Who: Hoàng Thị Thẩm and Nguyễn Đình Đạt
Where: Bac Ninh Province, Vietnam
Rice is enormously important in Vietnam. Each day, Vietnam's population receives three-quarters of its calories from rice. At least lunch and dinner are cooked with rice as the foundation, and breakfast may be rice-based too. It's made into noodles, boiled for hours to celebrate the lunar new year, and even made into pancakes.
I visited Dat and his wife, Tham, to learn how a small-scale Vietnamese farmer grows rice in Bac Ninh Province, the countryside northeast of Hanoi, Vietnam.
Growing a crop of rice only takes three months. First, Dat chooses the type of rice he wants to grow, buys it from a neighbor (he doesn't save seeds), and submerges the seeds in water for two days and two nights right in his home. If you're wondering, rice seeds are just exactly what you think they are: grains of rice with their thin outside skins left intact. After soaking the seeds, Dat sprouts them under a fabric cover for another two days, wetting them every eight hours. When they've sprouted, they're strewn over a section of the field and covered with soil; it's not a precise process, since the quality of seeds available reliably produce a plant. The seedlings grow for about 18 days, or until the plants have grown three leaves and are about 20- to 25-cm tall.
Next, the young plants are gathered into handfuls and replanted by the bunch in rows in the fields. It takes about two hours to plant a typical 360-square-meter field. After another two months, the rice plants mature and turn yellow, which means they're ready to harvest. Dat and Tham harvest by hand using scythes or join together with other rice farmers in their village to rent a harvesting machine from another village. One field costs about 160,000 Vietnam dong (about $8) to harvest.
Dat and Tham plant three fields with rice each season and another three with other vegetables, including green onions, cauliflower, and cabbage, depending on the season. Since growing rice uses a lot of water, other farmers may grow lotuses, a useful and beautiful pink water flower that's a symbol for Vietnam, or raise ducks.
In the highly productive summer season, Dat says he gets up at about 5:30 a.m. and is in his rice fields by 7 a.m. He works until about 10:30 a.m., then goes in to rest during the heat of the day, which can reach well over 100°F (38°C). He's back in the rice fields from 4 to 7 p.m., then tends his other crops until 10 p.m. It's a long day, but Dat, a former soldier and the only one of his five siblings to become a farmer, says he enjoys it.
Dat, Tham, and their children eat the rice they grow and sell it around their province, and Dat is proud of the warm environment of cooperation, rather than competition, that exists in his community. He could earn twice as much in a government job, and he's worked hard to provide a good education to his four children so they can earn higher salaries, even though it means none of them will take over the farm. He's content seeing his family and friends at the pagoda in the evening and knowing that other countries depend on Vietnamese rice, and so in turn, on him.
Thanks, Dat, Tham, and translator Thu!