Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What future for Apatani agriculture ?

Most of the time, when Apatanis as a people are mentioned in newspapers, magazines, academic papers or travel brochures, it is for praising their age-old agricultural practices and their dexterity in having managed to use every inch of cultivable space in a sustainable way. Two years ago UNESCO was so impressed by the "rare farming and conservation techniques" of the Apatanis that the UN agency decided to nominate Ziro Plateau in order to make it a World Heritage Site. The image of Arunachal's “green valley’ or “rice bowl” has now become so evidently associated to them that, at least seen from outside, it is assumed by all that this agricultural system “in harmony with nature” is bound to last forever.

I'm not sure, however, whether this enchanting image displayed by medias corresponds to the present social realities. My attention was drawn to this issue by reading a passage from anthropologist Fürer-Haimendorf who has witnessed some of the major changes having taken place in the Valley between 1944 and 1980 :

“In the 1940s one could see throughout March April and early May fairly large patang [agricultural labour teams], usually consisting of equal numbers of young boys and girls working on the fields, repairing dams and channels, levelling terrace fields, puddling the mud and finally transplanting rice-seedlings. (…) In 1978 I did not see a single large patang. Much of the work on the field was done by middle-aged women and a few middle-aged men. There were some groups of girls, usually not more than five or six, engaged in digging over fields, but the number of boys and young men working on the land seemed very small. (…)
At the time when work on the fields was done mainly by women and girls, and a few middled-aged men, one could see in the bazaar of Hapoli large number of able-bodied young men, often smartly dressed in western clothes, filling the tea stalls and gossiping with their friends. Numerous were also the boys riding on bicycles on the road between their villages and Hapoli. When I commented on the apparent imbalance of the sexes among the workers on the fields in conversation with some of my Apatani friends, they admitted that many of the young men were not pulling their weight, and that boys who had been to high-school rarely did much work on the fields although they expected to be fed by their parents.

That was 30 years ago ...... and the trend seems to have continued since. By becoming increasingly educated in schools, young boys and girls have also become more and more reluctant to engage in agriculture or other traditional tasks. Today the contrast is best expressed through these figures : the literacy rate among Apatanis ranks among the highest in AP (70.6 % according to 2001 Census, with 86 % of the children attending schools in the 5-14 age group), which of course is a very good thing. But at the same time the number of people engaged in agriculture is the lowest among all Arunachal ST. As someone commenting these figures of the Census has noted : “It is, however, interesting that Apatani – the famous terrace cultivators of Arunachal Pradesh – have registered only 39.1 per cent cultivators.” And judging from recent photographs showing Apatani farmers, especially the beautiful collection by A. Siddiqui, it seems obvious that this population is gradually but inexorably ageing.

The present paradox goes as follows : in future, the Apatani Valley may be among the very few world's man-made landscapes to be declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. But who, then, will be still cultivating the land ?

P. Bouchery


Anonymous said...

Good point, but there are worse things happening:
1. Wealthy people are buidling their houses in their paddy fields. This is alarming in view of the limited areas of plain area in the Ziro plateau.
2. Three main streams irrigate the entire rice fields in the Apatani valley - the Tabyu/Tajang Kiile from Tajang, Siikhe Kiile from Hong and Seya Kiile from Hari. These streams are being diverted for urban water supply (Seya Kiile is used to supply Hapoli). Irrigation will be greatly affected.
3. People are excited about the Ring Road, but this is going to destroy the all important watershed area of the entire plateau. Irrigation water is going to decrease rapidly in the coming years.

NPR said...

Hi, well done again!!! Here u have pointed out most important point about the sustainabilty of our Tanii agriclture system. If all the census readings that u reffered are correct one,then we can conclude here that the future of our agriculture are going to face dooms day.Thanks for your insight here.

I dunno who u r -may be tanii or may be not, but looking at ur points its for sure that you are somebody who knows ever inch of ziro(unfortunately,I myseld doesn't know much about our hometown.I do agree with your commentthat the progress in the Ring Road project will effect the watershed area in coming future.Technically speaking yes, you are correct here.But,don't you think that we need to expand our dwelling places??? Some time we need to exploit the sources of mother nature for the developement activities for mankind.

T-rex said...

wow never knew abt landslide diff. in sex ratio of present patang. thanks 4 the update. really this concept of constructing buildings in agricultural fields and Ring road is disturbing. our people have to understand. they should stop being selfish.

