Rice is more than a food

Paro is one of the most fertile valleys in Bhutan, and also the most productive with the best worked paddyfields in the country. People are very hardworking around here.

There is also another reason. Honour.

It is a disgrace to the family if the fields are left barren. However, with rising wages and declining rural population it is increasingly becoming difficult, if not impossible, to maintain this beauty.

If no policy interventions, such as providing state subsidies or intensive mecchanisation are initiated, it won’t be long before these flatlands turn into barren lands like in much of eastern Bhutan.

It will be just this generation who will hold on to that family honour or dignity – or whatever is left of it.

There is, of course, more than the family honour and pride, as to why we need to preserve this rice farming tradition in Bhutan.

It is cultural

Every plantation season and the harvest are accompanied by age-old rituals and traditions that make Paro, and other farming communities, the site of important cultural heritage and practices. Such cultural traditions shape individual identities as Bhutanese.

According to some culture studies scholars, throughout Asia, rice is still considered a sacred crop and “the ritual of harvesting rice has shaped Southeast Asian cultures and tradition for centuries.”

It is social

The activity of rice farming requires many hands. It thus brings people together. One theory as to why Asian countries and cultures are communal and family-centric is because of rice farming. Unity, communal harmony, collaborative mindsets will be lost if rice farming disappears and in its place will be individualism, ego and divisions.

Writing for the Scientific American, psychologist David Biello shares a study from China where they found that “the cooperation required to plant, tend and harvest rice grown paddy-style makes those born in southern China think more communally than those born in northern China, where the primary crop is easier-to-farm wheat.”

It is spiritual

Rice farming is not a random activity. You cannot pick a random date to start ploughing the fields. The community decides based on the advices of astrologers as to when the earth can be disturbed. Accordingly a lama kicks off the plantation season with a ceremony to mother earth, and only then the community can start tilling the mud.

Likewise the first harvest, which consist of a bowl of freshly ground rice, is offered to deities and divinities, as a mark of gratitude for their protection and blessings. The reverance for earth, the power of reciprocal blessings and the aspirations of the lamas and the farmers will eventually strengthen the spiritual equity for future generations.

Rice, therefore, is not just a Ministry of Agriculture issue, but a national one, if one can understand, and appreciate everything that revolves around it.

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