In Bangladesh, the primary food for family and for guests is rice. Rice … cooked with meat, a vegetable, or alone … is eaten at every meal if the family can afford it. Rice as a peace offering is set before Hindu gods and goddesses.
Village life, … as does the life of Bangladesh, … revolves around rice. Rice is Bangladesh’s main crop. It is cultivated in large fields and in small plots of land. The average size of the field is less than one acre. By using irrigation, they are able to grow three crops a year. If it is a good year, … nearly enough rice is harvested to feed the 130 million people of the country.
Growing rice uses a lot of manual labor and starts with preparing the soil. Plowing is done by hand, oxen or … sometimes … with small diesel tractors. Some of these tractors are made locally while others are imported from China. The planting, weeding, spraying for insects, and harvesting are considered men’s work and always done by hand. Migrant workers are usually hired to help with the harvest. The harvest crew uses small scythes to cut the stalks that are then tied into bundles.
The harvested rice, … stem and all, … is carried by hand, ox cart, or by rickshaw to a storage area in the village.
After drying for a few days, the heads are threshed off. Cattle walking over the rice were once used for threshing but now … these small foot peddled machines are used to strip the grain from its stalk. After threshing, the chaff is removed by winnowing. This meticulous task is the responsibility of the women and children. The dried rice stalks and chaff are used for goat and cattle feed.
The next step is heating the unhulled rice kernels in a boiler fueled by rice hulls. This parboiling process drives in the vitamins, lengthens the time in which it can be stored and hardens the grains. This process also gives the rice a distinctive flavor that the Bangladeshis really like. After parboiling, the rice is spread out for cooling and drying. By constant stirring, the rice is usually dry in one day. It is then heaped up in piles waiting to be sacked up or taken to the huller. Conical caps are put over the piles of rice to keep out the crows.
Often times, the villagers store the rice in large round bins that are sealed against rats and mice. It is then sold at a later time in hopes of getting a better price.
The rice is taken to a miller where the hulls are removed from the rice kernels by using a diesel or electric powered huller. Here, an ancient diesel engine powers the huller while workers feed the rice into the machine. They work all day in this small metal building filled with dust. The rice miller, the migrant workers, and the parboiling operators are often paid in a percentage of the rice.
In some places, fish are raised in the rice fields and are harvested after the rice is cut. In addition to searching for small aquatic life, boys and widows search along the edges of the rice field for underground caches of rice stored by rats. Often, they find enough rice in these caches to feed their families for several days.
Pigs are allowed to glean any remaining rice after the rice is harvested and before the next crop is planted. The pigs also root for wild tubers, insects, and worms.
The pigs are butchered and eaten only by the Hindus and by the Christians since pork is forbidden by the Muslim beliefs.
Several different varieties of rice are grown in Bangladesh including the types adapted to the well-watered lowlands and the types adapted to slopes along riverbanks. Bangladesh is beginning to try new varieties of rice that offer higher yield and are more disease and insect resistant. These new varieties have the potential of making Bangladesh totally self sufficient in rice.
Please come and visit, … share a meal of rice with us, … and find out why Bangladesh parboiled rice is better.
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