PB said...

Thanks again, NPR, and thanks "Anonymous" for updating our information.

Anonymous said...

1. We DON'T need to expand our dwelling space. Did you know that number of houses in the Apatani villages are decreasing? People are migrating. The past mindset of the Apatanis to stick together is fast changing.
2. Even if we have to expand, there are other ways of doing that - NOT just by destroying the all important watershed area or encroching on the limited fertile cultivable land. Have anybody calculated the hiilocks and dunes in the Apatani areas? They are excellent dwelling spaces. What about Hakhe Tari, Pange, Talley Valley, Supyu-Siikhe, and so on? These areas are the envy of the wealthiest of the people.
3. There are two aspects of development - qualitative and quantitative. What about considering qualitative development for a change?
4. It's good discussion. Thanks.

NPR said...

Here our discussions are going with this saying-"MANY MEN, MANY MIND". To be very frank....partially I can't agree with all those points cited in the last comment of yours.

1)At present though Taniis are migrating to nearby places like Itanagar, even then we can't rule out that we don't need to expand our dwelling places. Who knows -may be in future there could be a trend for future generations to own separate houses at ziro though he/she may be residing in any part of the world. Now also, Tanii working class people (I mean, those who are working away from home town) of present generation are with the practice to build one permanent resident at Ziro or Hapoli (may be not necessarily at Lembas) apart from their present residence.

2)I am neither supporting the destruction of natural watersheds though I find the development of roads for communication and developments around Ziro are of utmost necessity.You are well done by suggesting the better dwelling places such as Hakhe Tari, Pange, Talley Valley, Supyu-Siikhe, and so on. We really need to make a wise decisions for the betterment of our place(Since I have spent most of my life in Itanagar, I do not know much about the listed places .Literally, I just know that Talley Valley is a very rich biodiversity zone of our place and I don’t appreciate people to disturb such natural gifted region).

3)Talking about qualitative development, to implement such project –it should be plan well and also, there should be mass awareness amongst the public/leaders/authorities regarding the merits and demerits of such activities. The necessary researches for the purpose should be carried out before implementation of plans. In the case of Ring road project, I dunno how it was carried out!!!! Just wondering!!!

Now let me share one of my experiences here. Once in interview, I was asked why we Tanii people builds our houses compactly in Lembas and what could be the remedy for this problem????. Interviewers were some Officers from other community. At that moment, promptly I replied a very funny answer. I said –population exploision is the root cause and we need to make people aware about rapidly growing population. I also said that for rapidly growing populations we need more of agricultural productions and thus to save cultivable land –we need to build our houses in compact manners. And I got funniest comment on my reply, one of the judges from judge panel said, “Agar tum aisa bola tho Tumko tho Apatani bura log dao se katke penk dega . Pehle se hi Tumahara Apatani population tho itna kam hi hai,” and then he suggested that we can build our houses in the cultivating areas with high raised pillars and posts. I disagreed with his suggestion as for me it is not advisable to build dwelling houses in the mid of paddy field. Argument lasted for long and then finally I had to give up thinking that there is no point arguing with ignorant officers.

wiian said...

I thought your answer to the question was very insightful and not funny at all. I was pondering on the validity of the question put forth thus 'people builds our houses compactly in Lembas and what could be the remedy for this problem?'

Is there something to be remedied? I don't think so. I thought that's how economically-wise Apatani's evolved where cultivable land was scarce. Still, I am curious to know the intended idea behind this poser.

On future of Apatani agriculture, I foresee a slow but certain death. Apatani's were self-sustained in the past due to its flourishing agriculture practices, but then people were not used to clothes, electricity and other amenities those days. I seriously doubt if farming can earn livelihood for families without other sources of income in a world exemplified by materialism.
Let's think beyond agriculture. Any ideas?

NPR said...

I agree with your thoughts about the future of tanii agriculture. In this modern world of science and techbology, agriculture alone can't make us to survive in this world of Darwin's theory--"SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST".

