Chasing Mirages

Inle Lake tomatoes – a bedtime story

by Chaser on Aug.02, 2011, under Posts

Today’s post tells the story of Inle Lake’s tomatoes, complete with pictures for the kiddies.

The story starts at the bottom of the lake, where detritus from water hyacinths and other aquatic plants peacefully rests.

Early every morning, farmers navigate their boats to areas that are rich in this nutritious plant matter and harvest it with long poles.

A few hours later…

...the plant matter is piled high and the boat sits low.

This nutrient-rich humus is then transported to areas of the lake where the Intha people have constructed extensive floating gardens.

The plant matter is a perfect fertilizer and medium for growing tomatoes and other crops. My understanding is that it is placed on beds of floating water hyacinth, which are in turn anchored to the lake bottom with bamboo poles. All farm work is done by boat.

This type of agriculture has many benefits: it directly utilizes the lake’s water and its nutrients; it increases agricultural productivity in an area with very limited areas of solid ground; and it renders the crops flood-proof because the gardens float up and down with the water level.

Rows of unripened tomatoes (look closely).

Several months later…

...the ripe tomatoes are harvested using small rowboats.

Since many of the gardens are far from markets and roads, the tomatoes are transferred from small rowboats to larger motorboats for transport to the town of Nyaung Shwe at the north end of the lake.

At Nyaung Shwe, the tomatoes are unloaded into warehouses where workers first sort them by size.

Finally, the tomatoes are packed neatly into crates and sent to faraway markets.

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t end happily ever after.  There’s more…

Helping dad fetch water for drinking and household use.

Several years ago, the locals stopped using water from the lake because they realized that pesticides sprayed on their floating gardens had rendered the lake toxic.  Now, even though they are surrounded by water, villagers must use water from ground sources.  The pipe in the picture above transports water from the well of a monastery several kilometers away.

As beautiful as it is, even Inle Lake is a mere mirage.  Pesticides increase agricultural production, but at what cost?  What effects will pesticides have on fish and other organisms in Inle Lake’s unique ecosystem?  The villagers may no longer drink the lake water, but they still bathe and swim in it, and a large number of them rely on fishing for their food and livelihoods.

What effects will ingesting the poison-soaked tomatoes have on consumers? These long-term costs should be considered before such toxic substances are used on a large scale, and since these analyses are not even done properly in wealthy nations, I doubt that they’ve been done here.

I pondered the story of Inle Lake’s tomatoes as I lounged in a peaceful restaurant built over the water and munched a tomato salad smothered in a delectable medley of local spices and imported pesticides.

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  • Myanmar shows bridge to ancient hydroponic systems « lavidalocainmadrid

    [...] Vegetable crops have successfully grown in this way for many generations, and Lake Inle is particularly famous in that part of Asia for the tomato crops that tend to ripen around December time each year, providing both a sustainable food system and potential income for those in the local area. The lake is also full of fish, the most common being a breed of carp that combined with floating gardens has helped sustain the communities around the lake for many centuries. [...]

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