- In the village of Nongtraw in Meghalaya, one of the world’s wettest region, honey is quite sought after by the Khasi indigenous community who go to the forest to collect it.
- When they reach a beehive, they introduce themselves to the bee, “informing the bees” that they will only take what is required.
- Recently the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report on Indigenous People’s Food Systems co-published by FAO and the Alliance of Bioversity International, and CIAT includes the profiles of eight Indigenous Peoples food systems from around the world, including Uttarakhand and Meghalaya in India.
- In Nongtraw, a village solely inhabited by the Khasi, diverse traditional food systems supported by jhum(shifting cultivation), home gardens, forest and water bodies, shying away from synthetic chemicals in food production and community-led landscape management underpin this indigenous food system’s resilience to climate change and sustainability.
Diverse traditional food
- Nongtraw lies along the mid-slope of a deep gorge in the Cherrapunji region a highly dissected plateau along the southern margins of the Meghalaya Plateau.
- Satellite images of the Cherrapunji watershed, which receives record rainfall, reveal rocky outcrops on what appears to be a barren tableland with thin soil cover
- But pan more, and there is a sudden green plunge: secondary forests of shifting cultivation hugging the steep slopes of the canyons and winding gorges.
- Jhum is the primary food production system in the community, involving two distinct land uses agriculture and fallow forestry that alternate in sequence and time on the same plot of land.
- The Khasis repose confidence in the resilience of their food system sustained by the robust self-governance of their community.
- However, factors such as the shift to cash crops (broom grass and oil palm), the impact of India’s public distribution system on the local subsistence system, and over-reliance on market-based products dent their resilience.
- When the dependence on the local landscape becomes limited, and food items are now sourced from outside the community supported by government policies, agrobiodiversity goes down, and the ecological knowledge system which gives resilience to the food system is also lost
- Based on factors such as socio-economic, demographic status and health, the sensitivity of agricultural production, forest-dependent livelihoods and access to information services and infrastructure
- A recent government study of 12 statesin the Indian Himalayan Region and their vulnerability to climate change, found that Assam and Mizoram, followed by Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya and West Bengal, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand had high vulnerabilities.
- Community nutrition researcher Suparna Ghosh-Jerath who studies links between agro-biodiversity, hidden hunger and rural indigenous communities such as the Sauria Paharias, a particularly vulnerable tribal group of Jharkhand, adds that what was learned in historical times – what grows where – that knowledge may be helpful and lead to climate-friendly agricultural practices.
- Research priorities on indigenous food systems should include systematic documentation of a wide variety of indigenous foods known to the indigenous communities (their taxonomic classification, seasonal availability, their nutritive value, their current use within the communities), their contribution to food security and dietary diversity.
- More than 7,500 km away at Glasgow, Scotland, indigenous practices are under the spotlight at the ongoing COP 26, the United Nations climate summit, where indigenous leaders worldwide are highlighting a bouquet of climate mitigation and adaptation practices informed by indigenous and local knowledge.
- According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest Global Assessment these practices “can accelerate wide-scale behaviour changes consistent with adapting to and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Nongtraw’s local landscape
- Nongtraw sits in an important centre of crop origin and diversity, and the domestication of local plants is ongoing. The report emphasises that wild fruits of yesterday are the domesticated fruits of today, referring to edibles such as the Mandarin orange.
- Some crops grown in the community were introduced centuries ago and are considered traditional because of their long histories in the region, such as millet, rice bean, maize, cassava, sweet potato and potato.
- As many as 63 species of plants, including cereals, legumes, roots and tubers, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and other edible species, are grown in the jhum fields or the kitchen gardens. Many of the crops grown by the community have multiple varieties.
- The community uses no external inputs, especially synthetic chemicals, for food production, notes Mawroh quoting the report.
- Under the jhum system, the only input used is the ash which comes from burning the biomass which has been felled when clearing the land for cultivation.
- The tribal group copes with climate variabilities, such as long dry spells and erratic rains, by using climate-resilient indigenous crop varieties for farming, seed conservation and access to indigenous forest foods and weeds for consumption during adverse situations and lean periods.
- The community recognises that the local climate variability has affected farm productivity and diversity (due to a water-stressed environment).
- These changes have also influenced the availability of indigenous foods from natural vegetation, forests, and water bodies in the region.
- Flavoursome indigenous rice varieties (such as Bismunia and Dumarkani), which were consumed by the older generations, have now become almost non-existent or extinct.
- Millets like (Gundli or little millet), which were widespread earlier, have presently become virtually extinct, notes Ghosh-Jerath in a researchthat is supported by DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance Fellowship.
What is Climate-Resilient Agriculture?
- Climate-resilient agriculture (CRA) is an approach that includes sustainably using existing natural resources through crop and livestock production systems to achieve long-term higher productivity and farm incomes under climate variabilities.
- Why CRA?
- Most countries have been facing crises due to disasters and conflicts; food security, however, is adversely affected by inadequate food stocks, basic food price fluctuations, high demand for agro-fuels, and abrupt weather changes.
- CRA practice reduces hunger and poverty in the face of climate change for forthcoming generations.
- It can alter the current situation and sustain agricultural production from the local to the global level, especially in a sustainable manner.
National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA)
- National Innovation on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) was launched by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) in February 2011.
- The main objective of the project is capacity building, technological advancement, and intensive research.
Objectives of NICRA
- It increases the capacity of the scientists and the other stakeholders in researching agriculture and its different applications.
- It educates and trains the farmers on the application of different technological advancements in dealing with climatic risks.
- Helps in making the farmers self-reliant.
- Khasi people are an indigenous ethnic group of Meghalayain north-eastern India. They have a distinctive culture and are the largest tribe of Meghalaya.
Both inheritance of property and succession to tribal office run through the female line, passing from the mother to the youngest daughter.
- The Khāsi speak a Mon-Khmer language of the Austroasiatic stock.
- They are divided into several clans.Wet rice (paddy) provides the main subsistence; it is cultivated in the valley bottoms and in terrace gardens built on the hillsides.
Q.Consider the following statements about NICRA
1.National Innovation on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) was launched by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) in February 2011.
2.It educates and trains the farmers on the application of different technological advancements in dealing with climatic risks.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) Both 1 and 2 are correct
(b) 1 Only
(c) 2 only
(d) Both 1 and 2 are incorrect