Sorry to say that I missed out a point regarding my experience on interview and judge panel .Actually this question was asked in the context of frequent fire accidents that occurred in the recent pasts in compactly build houses in the villages of Ziro. Intension behind the Poser was good enough, but their comment on my reply sounded as if they were GAON BURAS themselves. Thus, at the end of discussion I myself concluded them as ignorant officers :)

Wiian, I don't think that farming alone with olden practices can lead you toward a very successful materialistic life. As we can see that Taniis are still using the same old practices. I m just wondering here--what if we can bring the applications of modern scientific methods in our farming system. Application of modern scientific methods doesn't mean only the uses of fertilizers and pesticides. Particularly in tanii farming system, we can introduce the mass cultivations on ORGANIC productions. As ORGANIC productions are at great demand amongst the consumers and this can definitely bring good markets for the productions from Ziro.

In previous decades, Taniis used to cultivate only for self consumption at household. Today, there is more demand of Tanii cultivation productions. For example there is a huge demand of ZIRO LAI PATTA in the neighboring places. Even after bringing these Lai pattas from Assam and nearby places, people sells it in the name of ZIRO vegetables. From this trend, I could just accumulate this idea that if we can encourage farmers to be more professional towards their cultivation process, may be then this gonna enhance the chance of survival of TANII AGRICULTURE in future. To implement such idea, first of all we need a help of experts in the field of agriculture.

That was about my part of ideas, what is yours???

AG said...


Agreed, the demand of agriculture produce from ziro is very high at neighboring areas, but can we make it a good business proposition? I doubt, considering the small land holdings and output vis-à-vis input from these land holdings. And I guess, this would lead to losing of interest in traditional agricultural practice thereby leading to it's slow but certain death.

Ever wondered why people are constructing their dwelling place in the midst of their agricultural field? Apart from population growth I guess, it is because they find growing paddy or other crops in their field a costly affair and they find it better to construct over their field than leaving it brazen to be encroached upon. But then, I may be wrong.

NPR said...

I don’t say that it would be a good business preposition, but worrying about-who will be next cultivator in forthcoming generations???? We need to innovative towards preservation of our old age traditional practice. At least by introducing some modern techniques amongst our people, we can encourage them about farming and this might be able to lead quality of productions too. Apart from preservations, we can check the unemployment problems of the region.

Speaking about the lesser land holding, Ring Road project can be utilized in expanding our land utilities. Though I do not know about the exact land utilities of Ziro, I roughly assume that most of our lands are covered with forests which are only being used for picking fire woods and raring semi-domesticated animals such as cows and mithuns. Such places can be used for better utilities for growing population and its demands as well as to bring more developments in Ziro.

Although we can visualize the slow death of our old age traditional agricultural practices, let us think positive and let us pass this message of need of preservation of our traditional practices.

Anonymous said...

Need to leave a comment again. Let us talk some plain logic:
Point one. The Apatanis live in the highest altitude in the district. Except Talley Valley, Ziro valley is the highest place. You go 'down' to Joram and you go 'down' to Boa Simla. Everybody remember that?
Point two. Water don't flow up. Water always flow down.
Point three. If the watershed of Ziro valley is destroyed, the valley will dry up since water cannot flow up either from Yazali or Tamen.
Point four. The present forest area are the watershed for Apatani valley and therefore, are vital for the survival of the people here.
Conclusion. The present use of forest is the best possible one which has sustained the Apatanis for centuries.
NB. The Pange river and the stream at Talley Valley do not flow to Ziro valley. Pange flows down directly to join Panyor (Ranganadi) and Talley valley stream join the Subansiri.

NPR said...

Well,I agree with your conclusion. Taking Cherapunji as the best example
where people are suffering of shortage of drinking water (although it records highest of rainfall in the world). We have to save our ZIRO before it converts to another CHERAPUNJI in future.

jarjum said...

Very insightful comments. All the concerns, straight from your hearts. That makes me feel like sharing some of mine here with all.
Technology is there to exploit. Balancing its use depends on the users. Since one Ring Road is already there and the second one under construction now, as learnt, watershed management and rain water harvesting in the upper reaches could be tried. If the agricultural practices of the Taniis die out, that would be the end to the culture, the Myoko ! So it is upto your generation ! And yes, I shall be the happiest, perhaps, if the male participation in the fields increase !!!!
Yes, the fire accidents in the valley is always a serious concern. Above that, the sanitation and hygiene also needs the attention of all. The health status in the villages ought to draw immediate interventions. May be youth movement can bring the much needed impetus in this sector. After all, the future is for the young !! And with educated ones like you all, I don't see any dearth of leadership.

