Whitehorn Films has produced the second series of ‘Faraway Fields – The Hardest Harvest’, featuring an Offaly farmer and a Sligo forester. The first episode of the series will air on RTÉ 1 at 9:35 pm on Wednesday, June 7. The second episode follows Eveline Gill, a farming consultant from Birr, Co. Offaly, as she swaps her small tillage farm for the rigours of a Vietnamese rice terrace. Eveline, an advocate for all things organic and at the cutting edge of modern agricultural science, faces a rude awakening in a mountainous backwater where farming techniques have been unchanged for centuries.
Eveline lives in the bosom of her family, a short distance from her beloved elderly father, a farming veteran who taught her much of what she knows. The 11,000 km voyage to Vietnam is a massive emotional wrench for Eveline, who travelled as a student but has always felt the magnetic pull of home. Her destination is Nam Tang, a tribal village perched precariously in the northern highlands, and inhabited by the La Chi minority. The sweeping plains of the Irish midlands, where Eveline plants and grows her oats, offer little preparation for this way of life. In a village clinging to the side of a mountain, where landslides are a daily hazard, Eveline discovers that soaring temperatures across South East Asia are making an already hostile environment even more difficult in which to work. She and her fellow farmers struggle in the searing heat and high humidity as a result of climate change.
Eveline’s arrival coincides with a race against the clock to secure the rice harvest before the unpredictable spring rains and an approaching hurricane devastate the crop. For the villagers of Nam Tang, this is an existential threat. Although the La Chi are a profoundly hospitable people, they cannot afford to carry passengers with the harvest in danger, and Eveline will be pushed to the very limit of her physical abilities to earn her keep and help get the harvest in on time. For Eveline, the role of women in traditional Vietnamese society is an eye-opener. The bulk of the agricultural work is carried out by the women of the village, on top of the housework and child-rearing duties.
In programme 3 of ‘Faraway Fields – The Hardest Harvest’, Sligo forester Marina Conway fulfils a lifelong dream by journeying to the tribal woodlands of Brazil but finds inspiration and heartbreak in equal measure. Marina has been fascinated by the lure of foreign climes from an early age. Her most treasured possession is her well-thumbed school atlas, the canvas on which she sketched her childhood dreams of adventure. Marina’s other great passion in life is forestry. Her love for trees is rooted deep in her soul, and her single-minded pursuit of a career in forestry has carried her a long way to become CEO of the Western Forestry Co-Op, personally and professionally.
Avoiding the well-travelled adventurers’ path to the Amazon, Marina instead pitches up in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil’s north-east, the first part of the country sighted by European colonisers. The local indigenous people – the Pataxó – have remained under siege ever since, as commercial forestry – legal and illegal – swallows up their traditional homelands. On the day she arrives in the village of Barra Velha, Marina learns that two young Pataxó tribesmen have just been shot dead by illegal loggers on the highway between Montinho and Mont Pascoal, which traverses disputed Pataxó land.
After a ritual cleansing ceremony, Marina mucks in with the locals as they harvest manioc roots to make into flour for nourishment and sale in their traditional communal hut. Poignantly, a modern milling machine remains unused beneath its original tarpaulin outside. The Pataxó have no use for it, given the importance of collective endeavour to their society. For Marina, who has dreamed of witnessing life among native inhabitants of a living forest since she was a child, the experience is a transformative one. From hunting for crabs in the mudflats, to getting the once-over from a traditional health practitioner, Marina has a chance to live the values she has aspired to all her life, all the while wondering how long they can survive, in a community under siege.
‘Faraway Fields – The Hardest Harvest’ is an absorbing watch with lots of insights into climate change, indigenous rights and how people live off the land amid some of the most challenging conditions on earth.