Rice is the most important plant on earth. Many Europeans are not aware of the fact that rice is the staple food in many parts of the world and basically every child born at this very moment will become a rice eater in the near future.
For the beginner, rice which is a grass plant of the family Gramineae with the scientific name Oryza sativa, is comparable to the European oats for instance a stalk, with several panicles, to which the rice grains are attached. The average yield, depending on mechanisation and general conditions, differs from between 0.65 tons per hectare in Senegal and 8 tons per hectare in USA.
In Langkawi, the farmers practice the cultivation of swamp or wet rice, where the monsoon rains flood and submerge the rice fields and the rice is sown or manually planted. Old decaying plant material together with the buffalo dung act as a natural fertilizer and the flooding prevents erosion and makes plowing easier. Certain areas in the north of Malaysia, although not Langkawi, with sufficient water supply may harvest up to three times a year.
When the new plants have reached a certain size, they are, annually transplanted from the nurturing neds into the paddy fields. Now the science of taking loving care of the plants begins. The water level must not be too high or too low and there must be a steady water flow to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. The elapse time between sowing and harvest depends on the rice hybrids in use. Some take 180 days, others only 110 days.
There is another advantage of the rice fields which because becomes invisible once harvest is over. Fish are in abundance, as many as 4000 per hectare, which are mostly catfish species. These fish retreat with the progressing dry season to the few pools left and it is an extraordinary pleasure for the men and children to catch these fishes in the late afternoon or early evening – as a supplement for dinner or a little additional income.
The hand and sickle method of harvesting has been replaced in Langkawi. Modern harvesters with tracks harvest the rice, which is then packed into sacks and sent over to the mainland on barges, where dehusking and further processing takes place. In the state of Kedah, all farmers are organised in cooperatives and the government subsidies the rice to ensure fixed prices of this commodity.
In 1998, the Laman Padi or Rice Museum opened at Pantai Chenang. It has interesting exhibits showing the history and development of rice farming in Kedah and documents the traditional ways of paddy planting and harvesting.