A paddy field is a flooded parcel of arable land used for growing rice and other semiaquatic crops. Rice can also be grown in dry-fields, but from the twentieth century paddy field agriculture became the dominant form of growing rice. Paddy fields are a typical feature of rice-growing countries of east, south and southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Bangladesh, China, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. They are also found in other rice-growing regions such as Piedmont (Italy), the Camargue (France) and the Artibonite Valley (Haiti), and the remains of rice paddies still define much of landscape of the Carolina Lowcountry.
Paddy fields can be built adjacent to otherwise natural areas such as rivers or marshes. They can be constructed, often on steep hillsides with much labor and materials. The fields require large quantities of water for irrigation. Flooding provides water essential to the growth of the crop. Water also provides a favorable environment for the rice strains being grown as well as discouraging the growth of many species of weeds. The water buffalo is the only working animal adapted for life in wetlands so they are extensively used in paddy fields.
Growing rice has an adverse environmental impact because of the large quantities of methane gas it generates. World methane production due to paddy fields has been estimated to be in the range of 50 to 100 million tonnes per annum. This level of greenhouse gas generation is a large component of the global warming threat produced from an expanding human population. However, recent studies have shown that methane can be significantly reduced while also boosting crop yield by draining the paddies allowing the soil to aerate, which interrupts methane production.
The word "paddy" is derived from the Malay word padi, rice plant.
Archaeologists generally accept that wet-field cultivation originated in China. At Caoxieshan, a site of the Neolithic Majiabang culture, archaeologists excavated paddy fields . Some archaeologists claim that Caoxieshan may date to 4000-3000 B.C., but as of now the oldest excavated rice paddy field dated by absolute scientific dating techniques are from Korea. There is archaeological evidence that unhusked rice was stored for the military and for burial with the deceased from the Neolithic period to the Han Dynasty in China.
Korean paddy-field farming is ancient. A pit-house at the Daecheon-ni site yielded carbonized rice grains and radiocarbon dates indicating that rice cultivation in dry-fields may have begun as early as the Middle Jeulmun Pottery Period (c. 3500-2000 B.C.) in the Korean Peninsula. Ancient paddy fields have been carefully unearthed in Korea by institutes such as Kyungnam University Museum (KUM) of Masan. They excavated paddy field features at the Geumcheon-ni Site near Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province. The paddy field feature was found next to a pit-house that is dated to the latter part of the Early Mumun Pottery Period (c. 1100-850 B.C.). KUM has conducted excavations that have revealed similarly dated paddy field features at Yaeum-dong and Okhyeon in modern-day Ulsan.
The earliest Mumun features were usually located in low-lying narrow gullies that were naturally swampy and fed by the local stream system. Some Mumun paddy fields in flat areas were made of a series of squares and rectangles separated by bunds approximately 10 cm in height, while terraced paddy fields consisted of long irregular shapes that followed natural contours of the land at various levels.
Mumun Period rice farmers used all of the elements that are present in today's paddy fields such terracing, bunds, canals, and small reservoirs. We can grasp some paddy-field farming techniques of the Middle Mumun (c. 850-550 B.C.) from the well-preserved wooden tools excavated from archaeological rice fields at the Majeon-ni Site. However, iron tools for paddy-field farming were not introduced until sometime after 200 B.C. The spatial scale of paddy-fields increased with the regular use of iron tools in the Three Kingdoms of Korea Period (c. A.D. 300/400-668).
The first paddy fields in Japan date to the Early Yayoi period. The Early Yayoi has been re-dated and thus it appears that wet-field agriculture developed at approximately the same time as in the Korean peninsula.
In the Philippines, the use of rice paddies can be traced to prehistoric times, as evidenced in the names of towns such as Pila, Laguna, whose name can be traced to the straight mounds of dirt that form the boundaries of the rice paddy, or "Pilapil."
Wet rice cultivation in Vietnam dates back to the Neolithic Hoa Binh culture and Bac Son culture
Although China's agricultural output is the largest in the world, only about 15% of its total land area can be cultivated. About 75% of the cultivated area is used for food crops. Rice is China's most important crop, raised on about 25% of the cultivated area. The majority of rice is grown south of the Huai River, in the Yangtze valley, the Zhu Jiang delta, and in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan provinces.
Rice appears to have been used by the Early Neolithic populations of Lijiacun and Yunchanyan in China. Evidence of possible rice cultivation from ca. 11,500 BP has been found, however it is still questioned whether the rice was indeed being cultivated, or instead being gathered as wild rice. Bruce Smith, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who has written on the origins of agriculture, says that evidence has been mounting that the Yangtze was probably the site of the earliest rice cultivation. In 1998, Crawford & Shen reported that the earliest of 14 AMS or radiocarbon dates on rice from at least nine Early to Middle Neolithic sides is no older than 7000 BC, that rice from the Hemudu and Luojiajiao sites indicates that rice domestication likely began before 5000 BC, but that most sites in China from which rice remains have been recovered are younger than 5000 BC.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 BC), two revolutionary improvements in farming technology took place. One was the use of cast iron tools and beasts of burden to pull plows, and the other was the large-scale harnessing of rivers and development of water conservation projects. The engineer Sunshu Ao of the 6th century BC and Ximen Bao of the 5th century BC are two of the oldest hydraulic engineers from China, and their works were focused upon improving irrigation systems. These developments were widely spread during the ensuing Warring States Period (403-221 BC), culminating in the enormous Du Jiang Yan Irrigation System engineered by Li Bing by 256 BC for the State of Qin in ancient Sichuan. During the Eastern Jin (317-420) and the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), land-use became more intensive and efficient, rice was grown twice a year and cattle began to be used for plowing and fertilization.
