20 February 2018

A year among farmers (Part 3)

Standby for irrigation

Standby for irrigation: farms preparations mostly finished in “Baba” (October), the time to beginning of the winter agricultural season. (Photo : Fouderg)

In this installment, Dr. Almalik describes the winter farming season in his family’s hometown of Mujarrab, Dongola. 

Baba (October) marks the beginning of the winter agricultural season. It is during this time that the farmers grow their main winter crops, fool (fava beans) and wheat. The farmers say: “In bada al-zarie fi Baba, yaghlib al-nahaba” (if season starts in October, the harvest will be so much that even thieves wouldn’t be able to steal it all).

Only a few decades ago, farmers, family members and friends used to do nafeer (gathering) to seed and harvest crops by hand. Now, a new profession has appeared: the osta (technician), who operates seeding and harvesting machines, and as such has to be available during the whole season. He is never paid on the spot, and never in cash, but later with sacks of crops.

Farmers who did not finish seeding in Baba have a last chance to do so in Hatoor (November); as the saying goes, “In fatak Hatoor, tarja al-houl yadoor” (If you miss November, you have to wait until next year).

Farmers put down seeds of fool, a native of North Africa and the Middle East and Sudan’s most popular meal. But taking care of the plant is a little difficult. At the end of Tooba (January), the asala (a tiny black insect by the name of aphis fabae, or bean aphid) appears on many leaves, and, if not promptly and thoroughly sprayed, can destroy the whole crop. During the same month, the koshaib (bean pods) blossom on their trees, which by now are about three feet tall. Gradually, their bright green color matures to blackish-brown, with about five oval seeds in each pod. Wheat seeding starts in Hatoor  or Kiahk (December), and by the end of the month the fields  are a spread of green, with fool and wheat growing side by side.

Baramhat (March) is the time to harvest the fool, dry it up, put aside the family’s year-long supply, and sell the rest. It is also the season of growing hommos (chickpeas) and bisilla (green peas), but only in small quantities and for family’s consumption. The peak time to grow all these crops is in Kiahk, in mid winter. The cold winds blowing make these activities difficult for farmers, who have to endure working in chilly weather and wading in the cold winter waters. The days are also shorter during this time; as the farmers say, “Kiahk sabahak mesak; taqoom min fatoorak tahadir ashak” (December’s morning is evening; you finish breakfast to prepare your dinner).

Farmers now wake up even earlier than before; by the time the call to Fajr prayer is made, one can already hear the sounds of water pumps over the miles and miles of quiet farms. Over the years, less expensive Chinese-made water pumps have replaced the previously widely used British models. However, farmers still refer to them by the British brand name, Lister, probably nostalgia of the old days and an admiration for a better machine.

Soon, winter will start to fade and the harvest time, especially of wheat and fool, the major crops, will fast approach.

To be continued….

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