Monday, December 31, 2007

may you all get most of your wishes for 2008

Kirimatta Handiya Kade
Kirimatta, Godagama, Meegoda

saturday lunch

Gamini holding the catch of the day from our river in front of our cabin, which we had for lunch. His son Geethika is looking at the antics of his dad.

dawn brakes over the beautiful fields, makes this sacrifice worthwhile

world food program that feeds the fat farmer!!!!!!

The photo shows some of fellow neighbours getting into a neighbors tractor trailer to get home from the central distribution depot of the food.

The readers of my musings will no doubt now know that every day in my life if both unpredictable, different and sometimes once-off. Sunday was no exception. The 5.30 drive was so that we could get through the day. First on our way we saw who discovered our previous night's mischief in order to safeguard our fields. Then onto Ratmale, 10miles away to a chena cultivator farmer friends. He showed me what the rains had done to his papaya cultivation and we could sympathize as I was also a victim.However he had also lost the best trees that survived the wet weather to an elephant just pushing it down the day before. It is amazing how resilient they are amidst all this hardship.They were wondering loudly whether this was all worth their while.

I went with them to the field that morning, so I could get the green chillies, capsicum, and tomato I wanted to as well as picked the limes from his lime trees for my customers the next day. I therefore got no papaya from them. I then made a quick pit stop at my jungle property in Ratmale ( and went up to the tank, as it had spilled over due to the rains.So this was thie highest level I would see. The good news is the farmers here can now plough the fields twice this year rather than the once they did last year, as this tank is rain fed and not channeled from other water sources.

I then had to go to the pola (Sunday Fair) in Hingurakgoda, to get supplies for the week, and was appalled that I had to buy rice at 65/- a kilo as all my paddy is now over.

Later along with hundreds of farmers I had to queue up for our entitlements in kind for our work in cleaning up the irrigation canals that supply our fields. The payment for this work which is voluntary is made in kind by some scheme with the assistance of the WFP and other aid bodies. The enriched wheat flour was donated by the EU and each person received various amounts of food in the form of rice, flour, sugar and dhal, in proportion to the work performed.

Our entitlement was 15kg each of Rice and Wheat Flour, and 1.2KG Sugar and 1.8KG of Dhal.

The funny part was that I gave a ride to some of the people I had fought with the day before (see article below) in my cab back to the village with our provisions.
I need to add a PS in that at that late hour, the men sent their wives to collect the entitlement, as they had there date with the moonshine seller to make sure their daily ration of the needful is consumed. No wonder the world food programme is giving in kind to ensure if the breadwinner is an alcoholic the wife and kids dont starve.

I then had to pack my food and leave after dark back to Godagama arriving there after midnight, all by myself this time, so I could be ready for my Monday sales delivery to homes, of this produce I grow,transport and buy from my friends, the other known farmers. Now its 31st night nearing midnight, I go home to bed to face another day on the farm.

A week is a long time even in farming (not only politics)

The photo shows the way the water reaches my property from the pipe, and this is taken around mid night that day when the water was flowing rapidly once our dead of night operation was carried out.

Only last week that is up till Christmas day we had 14 days of continuous rain, which killed more than 200 of my papaya plants as the root system rotted. My paddy (rice) fields were not flooded and so were fine. On Saturday, Dec 29th my fields began to crack, with the sunshine that came since, and the water that had been sent through the irrigation canals from the Minneriya tank (large lake) did not reach me. I needed water to fill the fields, so that I could spread some much needed fertilizer to help my rice plants grow healthily.

The intricate irrigation system from the tank is by way of gravity fed system of main canals and sub canals into the fields. The water that feeds me and my neighbours is a tributary sub canal from a main canal. I am at the end of this sub canal. So often if the water flow is not adequately sent from the sluice in the main canal I do not get any water after all the people ahead of me take their allocation.

I went to investigate if I could get some water by diverting and shutting off some of my neighbors supplies with their consent. At one neighbours pole,(water pipe that feeds his fields) I followed the water to his field, and was horrified that all the water ( a substantial amount) was going through his field straight to the river. I made a big stink at this neighbours field, saying that neither is he using the water, nor letting his neighbour who desperately wants water have it, and let the people around know the score that it was not morally right, even though I had no legal way of stopping his water entitlement at the moment even if he is misusing it.

The locals (as I am a newcomer having only arrived on the scene 15 months ago)did not like it one bit when I was dressing down their neighbour. I stood my ground as the locals benefit from my being there, and all of them were paid handsomely to transplant the paddy but now are not letting me have water to ensure the transplanted plants are well nursed, implying there was some cussedness mixed with envy.

Such as it may be they got the message that I was not going without a fight and was not afraid of anyone, I sleep in open veranda while they all sleep inside locked houses!!!

On a practical note that night, one of my staff Gamini and I at around 11pm, prepared an improvised contraption,(see photo below of Gamini making it in the dead of night by lamp light) and went up to the main channel to artificially increase the level of the water so a larger volume would flow into the our canal and I partially,shut some of our neighbours water pipes so I could get the necessary water before daylight. This is the time that all the alcoholics in the area are asleep, they wake up around 1am from their alcohol induced stupor so we could carry out this job in relative safety. Of the neighbourhood dogs bark, but the neighbours are either asleep or watching TV.

This being successful we had to spend the next few hours in the dead of night, ensuring the channels of water that go into each of my fields was getting the necessary water so that we could carry out our work in the morning. It was after 2am when we were able to get any sleep that night.