NPR said...

Thanks for adding another insightful comment here.Your views have been appreciated too.

WE are still young, we can still save future for our next generation!!!!


Millo Tago said...

To all concerned.
Experience is that the quantity and quality of water flowing all the major rivers of Apatani valley is decreasing. One of the main reasons is deforestation of our surrounding forest. If your see the age gradation present stock of forest, it is predominantly of younger age with pole crop because all the matured tree have already been hacked in the race to become over night rich. To fell a 80 years old trees may hardly take 3-4 hours but to replace it by planting a seedling and make them to attain the same girth and height may take more then 80 years because environement and soil quality may never remain the same as used to be. This what our people don't understand.

At one point of time during early 80s, when block sise timber business was booming I explained this theory to one of my friends who flatly refused to accept the same. His argument was that Piisa sanii (Pinus wallichiana) grows very fast and will replenish the same.

Result: If you take the inventory of growing stock of tree in Apatani
plateau, you will hardly find a tree which is comparable to those massive Rantii Piisa. These days even the Rantii Piisa whose premises is considered to be sanctum sanctorum in Apatani tradition is floated for public auction. This is fate.

The well to do Apatanis are running away from the main land of our good old village, to attain their self satisfaction, privacy, better hygiene and of course some for their prestige issue. Agriculture land is very very finite natural resource but human greedy and satisfaction alwys infinite. This finite versus infinite may create a great catastrophy for our agro-biodiversity resource in future.

We are already inflicted with biodiversity loss eg. 'Radhe Emo', 'Elang Emo' and few more are no more existing in Apatani plateau may be few exception. These varients had a great biodiversity potential.


Millo Tago said...

Ring Road: In the present era of environmental activism, it alwys Development versus environment. These words are revolving around the phrase "sustainable development" meaning thereby that we should pass on the same quantity and quality of our natural resources to our future generation. We should exploit our natural resource to meet our needs without compromising the needs of our future generation. Hence, to development should out weigh the encironmental and future generation concern.

Millo Tago said...

Ring road will certainly create opportunity for those who own lands hitherto was inaccessible to exploit their own natural resources. Our people are always looking for quick and short cut way to become rich. Who say that our people don't have money. They certainly have but don't know how to use them intelligently. Remember those block size timber booming business era. How many of them have survived successfully, leaving few them?

Ring road will lead to exploitation of natural resources which in turn will make environment more polluted, loss of biodiversity, loss of fertile soil, decline water quantity and quality, decline in agricutltural production and so on. I am not against develoment but advocat for sustainable development. A day may come when we will be unable to find local rice for our mornig break fast. Do you know these days why 'Mirii Pila' and "Tabbey'have become very popular among the wealthy Apatani Officers? I invite answere for this.
These are words of caution from my side.

quintessence said...

I had patiently read all the comments and have following points to make.Prior to that i wish to say that my father late shri B.K.Shukla was the first research officer posted at Ziro and he was there from 1956 to 1965.
He talked to everyone about Ziro, about scenic surroundings, Apatani peoples love for their valley, their houses,villages,agriculture practices, food,dress, festivals, their pride and
hospitality. He was working with Verrier Ellvin and Haimendorf and also wrote book on Daflas.
In 1980 he once again had the opportunity to visit Ziro with Haimendorf and was pleasd to see how the community had grown keeping their culture,environment and lifestyle intact. Winds of changes were visible but he took lot of pride in seeing the school childrens esp girls studying in big numbers. He wanted to write a book but unfortunately passed away in 1988.
I am his son Rajesh Shukla ,qualified landscape architect and last year came to ziro to witness the changes and absorb the Culture.I wish to carryforward the half done work of my father and address issues of sustainability, agriculture,agro frorestry, water management,
soil conservation etc. I shall be grateful to people who wish to share their numbers with whom i can interact. I am based at Delhi but have greater sense of belonging to Apatani culture . Changes will take place but most cultures absorb the better aspects ,strengthen and move on.
I am exteremely happy to see the wisdom of you all and hope that with proper spread of knowledge ,the new age people will develop reverence to their culture.I see a great future for the ziro valley. The only sad part during our visit was to see very few old people, less activities in the streets of Hong village ,but the smile and hospitality of the people was as described by my father.