Saturday, 27 July 2013


Agricultural practices among Wanchos 

Immature rice field
         Shifting cultivation is the most prominent type of agriculture usually followed in this region. Indigenous shifting cultivators have a vast store of local knowledge about their particular landscape and how best to maintain it for survival, and have much to teach the world about the efficient use of their landscape for combined agriculture and forestry. This system involves series of steps such as selection of a site in hilly slopes followed by slashing of vegetation, burning of slashed vegetation after drying and cleaning the burnt sites for growing crops of agricultural importance. After completion of the cycle, the soil loses its fertility and a fresh site is chosen the following year to repeat the same cycle in next season; whereas, the used plot of jhum land is likely to keep fallow for about 8-10 years till it regains its fertility.

The entire jhumming practice may assume as a wise strategy planned and prepared by the ethnic people of this district which they have learnt from years of experience and subsequently passing those experiences to next generation. Their strategy is always simple and focus on deriving maximum possible sustainable output from the hilly slopes in terms of production of sufficient food items from cultivation of crops, collection of timber from jhum fields, practice of mix farming ensuring crop.
This ancient and traditional management agriculture system may be considered as the backbone of the modern developing society because the knowledge on jhumming is the result of centuries close interaction between man and environment. Even when there was no supply of food grains and vegetables from other sources, this traditional agriculture practices helped them to fight during the lean season. Besides cereals like rice (Oryza sativa L.), millets like foxtail millets (Setaria italica L.), proso millets (Panicum miliaceum L.), finger millets (Eleusine coracana L.) and pearl millets (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R.Br., Maize (Zea mays L.), they usually cultivate important domesticated and subsidiary edible plant species such as Topioca (Manihot esculenta Crantz.), Dioscorea sp., Colocasia esculenta L., sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L. (Lam.), Ginger (Zingiber officinale L.) and local vegetables such as pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata Poir.), white gourd (Benincasa hispada Thunb.), coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.), soybean (Glycine max L. (Merr.), brinjal ( Solanum melongena Linn.), Solanum nigrum L., chilli pepper (Capsicum spp.), bitter gourd (Momordica charantia L.), tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum L.), and sesame (Sesamum indicum L.). Thus, jhumming provides varieties of indigenous food items throughout the year for traditional used such as ceremonies, occasions and celebrations. Moreover, due to the undulating hilly terrain, high rainfall, poor irrigation facilities and unavailability of plain land, the permanent type of settled agriculture or terrace cultivation was not much successful in this area. Hence, jhumming became the only alternative means for sustenance.
Rice field of Pongchau Village, Longding
Nonetheless, besides farming practices, the local people also generally get involved in other activities such as fishing, hunting and harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in order to satisfy their basic needs and demands. The entire traditional society in the district revolves around the practices of taboos, beliefs, folktales and legends. For instances, they perform many rituals during the time of sowing and harvesting within the family, among villagers and also in the entire community. Nonetheless, there are three major tribes and many sub-tribes in the district, the methods of farming and rituals performed during the cultivation of crops may vary slightly with the ethnic people and communities living in different villages with social, physical, environmental and climatic condition of that area.
People busy in harvesting of crops
Fully matured rice field
The agricultural system is totally rain-fed and depends on monsoon rain for its irrigation. Therefore, the cultivation of rice and other crops usually commenced in between last part of February and early March, so that the sufficient amount of rain water will be available for the seed to germinate. However, in winter season the fields are basically kept fallow till next summer is approaches to continue jhum cycle with the cultivation of paddy in next phase just after the harvesting of millets and other vegetables from the new field. Nonetheless, slashing of the vegetation of newly selected site is performed in winter i.e. in the month of October. For performing the farm operation both men and women labour power is used and with some local implements like digging stick, small hoe, dao (traditional sword), and axe etc. However, very recently besides jhumming few villages have started establishing and maintaining permanent tea garden and wet-rice cultivation on the plain lands.