In late autumn, golden rice fields adorn hamlets across the country, ready for harvest, as farmers reap the fruits of their labour. Red Rice, especially, is a staple and has been cultivated mainly in the Western parts of Bhutan for centuries.
In the idyllic countryside of Dop Shari gewog in Paro, Dechen and her husband’s family have been cultivating red rice for generations. Their home, surrounded by the gilded hues of ripened paddy fields, is also rich with fruits and vegetables growing in the garden.
Dechen explains that in their village, their livelihoods are derived from their lands, and that rice lies at the heart of it.
Dechen is one of OGOP’s Khangma Marp red rice suppliers. The Khangma Marp red rice is an improved variety that was introduced in Bhutan in 1999, as traditional red rice had very low yield and most farmers were unable to meet their basic needs.
Since Dechen and her family began cultivating Khangma Marp, she has witnessed an increase in yield and productivity, allowing her family to not only be self-sufficient, but to sell the surplus for a steady income every year. Today, she is educating two of her children in school through the money she earns.
Like many of the small-scale farmers in Paro, Dechen’s rice harvests are done manually as it was by previous generations throughout history. The stalks are first cut in rows and left for a few days in the field to dry. They are then stacked atop one another in a bundle, and beaten on a flat stone, to separate the grains from straw. At the very end, to remove the remaining loose chaff, the grain are collected and poured from a flat bamboo basket onto the ground, against a gentle breeze that separates the grains and chaff.
Dechen collects fresh apples for her visitors, and points to a large pumpkin growing in her garden
Dechen says that astrology (Kartsi Rigpa) plays an important role in determining the initiation of farming activities – plantation and harvest usually occur on days specifically favorable according to the astrological calendar. Such activities begin with a prayer for bountiful harvests, and sees farming communities gather in the field to work in genial and rhythmic congruity. Members from different households often come together during harvest time to help one another in a time of gathering and celebration.