a rice field in apatani, arunachal pradesh
a rice field in apatani, arunachal pradesh

Go traditional the Apatani way

The introduction of the industrial revolution and the consequent dawn of Western materialism have initiated a non-traditional commodity-based perception of nature’s resources. This has brought about an increased exploitation of resources. Traditional modes of conservation of resources need to be revisited. Many traditional societies view physical as well as biological components of the environment and the human population as being linked together in a web of relationships. The diverse practices of traditional methods represent a pool of human experience spanning many cultures and many millennia. A cultural assortment in itself traditional methods are the one to be conserved and praised.

An Apatani Tribal Woman
An Apatani Tribal Woman

Contrary to the researches on traditional resource management systems a larger part of the limelight is stolen by the monolithic vision of the modern management system. India has a rich legacy of traditional technologies and these methods, combined with modern science, could lead to a permanent solution to the problems.  All communities approach the consumption of their natural resource base depending on their perception and experience of how it responds to patterns of resource use. The Apatani tribe is one such cocooned community which is considered for immensely practicing traditional methods of resource management.  Apatani is recognized as a potential world heritage site by UNESCO located in Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India. Known for efficient agriculture without animals or machines, the natives have been striving to protect their traditional ways in the face of modernization.

Considered the “Rice Bowl of Arunachal Pradesh”, Ziro valley houses the Apatani tribe that has considerable expertise in land and water resources management.  Densely concentrated in the Ziro valley the population density is more than hundred folds than that of state’s density and also much higher than the average for the country. This necessitates the wise use of limited resources. Indigenous integration of pisciculture in rice cultivation is distinct characteristic of Apatani agro-ecosystem.  A multipurpose system is used for protecting against soil erosion, conservation of water and paddy –cum- fish culture. Streams originating from forests are diverted to single canal connected to fields by bamboo or pinewood pipe. To prevent soil erosion bio-fencing is installed along main canals. Paddy fields terrace are developed with size ranges from 235 to 2740 m2 which are leveled uniformly to ensure the uniform water height. In order to hold the water level dykes or bund, supported by bamboos and wooden clips, are constructed in the fields. The size of bund varies from 0.6 to 1.4m in breadth and 0.2 to 0.6m in height depending on the gradient of the land and shape and size of the fields. No ploughing, instead spades are used to prepare the land. The household’s waste water drained to the irrigation canals provides good source of manure in the field. After harvest cattle is left free to graze on the fields thus allowing addition of green manure.

Tali nguyi (Channa sp) and papi nguyi (Puntius sp.) fishes are believed to be found naturally in paddy fields. Indigenous trap prepared from bamboo is placed in the outlets to catch the fishes. This was the reason for Government of Arunachal Pradesh to start off with paddy cum fish culture. Fish rearing in the field as reported by the farmers is beneficial in multiple ways. Fishes feed on small insects like water beetle, larvae, and others harmful to the paddy. In turn the waste material of fishes works as manure to paddy plant. A long trench is prepared along the middle of the paddy field where fishes are kept while weeding and provides cool hideouts for the fishes during warmer climate.

Based on farming systems performance, the Apatani paddy-cum-fish agro-ecosystem is highly productive that gives 400-500 kg per hectare which is 3 to 4 times the average yield of the state.
a rice field in apatani
a fish fed – rice field in Apatani, Arunachal Pradesh, India

Traditional methods of resource management have not yet got the deserved share of spotlight. The Apatani village ecosystem is a good example of economic self sufficiency in a traditional agriculture society. The traditional agriculture methods need to be redeveloped incrementally based on ecological knowledge. Transfer of technology from one tribe to another should be taken up by the governing bodies. Amalgamation of scientific technologies, eco-friendly techniques of conservation and traditional practices can help accomplish a systematic approach to resource management with economic viability.

About Krishnakali Ghosh

Intern@ Ek Titli.Org
Krishnakali is an aspiring environmental planner who is pursuing her Bachelors from National Institute of Technology, Bhopal. She has worked on housing development for urban poor and traffic management and is presently working on a lake development project in Bhopal.
She can be reached at Krishnakali[at]EkTitli.org.

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