In the Field

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The first week of August begins a two-week rice harvest season in rural Anhui province, China. In Bishan village, people used to grow three crops of rice each year. But since the 1990s, many villagers have been working in nearby cities as migrant laborers, and the less profitable rice farming has been limited to only one crop per year.

Today, most farmers in the village have given up the traditional way of rice harvesting, which involves cutting the crop with handheld knives. In recent years, a young enterprising couple from neighboring Jiangsu province has driven a rice combine harvester to the region to provide a mechanized harvesting option to villagers during the harvest. Yu Jiansan, a 59 year old farmer in Bishan village, told us that the price for the combine service in this region is much higher than in other parts of the country because local gangsters charge these outside service providers “protection fees” of 60 to 70 percent. Yu said he is not making much money from the 1.4 mu (0.23 acre) rice field he planted this year. The rice, if sold, could bring in approximately 1000 RMB (162 USD), but the cost of renting the combine is 350 RMB after bargaining.

The majority of Yu’s income comes from raising silkworms and doing construction work in town. While not lucrative, rice farming seems to be a tradition that the local Bishan villagers are not ready to part with yet.

— Pulitzer Center grantees Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson

Top image: A rice combine harvests a rice field in Bishan village. A couple from Jiangsu province has brought the machine to the region for the annual rice harvest. Photo by Leah Thompson. China, 2013.

Bottom image: Yu Jiansan, a 59 year old farmer in Bishan village. He is gleaning the straw from his field, after the combine has harvested the rice crop. Photo by Leah Thompson. China, 2013.