Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Balanta Rice Farming

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Rice is a major crop and staple food in Guinea-Bissau. The production of paddy, or "wetland," rice started in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, when the Balanta (the country's largest ethnic group) started organising men and women for agricultural production. Rice paddies have replaced many of the mangroves along the Gêba and Mansôa Rivers to the north of the capital, Bissau (2007 image).

These rice paddies are built by cutting a path through the mangroves and piling up mud to form a dike that will keep back the tide. The mangroves, cut off from the ocean, quickly die. The ground is then burned to clear remaining undergrowth. After the paddies are constructed, their walls trap rain water, in which rice will grow.

The 2007 image (above right) shows several dark green belts of mangrove forests adjacent to the Gêba and Mansôa Rivers. Intensive rice farming is indicated by the light-grey areas bordering these mangroves. This pattern is observed around Bissau, as well as the smaller towns of Cufar, Mansôa, Bissassema de Cima, and Nã Balanta. The 2005 high-resolution image (above left) shows the intensity of rice cultivation in an area near Cufar (from yellow box, above right). Inundated rice paddies (whitish rectangles) and rice fields (light- to dark-green rectangles) surround the meandering river. Only isolated patches of mangroves (deep-green) remain along much of the river.
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