Saturday, October 31, 2015

When the Rain Brings the Agricultural New Year

For someone that has lived for years in the tropics, the coming of the monsoon has become more of a signature for passing times than change of seasons.  And just as past years, the author getting his "start-of-rainy-season" diarrhea and fever (quite literally) as the first rains of the monsoon land in Iringa.  Even as he holds his stomach in pain on the bed for much of the day, he cannot forget the romanticism that he has come to witness every time this year as he retraces the memories of the first rains in tropical Southeast Asia.

Despite the soothing sounds of the first rains being the bearers of scents of freshness and coolness in otherwise hot climates, the coming of the rains does not affect society as positively as it affects an individual's mood.  The author has seen too much damage incurred by even a few hours of heavy rain on fragile urban infrastructures, inconveniencing residents with flooded buildings and slower commutes.  With the coming rains, the slower traffic and news of economic damage often appear like clockwork, just like the author's climate change-triggered sickness.

This is no different in Iringa, where dusty dirt roads, difficult to traverse, in the best of times, with big rocks and potholes on its unpaved surfaces, become almost endless lines of mud running through its suburbs.  While the paved roads remain more or less unchanged in usability, for motor vehicles, the dirt roads without a doubt become much greater challenges, potentially rendering many without off-road capabilities much less mobile.  For a government that seems to place emphasis on grandiose projects, the very basics of getting from point A to B in rain obviously has not been too prioritized.

But the complaints of monsoons interrupting the conveniences of daily lives, the author has come to realize in rural Tanzania, is much more of an urban obsession than agricultural one.  Instead, the first rains are more akin to start of the new year here, when a brand-new season of productive planting times is set to begin.  Moisture in the soil means capacity for crops to grow, and crops to grow mean return of busy times in the field.  The lazy days of whiling away hot days with drinking and clearing fields of dried up stalks from last year give way to times of ensuring incomes for the coming months.

It breaths life into the agricultural community, in ways that the average urban resident cannot (and probably do not care to) comprehend.  That renewed sign of life is probably a reflex unique to people living of the land: a display of appreciation for what people would consider Mother Nature's annual gift to mankind.  Muddy roads and other inconveniences, in such logic, are but extremely minor nuisances when compared to how such annual change in climate allow for millions to feed themselves and countless others living in urban areas.

In a society where common perception sees urban residents, with their stable incomes, higher productivity, and glamorous consumerist lifestyles, as of higher social class than the subsistence-farming peasantry, the culture of appreciating the rains is definitely not mainstream.  Even for idealistic environmentalists and other varieties of eco-warriors, they seem to concern themselves with how climate affect a majority urban population, with any damages on agriculture seen as decreased abilities for a relatively smaller farming community to feed city-dwellers.

And because of such a city-centered perspective, rural voices are easily drowned out and rural opinions marginalized.  City-dwellers speak of farmers as simply those who are forced to live off the land due to lack of higher-earning opportunities.  And they speak of farmers' passiveness (or more directly, lack of efforts) in improving their own living standards, in a subtle reference to a sense of "urban superiority."  But they ignore the back-breaking hard work farmers do to keep urban residents well-fed, often in conditions not ideal for growing crops in the first place.

Appreciating the coming of the monsoon rains, and the new season of planting it brings, would be the first step for reversing the condescension of the city-dwellers toward their rural counterparts.  Falling rains on a daily basis is neither just a source of economic damage nor just a moment of personal romanticism, it is actually the backbone of how human society can function, the very basis of city-dwellers being able to engage in complex and sophisticated economic activities and pursuits of pleasure.  Without the rains and the farmers that take advantage of them, the very concept of city cannot exist.  

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