An impressive example of these are the rice terraces in southern China and in the north of the Philippines. Set up more than two thousand years ago, these are witnesses to a landscape architecture which is counted as one of the most beautiful cultural achievements of the agricultural nations world-wide. The rice terraces also display man’s creativity when it comes to meeting one of his basic needs - acquiring food, and ensuring a long-term supply.
From the heights of the rice terraces down to the rice-fields on the flats, all plantations have one thing in common: the carefully tended dams, built to a height of 40 - 60 cms, ensure the vital water-level of approx 10 cms which the rice requires in order to thrive - from seed to harvest. The terms ‘watered rice’ or ‘water rice’ were not made up out of the blue.
Watered rice or water rice is the name given to the most common and most intensively used growing method. Roughly three quarters of all rice produced originates from this ecological system. Using traditional labour methods, a yield of approx 2 tonnes per hectare can be gained. The yield in industrialised countries is roughly threefold.
Irrigation plays an important role and is carried out in different ways in each plantation, according to local conditions. Sometimes rain-water is collected from fields on higher ground; sometimes flood waters are held back by dams, or water redirected from rivers. It often has to be brought to the fields from a great distance via canals or tunnels, or over aqueducts. As well as the many tricky systems that have been developed, the rice is watered in some regions quite simply with buckets filled in nearby rivers, lakes or reservoirs.
Traditional plantations even today are marked by the age-old pictures of water-buffaloes in the fields, driven by the farmers, pulling the plough through the tough mud. Both remains of the plant and the animal dung are churned into the ground in the course of the work - a labour-intensive and toilsome job. Clumps of earth are hacked small with harrows, for the finer the soil, the more evenly the rice can grow. Next the field is levelled. Dams are inspected for damages and cleared of weeds. Hungry ducks are on hand to gobble up caterpillars and the larvae of various pests.
During the preparatory work, the young plants germinate in special seed trays. The seeds are taken from the best grain, selected by women who sift the fields before the main harvest in search of the best and healthiest panicles. For all sowing methods, the mother seed has to pre-soak in clean water and begin to germinate.Once the young plants have grown to a suitable size, they are tugged carefully out the ground and re-planted in the swamped fields at intervals of 20cm.
After five to six months, the rice is golden and ready to harvest. Three weeks before harvesting, the water is drained away. Using sickles, the golden panicles are cut and either bundled or left loose to dry in the sun. The panicles are threshed either on the ground or on wooden platforms. The grain thus harvested is then ‘thrown’, that is to say, placed in flat baskets which are thrown up in the air, where the chaff is blown away by the wind. But even these Biblical pictures are no longer pertinent, with more and more of the stages of work being carried out by machines.