Dated on November 28th, 2004, from Kashiwa

/ Farming at the mercy of God V.S. Super High-Tech farming /

In Cambodia, there are only two seasons; hot and too hot, in other words, wet and Dry seasons. Between December and January, the temperature drops to 24 in the shade and nighttime. This is the most comfortable season and I recommend this period for tourists. Still, it is hot in the daytime, when the sunshine is very strong, like it is in summer in Japan.
In this season, rice plants are near fully grown and the rice fields are a lush green. If there were no shadows of the towering coconut trees, this rural landscape would be mistaken for paddy fields commonly seen in East Asia, which makes me feel at home. In the highlands, they wait for the rainy season and start plating rice.
The lowlands, on the contrary, are always inundated by the overflow from the Mekong River. Most parts of a village in Batheay District, Kompong Cham, where we are going to open a literacy class this year, were nearly swallowed by the flood. I took a fishing boat, and after listening to a popping sound of the engine for one and a half hours, we finally arrived at the village. The houses being built on stilts reminded me of people standing in water. People were preparing rice seedlings. They start planting soon after the water subsides. This scene is typical to this season. And the rice of this time is called 'Dry Season Rice'.
It sounds like the whole country is inundated, but in the area where Trapeang Chuk elementary school is situated, which I visited prior to its opening scheduled in December, the land was covered by whity-brown, dry soil. The ground breaking ceremony on September 16th, a ceremonial festival to pray for the safety of the land doubled as an occasion also to pray for rain.
Because of the unusual weather, farmers were upset, "It has only rained in some areas this year. I have never known such an extreme situation as this. There are places where it rains a lot and there are places where it never rains." After all, they depend on the mood of Nature for their livelihood.
After I came back from Cambodia, I had a chance to visit Mr. Someya, who is practicing farming in Kashiwa with cutting-edge technology. My friend Sona, an architect from Cambodia, wanted to meet him very much.
Water is totally controlled in his field. There are water and drainage pipes under and across the vast field of 'Koshihikari' brand rice along the Tone River. Using this system, they can readily drain the water and then use farm machines. This scene is a far cry from that in Cambodia, where all preparations rely on the use of cattle. Mr. Someya has also introduced another system where fine soil on the surface is supported by courser soil beneath so that the machines do not sink. He said that they may not need the rice nursery anymore in the future. The whole process of raising seed plants, planting, weeding, harvesting, drying plants, threshing, is automated and only a few people administer the 50 ha rice field. Not only was Sonna but I too was surprised to know how advanced the technology is!
There is an old Cambodian story of controlling water and society: A long time ago when Cambodia was in confusion with a lot of strife, and when alligators were on the rampage, a Goddess soaked her long hair in the water, absorbing it all and made the alligators surrender. This is reminiscent of once female-dominated Cambodia, isn't it! Those who control the water have great control over society.

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