Revitalizing traditional agricultural practice

Dongria Kondh, Orissa. Photo: Survival International, 2008

An article by Manipadma Jena at the Inter-Press Service news agency describes how Kondh tribal farmers in the Indian state of Orissa have been returning to traditional cultivation practices in order to cope with “climate change, erosion, dryness, soil acidity and falling ground water levels.”

The article reads:

“For Harish Saraka and other subsistence farmers in 70 Niyamgiri villages in Rayagada, adapting to changing conditions meant reverting to traditional farming methods such as mixed cropping, the use of organic fertilisers and trusted seed varieties. 
So, while farming has been failing elsewhere in Odisha, Harish Saraka has been cultivating not three but 14 crops on his half-hectare land since the last two years – enough to see his family through the lean August-December season. 
“I now harvest 300 kg of food grains, a 200 percent increase from the earlier single-crop high-yield paddy farming,” says Saraka. 
In Kerandiguda village, Loknath Nauri, 58, is the first to try mixed farming on a portion of his one-hectare hilly stream-fed land that he got under a government programme for the landless rural poor. 
“Seeing my good harvest, ten other households here have decided to try their luck this year,” says Nauri, who is ready to share his seeds with them. 
“The Kondhs’ once self-sufficient and local resource-based agriculture system was affected by the introduction of commercial high-yielding paddy,” says Debjeet Sarangi who heads ‘Living Farms’, a non-government organisation (NGO) that works with marginal farmers. 
Bhima Saraka told IPS that a few years back, Munda villagers were lured into planting high-yielding paddy seeds given free by the government along with chemical fertilisers. “The seeds were old and many did not sprout, while the fertilisers demanded water, and we have no source except the rains,” he says. 
“None got much out of this ‘free gift’ except an important lesson, that their local seeds – acclimatised to their dryland soil and more able to withstand monsoon’s unpredictability – were indeed their lifeline,” says Sunamajhi Pidika, Living Farms’s local field organiser. Sarangi said tribal communities, “who neither cultivated nor ate rice traditionally, are now trying to re-establish their food sovereignty.” 

‘Ailing Agricultural Productivity in Economically Fragile Region of India’ – a recent study published by the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Soil Sciences found that the cultivation area for small millets in Odisha had declined by 500 percent over the last 40 years. 

The popular perception is that the government policy is pushing in cash crops to the detriment of subsistence millet-farming practiced by communities like Bhima Saraka’s. 
“The government is not coercing the tribal people, just putting intelligent choices before them,” said Nitin Bhanudas Jawale, administrative head of Rayagada district. 
However, in April, it was decided to procure millet and make it available at fair price outlets, so that the tribal people could go back to their traditional food, Jawale said. “The U.N. World Food Programme is collaborating with us.” 
“In discussions with village elders we came to know there are varieties of millets and pulses which can tolerate heat and water stress,” says Sarangi. 
“I have heard my grandfather talk of the 11 varieties of millet that his father cultivated,” recounts 24-year-old Prasant Wadraka from Gandili village while waiting at the government’s tribal development office to collect free tin sheet roofing. 
According to Wadraka, near-extinct millet varieties include one called ‘kodo’ which has medicinal properties to control diabetes. Millet is packed with protein, B-complex vitamins and minerals, nutritionists say. 
“The movement in India to return to traditional seeds is growing stronger and at country inter-NGO level too we exchange seeds to supplement local communities’ seed needs,” says Sarangi. 
In 2008, Living Farms began a programme of giving poor families seeds on condition that after harvest the same quantity would be returned plus 10 percent ‘interest’ to be put into grain banks.
Simple woven bamboo baskets sealed with thick clay-and cow dung daub, the grain banks are managed by Kondh women and opened only in times of need. 
Just before the monsoons all the seed varieties are sown on the same field. These are a combination of niger (an oilseed), sorghum, millet varieties like finger, foxtail, pearl, pigeon pea and horse gram along with creeper beans. 
Some of these will ripen in 90 days while others will take 120 days before harvest. 
According to leading Indian agro-scientist M.S. Swaminathan, mixed cropping – that involves several cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetable and fodder crops – retards buildup of insect pests. 
It is significant that tribal communities never use chemical inputs or even diesel irrigation pumps, and sell their produce in the local market. 
“Their products have minimum carbon footprints,” Sarangi said. “In the imminent global climate crisis, we have much to learn from indigenous communities.” 

Seminar: Indigenous responses to resource development & property shifts

Deh Cho Dene Elder, Photo: Alan R. Emery

{Photo source}

This seminar will be of interest if you’re researching or are involved with traditional cultures  who are navigating the challenges posed by conventional ‘development’.

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities at the University of Essex is organising a seminar on the 30th of April at 4pm. Dr Carol Brown-Leonardi will present on Indigenous Responses To Resource Development And Property Shifts In The Arctic Region

Abstract: The common struggle for many indigenous people world-wide is the recognition of their indigenous rights, economic marginalisation and the political participation and representation for making decisions on their traditional land.  This presentation focuses on the Deh Cho Dene indigenous community in Northern Canada, who are currently negotiating for the control over traditional land and resources with the Canadian government. The presentation is fundamentally concerned with understanding how some underlying political influences and the negotiation for land has transformed the concept of the property for the Deh Cho Dene and what such concept means to the Deh Cho indigenous people.



The New Age of Extractivism: Online Seminar

Dr. Böhm will deliver the a webinar for the St. Andrews Microfinance Society tomorrow, the 24th of April, at 6pm GMT. Participation is free and the talk will be streamed online. Register at 

Title: The New Age of Extractivism and its Social and Environmental Impacts in Latin America.

Abstract: A new age of extractivism is haunting the world. As natural resources are dwindling at an alarming rate – fuelled by the gigantic economic growth projects of the East (primarily China and India) – mankind seems to be willing and able to dig and drill deeper and go to ever more remote places to access and extract commodities, such as oil, gas, coal, copper, bauxite, to name just a few. This new extractivism is particularly evident in the Global South (but let us not forget the Canadian Tar Sands and Russia’s new richness through oil and gas) – far away from the eyes of the Western consumers who usually end up buying the products, ‘Made in China’, for which these resources are needed. 
In Latin America even progressive, left-leaning governments have signed up to this new age of extractivism and developmentalism. While social and economic inequities are tackled by Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and other countries and their leftist governments, these seem to be paid for, almost exclusively, through the taxes received from large companies (national and multinational) that are given concessions for open pit mining, deforestation, large hydro-power dams and oil/gas explorations. 
In this paper I will introduce some of the most controversial projects in Latin America that are manifestations of this new age of extractivism. I will discuss the social and environmental impacts of these projects, while framing my analysis within a broader politico-economic theory of development (and underdevelopment).  

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Slider Image: Reuters, here.