This is a true life drama enacted by desperate farmers risking their skins, every day in some part of the country in similar situations when appealing to reason fails, and drastic measures have to be adopted.

Of course I still had to be up at 5am to get on with my work of getting my supplies to take to town for the next days sales, and saw on our way out, that our scheme had been discovered and the contraption was removed to ensure free flow and accordingly no flow to us, by which time we achieved our goal if only for that day!!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Chuty Nangi's birthday

My neighbour across the raging river is Wije. They have 4 offspring. The eldest had a baby and is still in hospital as the child got an infection in the Baby room of the Polonnaruwa hospital. The second girl has a 4 yr daughter and the last two twins, are Chuty Nangi and her brother Malli.
These two had there 21st birthday on the 21st of December. Due to the child's illness they did not want to celebrate the birthday. The son is in the Army and is in active service, and so chuty nangi was upset no one took notice of her b'day. So we on our side of the river, despite the incessant rains decided to do something about it. We bought a cake and lit candles and took balloons and made her day. The photo above shows the family as mentioned above and below shows her blowing her candles. She at least got a b'day to remember.

X Mas Greetings

Our family group photo at our Aunt's after lunch

Monday, December 24, 2007

The river that runs by my property

The river that runs by my property is called Minneriya Oya. It has water flowing perennially as it as a result of a leak of the Minneriya Tank. So with this extraordinary rains, the excess water from the paddy fields as well as some water from the Tank flows into this river which at my property is less than two KM from the tank. Overnight on Saturday night the continuous rain raised the level of water,so when I woke up (my bed is in the verandah) the water was all around me. It is a once in a lifetime feeling.

The whole village trooped in to my property to gaze!!! as they thought my place was under water. One old lady said she was 10 when in 1957 the Minneriya Tank burst its earthen bund and flooded the villages below and washed away many houses and many lives were lost. Since then she says, like clockwork there is a flood every ten years, recalling other great floods in 1967 and 1997 and said that this is another one of those in 2007.

I have built my cabin right on to the property line as denoted by the boundary stone just in front of the verandah, denoting how accurately the surveyors in 1935 surveyed the land and gave the 5 acre blocks to the farmers not encroaching on the river reservation which takes account of the flood stages of the river. They knew then and it is accurate today, the level of the flood plain that does not encroach on to the property itself, thus affecting the farmer adversely. I know it is a small point but it is worth remembering these pioneers of a bygone age that settle communities with property granted by the government to irrigate and cultivate new lands.

the week that was in Minneriya

Sorry folks for the delay in transmission, as I have been very very busy and did not have time to come to Colombo to blog. Well one of the events of the week was the 14 days of rain non stop in Polonnaruwa that left some places flooded and mercifully all the tanks (the lakes) full in the area. This means that the farmers will have enough water for the paddy fields that have been cultivated.

Those who know my place and the river that runs in front of my verandah will appreciate the photos of the water level that had risen so much that it was only 6 inches from the floor. It was nice as three sides of the verandah was under water and it was like being on a boat.

Friday, December 7, 2007

this is how it happens in Sri Lanka

One thing that surprises me in Sri Lanka is the amount of gold people wear on their person, and I thought it was rather odd when people have little of anything still have a little gold jewellery on them. Of course one hears daily of the snatch thieves coming on motor cycles and pulling the gold chain from an unsuspecting woman walking down the road. I don't wear or have any gold but I just realized how useful it could be.Maybe I should buy some gold for an event such as I am to relate.

I suddenly found myself in Polonnaruwa yesterday with insufficient funds to pay those who are transplanting my paddy today and tommorrow. I also miscalculated how many people it would take and how much it would cost. I have noted earlier my current situation of nothing in the bank. When I mentioned this to my man Friday, Amila (actually man Monday to Friday)he said "don't worry, I will pawn the gold chain I am wearing and get you the money". He promptly went to the bank in Hingurakgoda and returned with Rs 15,000 being what he received from the bank. I will no doubt redeem the pawned item before the end of the month, somehow, but I was amazed how useful this little gold on his back was for me.

I am told that most people in the country, constantly pawn their jewellery for emergency cash for unforseen events. They use jewellery as the currency for these eventualities, as savings only leads one to spend and redeeming a pawned item is more likely to happen than returning the savings into an account.

This is financial planning Sri Lanka style and thank you Amila from a potentially embarrasing situation for me!!!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Merits of transplanting paddy

Thursday, December 6, 2007 is the day, my rice nursery is being worked on to remove the small plants to transplant the next day. I sowed this nursery on November 17th. Back in the 70’s all advice was to transplant paddy to increase yield, as it will give space for the plant to grow and maximize the yield. There were transplanting machines, and methods leaving a gap in rows to enable ease of weeding. Today almost no one does this. They all say it is too costly as we have to use non existent labor to do so and the yield improvement does not warrant this extra expense. In Japan everyone does, When I visited Japan in May this year, every filed was transplanted and they have a greater labor shortage than we have. No doubt they use transplanting machines, but remember the farmer himself works his field with no additional labor.

The photos show 8 ladies in the neighborhood who are preparing the bundles of plants for transplanting. They were saying that even the knowledge of how to do this is dying as now one transplants citing cost even though yield improvements offset the planting cost.

Perhaps next time I may not be able to find 8 like this to do the transplanting and have to resort to the now familiar sowing method as I do not seem to be able to even locate a transplanter.

The bundles of paddy plants in the nursery awaiting transplanting

A close up view of the plants showing how they are tied together