Climate Change and Saving Agro-Biodiversity in Himalaya

Posted on November 15, 2010

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Recently, a new report – ‘Climate Change and India: A 4×4 Assessment in India’ released by Environment Ministry of Govt. of India, that states about providing an assessment of impact of climate change by 2030s, on four key sectors of the Indian economy; Agriculture, Water, Natural Ecosystems and Biodiversity and Health, in four climate sensitive regions of India including Himalaya. The details are available at: http://chimalaya.org/2010/11/17/report-climate-change-and-india-a-4×4-assessment-in-india/ .

Above report focused on production potential of various rain-fed crops and other allied agriculture production sectors. However, the report is not representatives of various important issues related to indigenous agro-biodiversity, water related processes and ecosystem functions from Himalayan region. This could be understood in a way, that, if our policy makers are not fully aware about relevant and important aspects of climatic vulnerabilities, the policy formulation process will certainly not incorporate the issues, so will the future planning activities.

Kelvin Watkins, the lead author of-Human Development Report 2007/08 ‘Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a divided world’- mentioned that, “the greater impact will be in the mountainous part of the world and on agriculture sector itself, on which majority of populations’ livelihood depends”.

In this context one of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s partners ‘Beej Bachao Andolan (Save the Seeds Movement) Link: http://beejbachaoandolan.org/ , is working since 1980s in Uttarakhand mountains of India. The initiative is lead by Mr. Vijay Jaddhari that drew links between the erosion of agricultural biodiversity and rural livelihoods in promoting traditional agriculture and crop varieties.

In this agro-biodiversity conservation initiative, the first step is to discontinue the cultivation of chemical-dependent seeds. To a casual onlooker the method of cultivation seemed like a maddening range of crops grown on a small piece of land. But what the farmers here are doing is avoiding monocultures. The method is called ‘barahnaja’ (12 grains), where a number of cereals and legumes are intercropped. The important aspect of this diversification is security against drought and crop failure, so climatic extremes. Different crops are harvested at different times of the year and ensure year-round supply of food. Due to its consistent efforts, today Beej Bachao Andolan-BBA http://beejbachaoandolan.org/ has diversification of about 100 varieties of paddy, 170 varieties of kidney beans, eight varieties of wheat, four varieties of barley and about a dozen varieties of pulses and oil seeds.

Following are the key work principles of BBA’s conservation initiative:

  • Value Traditional Knowledge and Wisdom that ensures sustained survival and well being of agriculture and people.
  • Practice Principles of Traditional Agriculture that maintain a balance between man, animal, plant, water, air and earth.
  • Preserve the Sociology of Traditional Agriculture that enables self-sufficiency, yet also inter-dependence within society, lending collective support to individual efforts.
  • Conserve Forests that provide food and fuel to the people, fodder to the cattle, fertilizer to the fields, and water to the springs and rivulets.
  • Conserve Biodiversity which cuts risks, enhances food security and promotes a healthy variety to life.
  • Prevent the Poisoning of the Earth, its denizens and life-support systems, from the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture.
  • Help People Wrest Control over natural resources for their common good.
  • Demand Legal Farmer Status for Women, the true keepers of holistic, sustainable agriculture.
  • Seek Recognition for small farmers in their capacity as providers to the nation.
  • Seek Scientist Status for Farmers who have tried, tested, improved upon and sustained the various facets of a healthy, sustainable agriculture through the history.
  • Seek Direct Representation of Farmers in policy decision making.

Mr Jaddhari has actively been protecting the biodiversity of the region through the ‘seeds movement’. According to him, “We tried to find native seeds… we kept searching for it. Finally, we met such farmers who do mixed farming”. This was a turning point in his search. Interestingly, it is the un-irrigated land, which is suitable for cultivation of Barahanaja; dalhan (a mix of ‘dal’ seeds), tilhan (a mix of oil-producing seeds). It is common to find fields left uncultivated after harvest, a natural way to enable it to regain fertility. In today’s milieu when the focus is to suck out the most from the land, this seems a misnomer. Barahanaja could be considered a good farming practice, for instance, to produce three crops in a year.

Now the mountain farmers have been plagued by problems and constraints of low productivity, erosion of soil nutrients, extreme poverty, and rapid environmental degradation. One of the major constraints in the mountains region seems related to lack of scientific technical knowhow, non availability of quality materials, lack of marketing facilities and lack of adequate processing industries, given the increased population size.

The judicious use of available small land holding for better productivity is one of the challenges in the region, which till early 1980s was not. As per the old practices in the western Himalayan Mountains; kitchen gardening practices, bio-waste, animal waste, available rain water from rainy season, household level bio degradable waste, animal husbandry practices, seed selection, agricultural practices, etc. were driven by customary knowledge and practices, and resources were used judiciously in harmony with nature.