IRRAWADDY DELTA — With its vast tracts of paddy fields, the Irrawaddy Delta is aptly nicknamed “the rice bowl of Burma.” Farmers—mostly women—planting sprouts in roadside paddy plots are a common sight in the delta, where the annual rice growing season generally begins in late May.
But unusually heavy rains and flooding this year prevented some farm workers in the delta from planting three months ago, forcing them to wait for floodwaters to subside. When they finally did, only recently, the farmers found themselves planting at a time generally marked as the end of the rice growing season.
“All I could do was sit and wait for the waters to subside last month,” said one of the
women, who I met at a paddy field beside the Rangoon-Pathein highway.
She was one of nearly 10 farmers, wearing longyis hiked up to avoid getting them wet in the calf-deep water, who were planting rice shoots last week. With the monsoon season not over yet, the women would don plastic sheets approximating ponchos and carry on with their planting as rains intermittently swept across the delta. In defense against the equally intermittent sunshine, the women’s faces were thickly smeared with thanaka, a popular traditional cosmetic in Burma.
In a typical year, the farmers will work only in the morning, but the late plant this season has forced them to toil in the fields all day, from 6 o’clock in the morning to 6 o’clock at night, stopping only for lunch.
And, they say, their misfortune will not end with the completion of planting.
“Because we started late, the rice yields for this year will surely be late,” another farm worker explained. “As a result, the rice will arrive to market late and farmers will get a lower price.”