CHITRANGADA CHOUDHURY – ANIKET AGA, counterpunch.org, 8 October 2019 | Read the full story here >>
Pirikaka is a Kondh Adivasi farmer in her 40s. Every year, for over two decades, she would prepare a hill slope for dongar chaas – literally, ‘mountain farming’ (shifting cultivation). Following traditions honed by the region’s farmers over centuries, Pirikaka would sow mixed plots of heirloom seeds which she had saved from family harvests the previous year. These would yield a basket of food crops: millets like mandia and kangu, pulses like pigeon pea and black gram, as well as traditional varieties of long beans, niger seeds and sesame.
This July, for the first time, Pirikaka switched to Bt cotton. That was the time we met her, sowing the dark pink, chemical-doused seeds on a hill slope at her village in Bishamakatak block. The penetration of cotton into the shifting cultivation practices of the Adivasis was striking, making us ask her about this switch. “Other crops like turmeric also give money,” admits Pirikaka. “But nobody is doing that. Everyone is leaving mandia [millet]… and going after cotton.” […]
Rayagada, with close to 1 million people, is a part of the Koraput region, one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots, and a historical area of rice diversification. A 1959 survey of the Central Rice Research Institute showed the region still had over 1,700 rice varieties at the time. It’s down to around 200 now. Some researchers believe it to be a birthplace of rice cultivation.
The Kondh Adivasis here, largely subsistence farmers, are known for their sophisticated practices of agro-forestry. Even today, many Kondh families across the region’s emerald-green terraced fields and mountainside farms, cultivate a dizzying array of paddy and millet varieties, pulses and vegetables. Surveys by Living Farms, a non-profit in Rayagada, have recently documented 36 millet varieties and 250 forest foods.
Most Adivasi farmers here work on individual or common property farms ranging from 1 to 5 acres in size.
Their seeds are largely nurtured and shared within the community, using almost no synthetic fertilisers or other agri-chemicals (also called agro-chemicals).
Yet, cotton has become the second-most cultivated crop in Rayagada after paddy, overtaking millets – the premier traditional food crops of the region. It covers a fifth of the 428,947 acres under cultivation in this district. Cotton’s swift expansion is reshaping this land and people steeped in agro-ecological knowledge. […]
“The traditional knowledge of farm-related as well as non-farm occupations are rapidly disappearing,” he said. In village after village, there is no potter, no carpenter, no weaver. All household goods are bought from the market, and most of these – from the pitcher to the mat – are made of plastics, imported from faraway towns. Bamboos have disappeared from most villages, and with them bamboo crafts. They are now substituted by wood from the forest and expensive concrete. Even for erecting a pole or making a fence, villagers have to cut trees from the forest. The more people depend on the market due to the lure of profit, the more the environment degrades.” […]