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[Photos] Reaping the Rice Harvest in Mu Cang Chai

Each September, the rice fields of Mu Cang Chai turn ripe and as gold as coins, and then the back-breaking work begins.

Mu Cang Chai, which literally means the ‘region of dry-wood forest’, is inhabited mainly by ethnic minorities. Ninety percent of local people are Hmong, while Thai and Dao ethnicities also live here. Their lives are dedicated, year-round, to cultivating the land.  

It’s an unforgiving task; the rice is first cut by hand with a sharp sickle and then brought in a bundle to the beaters. A few people then thrash the rice against a hard-sided box until the seeds drop from the stems.

Once collected, the farmers separate the good seeds from the bad by dropping them from a height – the former are heavy and fall at one's feet, while the latter are light and drift away in the breeze. What remains is dried in the sun for days and then packed into sacks.

The final, controversial step, is burning season, during which the leftover stems are scorched and the land seared while columns of smoke grow across the valleys and air pollution rises.

And so the cycle continues, year after year. It’s arduous, although at times you’d be hard-pressed to guess that from the farmers, who seem to spend as much time harvesting the latest gossip as they do reaping the crop.

Take a look below:

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