Indeed, rice is to the Burman what wheat is to the cultivator of the West, and cotton to the farmer of the Southern States of America. Year after year, with regular monotony, rice is sown in June, transplanted in August or September, and reaped in December ot* January. During the monsoons, the land is inundated by the flood waters of the Irrawaddy, which are heavily charged with a rich silt. When they recede, a layer of fertile soil, several inches in depth, is left behind. No other manure is needed except the ashes of the stubble, which is burnt at the end of the hot weather every year. In Upper Burma, the case is different, and the paddy farmer is more dependent upon his own industry, and upon an efficient system of irrigation. As rice is the staple food
amongst the natives of Asia, and a never-failing foreign market takes the surplus product at a fair price, the Burman sees little necessity for giving his attention to other departments of agriculture.
The system of rice cultivation varies considerably in Lower and Upper Burma, and the results are no less at variance. In lower Burma there is, practically, only one agricultural season ; in Upper Burma there are three. Universal usage has determined the mode of cultivation, both in the dry zone and in the deltaic region. As soon as a layer of water covers the land in the delta tracts (and in one dry zone it is immersed to a depth of about five inches by means of the irrigation canals), usually in June, ploughing begins. Centuries have done little to modify this operation, and the implements used are
usually of the simplest kind, and nearly always home made. The most common plough, known as the tun or tundon, consists simply of a heavy log of wood, fitted with five or six strong teeth. On marshy or heavy soil, a pair of buffaloes are employed to drag this about, or oxen are used with the lighter soils. The system is, in reality, more closely related to what is understood in Europe by harrowing than to ploughing. With this implement the field is crossed four times at right angles. a This tickling of the soil,a declares Sir George Scott, a is enough to make it laugh with a harvest.a An even more primitive method of stirring the mould is sometimes adopted, when a drove of oxen or buffaloes are driven backwTards and forwards across the fields in a line. Which-
ever system is adopted is dependent for its day of commencement, as well as for the direction in which the first work is to be done, upon the pronouncement of the village soothsayer.
Transplanting, on account of the fact that it has been found to yield heavier crops, is now almost generally in vogue in Burma. In some parts, however, the sowing of seed broadcast is still quite usual. The main danger of the latter process is that the plants may not have gained sufficient size and strength before they are inundated by the flood waters, and literally drowned. The choosing of a site for a nursery is necessarily an important consideration, but the experience of predecessors has usually fixed for the Burman the most suitable spot for this purpose. About the month after the sowing of
the grain, and when the plants are about a foot in height, they are pulled up in wisps, and in bundles of about a thousand are carried on bamboo poles to the fields. When the fields are far distant from the nurseries the paddy plants are sometimes transported in bullock sledges. The actual transplanting is almost invariably done by the women, though the children often lend assistance. Tufts of three of four plants are thrust into the mud, at distances of about nine inches to a foot apart. It is estimated that something like 40,000 to 50,000 of these bunches go to the acre, though in Lower Burma, where the system is not nearly so intensive as in the Upper Province, the number is not so great. The speed with which the women put the young paddy into the soil is extraordinary, for ten women will plant an acre in a single morning. The first necessity for the transplanted paddy is a plentiful water supply. By the time of planting, the lowland cultivator has so arranged that the south-west monsoon will do the watering for him. With the upland farmer the case is different, and he has to be most judicious in so regulating his water supply that the plants may have sufficient water, and yet run no danger of inundation from the frequent rain squalls. Tillers of irrigated lands are unanimous in declaring that the plants do not derive the same benefit from irrigation water, weight for weight, as from rain water, and in addition the upland cultivator is handicapped by the fact that constant watchfulness is necessary to ensure the weeds being kept down. The delta farmer pays not the faintest heed to the multiplication of weeds of any variety. The Upper Burma paddy farmer has to lend himself, hand and mind, to the assistance of Nature in the growth of his crop ; the delta farmer leaves Nature to work her will, and reaps the result.
The Burmese recognise infinite varieties of the rice plant, and exercise a minute discrimination, taught by experience, as to the grain best suited for the various soils. The broadest division is into monsoon paddy and dry weather paddy. The rice merchant draws a different distinction, and divides the grain into sub-divisions according to the district in which it is grown, such as Rangoon, Bassein, Moulmein, and Arakan rice.
The system of irrigation in Upper Bnrma is fairly complete, and dates back for many years. When Upper Burma was annexed, the Mandalay District had four canals, there were thirteen in Kyaukse, one in the Shwebo District, and two in Minbu. The reservoirs were very numerous. The whole
PLOUGHING PADDY FIELDS.PLOUGHING PADDY FIELDS.