Last week, a client called me to join him for a site visit in the jungles of Southeast Asia. It was the first time I had ever been sent a packing list that included things like: emergency rations, waterproof boots, first aid kit, and “materials for showering in the river”.
One thing I learned was that unlike later models, iPhone 5’s are not waterproof, especially when your kayak tips over in a tributary to the Mekong River.
Another thing I learned was that fire ants blend in really well to tree branches, and that ignoring the packing list’s suggestion for “hiking gloves” was not a good idea. And that no matter how many times you dunk your hands in the river, fire ants do not wash off.
Now, one cool thing I learned was that inside caves, you can be surrounded by total darkness, and if there’s a hole at the top of the cave, the sun really does shine like a light beam through the blackness, in almost a straight line. Kind of like a movie effect, Indiana Jones-style.
One last thing. We toured a number of rice paddies with other members of the team, who were Malaysian farmers.
What I had assumed about agricultural practices in not only Southeast Asia, but around the world, was that if generations of farmers had been farming rice for about 10,000 years, it must be pretty optimized, right?
But no. The consultants pointed out seed spacing problems. They pointed out the use of inferior fertilizers. They pointed out the fact that despite an abundance of water, many of the fields were not irrigated properly, if at all. They basically said that yields could be increased by 50% to 300%, easily.
In many places in Southeast Asia, farmers often ‘forget’ the practices of their grandparents. Exacerbating this is that use of GMO crops make them indebted and dependent on large companies for their livelihood, as GMO crops do not seed.
It strikes me that something so fundamental and as ancient a technology as farming can be forgotten in just a few decades.
I don’t have any profound realizations related to this except just a reminder that life, on all fronts, is subject to entropy and decay: what things in my own life, and what practices or values in our society are we forgetting?