Restoring traditional farming methods to meet food security

New Delhi, June 7 (IANS) Maharashtra’s Korku tribe stores grain with dried neem leaves, while the Konda Savara tribe of Andhra Pradesh has an irrigation system where water is diverted through pipes made of banana trunks. These are some examples of local wisdom sustaining agriculture, which will now be backed by a specialised UN agency.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is a specialised agency working to improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition and food security for all.

‘We need to preserve traditional agricultural practices if we want to ensure food security,’ says FAO land and water division director Parviz Koohafkan.

The Rome-based director was in Delhi last week to attend a workshop on tribal heritage agricultural techniques.

‘Agriculture heritage is similar to the world heritage sites of Unesco. Twelve countries have already joined and now India is also joining,’ Koohafkan told IANS.

Koohafkan is the coordinator for Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), which identify traditional agricultural systems as heritage and preserves them.

India last week joined the GIAHS aiming to identify and preserve its traditional agriculture forms.

Globally, several systems of traditional agriculture have been given special status by the FAO identifying them as ‘heritage systems’.

In the Andean ranges of Peru, potato is cultivated at an altitude of over 2,000 metres without a greenhouse. Rows of water canals run along intermediate rows of potato plantation absorbing heat during the day and keeping the crop warm during the night.

Similarly in China, the traditional practice of cultivating fish in rice fields was coming to an end due to increased use of fertiliser when a GIAHS initiative restored it.

‘These are regions of outstanding biodiversity that reflect the natural evolution of farming and may help provide natural solutions to climate change in the future,’ Koohafkan said.

India, which attained self-sufficiency in food production after the green revolution in the 1960s, has already taken steps towards framing a bill for ensuring food security.

However, Koohafkan feels that this is not possible without preserving the traditional forms of cultivation.

‘Green revolution has been successful in India, but the environmental degradation cannot be ignored. The crops need more fertiliser and water. The green revolution has survived mainly on subsidies. It has also added to the social problems, we have invested in good land and ignored the poor land,’ he said, adding that carrying both together is the need of the hour.

Orissa’s Koraput region, India’s first candidate for GIAHS status, has been nominated for the variety of rice, millet, pulses, and medicinal plants developed using traditional cultivation practices by tribal groups.

The Kuttanad region of Kerala, where cultivation is done below sea level has also been proposed for the status.

India is now planning to formulate a strategy for preserving its traditional agriculture forms.

‘This is the first step, we still have to make the road map,’ G.B. Mukherjee, secretary in the ministry of tribal affairs, told IANS.

‘These systems have sustained agriculture through centuries and they are likely to survive in the next century also. We need to tell the tribals you have something special,’ Mukherjee added.

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at anjali.o@ians.in)

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