It should be noted that in circa 750, 75 per cent of China's population lived north of the river Yangtse. But by 1250, 75 per cent of China's population lived south of the river Yangtse. Such large-scale internal migration was possible due to introduction of quick-ripening strains of rice from Vietnam suitable for multi-cropping.
Localities in China which are famous for their spectacular rice paddies are Yuanyang County, Yunnan, and Longsheng County, Guangxi.
Paddy fields are common sight throughout India, be they northern gangetic plain or southern penininsular plateau. Paddy is cultivated at least twice a year in the most parts of India,the two seasons being known as Rabi & Kharif respectively. The former cultivation is dependent on irrigation while latter depends on Monsoon. The paddy cultivation plays a major role in socio-cultural life of rural India.Many festivals such as Bihu in Assam, Pongal In Tamilnadu, Nabanna in West Bengal celebrates harvest of Paddy.
Prime Javanese paddy yields roughly 6 metric tons of unmilled rice (2.5 metric tons of milled rice) per hectare. When irrigation is available, rice farmers typically plant Green Revolution rice varieties allowing three growing seasons per year. Since fertilizer and pesticide are relatively expensive inputs, farmers typically plant seeds in a very small plot. Three weeks following germination, the 6-8inch stalks are picked and replanted at greater separation, in a backbreaking manual procedure.
Rice harvesting in Central Java is often performed not by owners or sharecroppers of paddy, but rather by itinerant middlemen, whose small firms specialize in harvesting, transport, milling, and distribution to markets.
The fertile volcanic soil of much of the Indonesian archipelago—and particularly the islands of Java and Bali-- has made rice a central dietary staple. Steep terrain on Bali resulted in an intricate cooperation systems, locally called subak, to manage water storage and drainage for rice terraces.
Rice is grown in northern Italy, especially in the valley of the river Po. The paddy fields are irrigated by fast-flowing streams descending from the Alps. Risotto, a rice dish flavoured with saffron is a typical dish from the rice-growing area near Milan that has now travelled around the world.
The acidic soil conditions common in Japan due to volcanic eruptions have made the paddy field the most productive farming method. Paddy fields are represented by the kanji 田 (commonly read as ta) that has had a strong influence on Japanese culture. In fact, the character 田, which originally meant 'field' in general, is used in Japan exclusively to convey the meaning 'rice paddy field'. One of the oldest samples of writing in Japan is widely credited to the kanji 田 found on pottery at the archaeological site of Matsusaka, Mie that dates to the late 2nd century. Ta (田) is used as a part of many place names as well as in many family names. Most of these places are somehow related to the paddy field and in many cases, are based on the history of a particular location. For example, where a river runs through a village, the place east of river may be called Higashida (東田), literally "east paddy field." A place with a newly irrigated paddy field, especially those during or later than Edo period, may be called Nitta or Shinden (both 新田), "new paddy field." In some places, lakes and marshes were likened to a paddy field and were named with ta, like Hakkōda (八甲田).
Today, many family names have ta as a component, a practice which can be largely attributed to a government edict in the early Meiji Period requiring all Japanese people to have a family name. Many chose a name based on or near the place they lived or the job they had, and with nearly three fourths of population being farmers, many made family names using ta. Some common examples are Tanaka (田中) and Nakata (中田), literally meaning "middle of paddy field," Kawada (川田), "paddy field by a river," and Furuta (古田), "old paddy field."
Arable land in small alluvial flats of most rural river valleys in South Korea are dedicated to paddy-field farming. Farmers assess paddy fields for any necessary repairs in February. Fields may be rebuilt, and bund breaches are repaired. This work is carried out until mid-March, when warmer spring weather allows the farmer to buy or grow rice seedlings. They are transplanted (usually by hand) from the indoors into freshly flooded paddy fields in May. Farmers tend and weed their paddy fields through the summer until around the time of Chuseok, a traditional holiday held on August 15 of the Lunar Calendar (circa mid-September by Solar Calendar). The harvest begins in October. Coordinating the harvest can be challenging because many Korean farmers have small paddy fields in a number of locations around their villages, and modern harvesting machines are sometimes shared between extended family members. Farmers usually dry the harvested grains in the sun before bringing them to market.
The Chinese (or Sino-Korean) character for 'field', jeon (Hangeul: 전; Hanja: 田), is found in some place names, especially small farming townships and villages. However, the specific Korean term for 'paddy' is derived from Sino-Korean and is literally 'water-field' or sujeon (Hangeul: 수전; Hanja: 水田).
