Cork skipper, John Walsh will swap Kinsale for Gambia in Faraway Fields – The Hardest Harvest
Cork skipper, John Walsh will star in the next series of Faraway Fields – The Hardest Harvest, which will air on RTÉ One on Wednesday 07 June 2023 at 9.35pm.
In this three-part series, an Irish farmer, forester and fisherman experience life in some of the most challenging conditions on earth, as they find out if they have what it takes to live off the land and sea in a developing country. Can they cope with the gruelling day-to-day reality of subsistence living and the struggle for survival and what might they learn? Episode one sees Cork fisherman Johnny Walsh catapulted onto a primitive wooden boat off the West Coast of Africa in overexploited Gambian fishing waters. Here he navigates the precarious food supply of the community of Tanji and other coastal Gambian communities whose dwindling fish stocks forces them to take perilous sea journeys to escape to Europe and beyond.
Programme 1 | Wednesday, 7 June 2023 @ 9.35p.m. | RTÉ One
Programme 2 | Wednesday, 14 June 2023 @ 9.35p.m. | RTÉ One
Programme 3 | Wednesday, 21 June 2023 @ 9.35p.m. | RTÉ One
In this programme, 55-year-old skipper Johnny Walsh takes to the high seas, a long way from his native Kinsale, where his trawlers set sail from in the depths of winter and scour the North Atlantic for prawns and pelagic fish. A lifer at sea, Johnny has been fishing since the age of 17.
His destination this time: the waters off the tiny west African republic of The Gambia, where fishermen are concerned, not with surplus and profit, but with sustenance and survival. Johnny’s first sight of Tanji, the fishing hub which is home to The Gambia’s commercial fleet, is a shock to the system.
A long way from the pristine, hi-tech environment of an Irish commercial trawler, Johnny finds rusted ice-boxes in the fishing huts, platforms of fish-skins drying out on the beach, and colourful, rickety, traditional fishing boats carrying the catch ashore.
Johnny also finds the entire community engaged in the business of fishing, with crews living together with their families in compounds, where wives, children and the elderly await the daily catch of sardinella – the core of their staple diet.
Out at sea, Johnny rolls back year the years to his earliest days on Irish trawlers, before the advent of modern technology. Schools of fish are located by sight and instinct, lured into the nets by crew members stamping on the deck, and hauled ashore by hand with sheer brute strength in stifling heat. For the fishing communities of Tanji, it’s an everyday struggle to survive, and the threats multiply every year.
Fishing stocks have plummeted catastrophically in recent years, the result of warming oceans, mass ecocide of fish populations, and the encroachment of overseas supertrawlers, which scoop up much of the remaining fish for export. He finds that industrial factories are processing fresh fish for fishmeal pellets used in fish farming in Europe and animal feeds elsewhere. The catastrophic consequences for his fellow fishermen on this coast are immense. Skilled marine navigators and their boats are setting out for Europe and Johnny hears how some are never heard from again.
Eveline Gill swaps her comfort zone – a small tillage farm on the outskirts of Birr – Co. Offaly – for the rigours of a Vietnamese rice terrace. For Eveline, a farming consultant who operates at the cutting edge of modern agricultural science and is an advocate for all things organic, this will be a rude awakening in a mountainous backwater where farming techniques have been unchanged for centuries.
Back home, 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 11,000km 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 to work in. She and her fellow farmers struggle in the searing heat and high humidity as a result of climate change. Millions of rice workers across this part of the world toil in this ever increasing heat on a daily basis.
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. But in the cities of the northern highlands, life can be even more hazardous for younger women seeking to escape those burdens – Eveline meets with a young woman trafficked across the Chinese border by social media scammers.
In programme three, 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 (professionally and personally – she once left a newly built house behind for a forestry job in New Zealand, bringing her young son with her).
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 county 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.
Marina is deeply moved by the plight of a community under threat, desperately seeking to retain its traditional values, language and way of life, in the face of aggression and indifference from massive corporations, farming interests and the state.
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 dreamt 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.
Source: Press Release