately flooded and allowed to dry at different stages of rice growth. This maximizes rice growth and discourages disease and competition from other plants.
The rice fields are beautiful. Other crops are often grown alongside the rice, but it is the rice that gives so much beauty to the Balinese landscape. Here the rice crop is being protected by small stone temples, which will receive daily offerings, and by a wind driven noise maker (wind chime) that is intended to frighten away the birds who would otherwise eat the rice. We have no idea if this works or not, but the wind chimes add a pleasant, peaceful sound to the fields, and the temples look lovely.
Once the rice is mature, it is ready to be harvested. The harvesting is done by the farmer and his family, or by hired workers. The rice stalks are cut by hand, then carried to a central location in the field for threshing. (Because this is "chemical" rice, the grain is loosely held to the stalk. It can't be hauled away from the field for threshing, as was traditionally done with the Bali rice.) After the rice has been harvested, the field is left to dry out before the process begins again. It will later be flooded to speed the decay of the rice stubble. If there isn't enough water to flood the field, it will be burned instead.
The harvested rice must be dried in the sun for 3-4 days, depending on the weather. It is turned frequently to dry all the grains evenly. When it starts to rain, all the rice must be picked up quickly and carried inside to keep it from getting wet and rotting. (It rains every day during the rainy season!) After drying, the rice is hulled in the mill in the background. The mill is a small machine, powered by a gasoline engine. In the past, the grain would have been milled in a mortar.
Nothing from the rice is wasted. The outer hulls are used in the gardens as a soil amendment and the inner hulls are fed to animals. The rice straw is used as animal feed, to thatch roofs, and to strenghthen clay roof tiles. In the photo at left, women are hauling the rice stalks away from the fields. The amount of human labor required to produce a crop, and the low price it brings in the market, are stunning. It is no wonder that we saw no young people working in the fields. All the farmers are older men and women who are carrying on a tradition that they learned as children.