Rice is grown primarily in three areas - the Irrawaddy Delta, the area along and the delta of the Kaladan River, and the Central plains around Mandalay. Up til the later 1960s, Myanmar was the main exporter of rice. Termed the rice basket of South East Asia, much of the rice grown in Myanmar does not rely on fertilizers and pesticides, thus, although "organic" in a sense, it has been unable to cope with population growth and other rice economies which utilized fertilizers.
Rice is now grown in all the three seasons of Myanmar, though primarily in the Monsoon season - from June to October. Rice grown in the delta areas rely heavily on the river water and sedimented minerals from the northern mountains, whilst the rice grown in the central regions require irrigation from the Ayeryarwaddy River.
The fields are tilled when the first rains arrive - traditionally measured at 40 days after Thingyan, the Burmese New Year - around the beginning of June. In modern times, tractors are used, but traditionally, buffalos were employed. The rice plants are planted in nurseries and then transplanted by hand into the prepared fields. The rice is then harvested in late November - "when the rice bends with age". Most of the rice planting and harvesting are done by hand. The rice is then threshed and stored, ready for the mills.
Paddy fields are a common sight in the Philippines. Several vast paddy fields exist in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Cagayan, Bulacan, etc. Nueva Ecija produces the biggest share of rice for national food security.
Banaue rice terraces
The Banaue Rice Terraces are located in Northern Luzon and were built by the Ifugaos 2,000 years ago. Streams and springs found in the mountains were tapped and channeled into irrigation canals that run downhill through the rice terraces. Other notable Philippine paddy fields are the Batad Rice Terraces, the Bangaan Rice Terraces, the Mayoyao Rice Terraces and the Hapao Rice Terraces.
Located at Barangay Batad in Banaue, the Batad Rice Terraces are shaped like an amphitheatre, and can be reached by a 12-kilometer ride from Banaue Hotel and a 2-hour hike uphill through mountain trails. The Bangaan Rice Terraces portray the typical Ifugao community, where the livelihood activities are within the village and its surroundings. The Bangaan Rice Terraces is accessible in a one-hour ride from Poblacion, Banaue, then a 20-minute trek down to the village. It can be viewed best from the road to Mayoyao. The Mayoyao Rice Terraces is located at Mayoyao, 44 kilometers away from Poblacion, Banaue. The town of Mayoyao lies in the midst of these rice terraces. All dikes are tiered with flat stones. The Hapao Rice Terraces can be reached within 55 kilometers from the capital town of Lagawe. Other Ifugao stone-walled rice terraces are located in the municipality of Hungduan.
Rice production in Thailand represents a significant portion of the Thai economy. It uses over half of the farmable land area and labor force in Thailand.
Thailand has a strong tradition of rice production. It has the fifth-largest amount of land under rice cultivation in the world and is the world's largest exporter of rice. Thailand has plans to further increase its land available for rice production, with a goal of adding 500,000 hectares to its already 9.2 million hectares of rice-growing areas. The Thai Ministry of Agriculture expects rice production to yield around 30 million tons of rice for 2008. The most produced strain of rice in Thailand is jasmine rice, which is a higher quality type of rice. However, jasmine has a significantly lower yield rate than other types of rice, but it also normally fetches more than double the price of other strains in a global market.
Rice fields in Vietnam (ruộng, cánh đồng or điền in Vietnamese) are the predominant land use in the valley of the Red River and the Mekong Delta). In the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam, farmers must dam up (nowadays 3000 km long) against the annual flood, and it is also the necessary condition to form an alliance among Vietnamese ancient tribals to found Vietnamese people's first state. In the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam, there is an interlacing drainage and irrigation canal system that has become the symbol of this area and impacts on the lifestyle of local people. In Northwestern Vietnam, Thai people built their "valley culture" based on the economic foundation of glutinous rice upland fields.
The primary festival related to rice fields is "lễ hạ điền" (Vietnamese)/"lồng tồng" (Tay language) in the first day of every crop wishing for yield more than usual. In the past, this was the official national ceremony that the King would make the first plough and people would worship Than Nong (god of agriculture), thổ địa (god of the soil), thành hoàng làng (god of the village), and thần lúa (god of rice plants).
During the Trần Dynasty, there were three kinds of rice field: ruộng quốc khố (national budget rice field) with 3 levels, ruộng thác điền with 3 levels (the name derives from a story about Lê Phụng Hiểu. He refused the King's present for his feat of arms but required that how far he would throw his knife would be how wide of a rice field he could possess. Since then, it's become the name of rice field for rewarding Vietnamese mandarins: thác đao- abbreviation: thác- throw the knife and điền- rice field), and ruộng ao of the common people.
In Vietnamese literature, a rice field is described as wide enough for a flock of storks to span their wings across: "đồng lúa thẳng cánh cò bay" and the sway of rice plants in the wind is compared to waves of the sea and called "sóng lúa". These images are very common phrases describing the beauty of the Vietnamese landscape.1
Sources and References