Have you ever thought about the contents of a packet of rice you buy in your local supermarket? Until recently, me neither: it’s just rice isn’t it and is pretty cheap to buy.
However, after a day spent rice threshing in Nepal, I’m looking at rice in a whole new light now that I know how much effort it takes to harvest it in an unmechanised environment. And as well as being time consuming, it’s hard work too, both for us and the cows.
(And we only saw part of the process).
After the harvest, the first job is to take the bundles of recently cut rice, lift them over your shoulder and then bash them as hard as possible on the ground to try and make the rice kernels fall out. The residual grass then has to be evenly spread out under the path of the group of cows that have been tethered together and are walking round and round in a circle on the cut grass again to separate out any other grains of rice from it. Of course the cows are way more interested in stopping to eat and so another job is to ensure that they keep moving. This is achieved by continuously following them around and grunting at them (for information, a deep grunt seems to be the most effective) to encourage them to move and/or giving them a quick clip on the backside (either by hand or with a stick) and all the time hoping that they don’t take against you and decide to retaliate with a good back-kick.
Following the cows around on the grass isn’t as easy as it looks (bit like walking on a sandy beach) and you can get a bit dizzy going round and round the same way although spare a thought for the cows who are doing this for hours on end. (One slightly less pleasant job is trying to ensure that any cow dung is not trampled into the grass and instead is removed as quickly as possible). Once all the bundles have been threshed in this way, the resulting pile of rice has to be sieved further and the trodden down grass bundled together and tied up for animal feed.
Although it was a full day’s work, disappointingly the resulting pile of rice was not as impressive as I felt it should have been. And this is, of course, not the end of the process: another stage is processing the rice kernels and taking off the outer shell but this was not something with which we were involved.
It was a fun day although no doubt the local farmers with whom we had been working were not particularly impressed by the fact that their harvesting process had been delayed by the foreign novices.
But they looked after us well and we all enjoyed a generous picnic lunch of dahl baht (rice and lentils) in the middle of the rice field in a very picturesque setting.