Editor's note: Two years ago the number of people living in China's urban areas surpassed its rural population for the first time. That still means more than 600 million people live in the countryside today and many, if not most, earn their living through grueling agricultural labor. Corlie Mortimer is working to ease the burden of work for a few families in neighboring Guizhou province by raising money for a rice thresher — a simple and inexpensive machine that can save hundreds of hours of intense manual labor come harvest season.
There is a popular poster seen quite frequently around Yunnan, it depicts farmers working in a rice field, with drops of their sweat falling down into a rice bowl — a drop of sweat for each grain of rice harvested. The poster encourages people to be grateful for the hard work that brings the staple food of China to their bowls.
Almost all farming here is done entirely by hand — ploughing the fields with water buffaloes, preparing the fields by digging holes for the crops and adding compost to each hole, transplanting the seedlings, harvesting the crop by hand and carrying it out of the fields in baskets as big as the person that carries it. Local villagers are very aware of the hardship that brings them their food.
Unfortunately, because of China's immensity and the remoteness of some of the areas where this backbreaking farming is done, gratitude is often the only form of help the laborers receive. Saving money for mechanical farming equipment is a near impossibility for the average rural family. Whilst many local children leave the villages to find work in cities to help support their families financially, the older generations are left in the villages to continue the actual farming work.
This makes their plight even more touching as the fields are filled with a generation of people that would, in other cultures, have been peacefully retired at their age. Perhaps the most intense part of farming rice by hand comes during harvest season. At that time, villagers young and old head to the fields to cut down rice stalks, gather them into bunches and then thresh the grain from the chaff by repeatedly beating the bunched stalks against the sides of a giant wooden box.
A little village at the end of a dead end road in Guizhou province is facing this situation and has caught my heart. My husband and I, along with scores of international rock climbers, go to Getu He Village (格凸河村) to climb the spectacular walls of its Great Arch Cave.
As we have been back and forth to the village about six or seven times now, we have come to know many of the people who live there and their plight has touched me deeply. After speaking to one of the better-off villagers, Wu Huilan, who runs the Petzl Guesthouse, we started the Getu He Village rice thresher fundraising project.
After a bit of investigation, we found that one mechanical rice thresher would lighten the workload of about four households, as a centrally placed threshing machine could be used by people working four or five fields alongside each other in the paddies. These machines cost about 2,000 yuan, which is less than US$350.
In essence, this project aims to raise funds to buy a few mechanical rice threshing machines for this little village. Although a few of the machines are used during the harvest, they are not nearly numerous enough for everyone to use. However many machines we can purchase will be rotated through the village fields so that as many people as possible can benefit from their use.
Once we have enough funds, Wu Huilan, the village leader, and we will go to a nearby town and purchase threshers. we encourage everyone to step up to the challenge of providing Getu He Village with at least two threshing machines for their next harvest season, which begins in August.
Donations for the Getu He Village threshing machine fundraiser can be made directly online by clicking this link, scrolling to the bottom of the page and finding the Paypal icon. Alternately, you can purchase a beautiful hand-woven scarf made by Miao artisans from the village. For every scarf sold, Red Buffalo Trading will donate US$25 toward purchasing automated threshers before harvesting begins late this summer. Donations can also be made in person at Salvador's Coffee House.
So far, we have raised almost enough money to purchase one threshing machine. Once we reach that goal, or hopefully exceed it, we will post an update in this article, including photos of the newly bought machines. In an effort to be as transparent as possible, all donations received through Paypal are publicly acknowledged on the Red Buffalo Trading blog and frequent updates will be made regarding the fundraiser's progress.
Success! Two rice threshing machines have been bought with donations and delivered to villagers in Getu. The fundraiser is ongoing and now attempting to purchase a total of five threshing machines, enough that all families in the valley could benefit from their use. Thank you to everyone who helped out!
All images: Corlie Mortimer© Copyright 2005-2019 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.