Issue at hand

Science needs to come home -- scientists need to address the concerns of the local communities

Published: Thursday 31 May 2001

Issue at hand

Create a scientific community that can interact with farmers and, on the basis of their study, draft a knowledge database, suggests Ramakrishnan. He feels government agencies should wake up to the unsuccessful trials and adopt better alternatives, "which can be conducted after an extensive study with good background data." He recommends an integrated approach that takes into account traditional ecological knowledge as well as socioeconomic and the socio-cultural issues. ngo s can play an active role in motivating the public. "Unfortunately, there are not many ngo s in the northeast," says Ramakrishnan. A M Gokhale, the brain behind neped , former chief secretary of Nagaland, and now additional secretary to the Union ministry of environment and forest, and is optimistic about icar 's work as scientists have realised that their methods are not working. "Fifteen years ago, people would not care to listen. The good news is that they are starting to do so now," Ramakrishnan explains, "It is slowly penetrating and a few scientists and policymakers are showing some interest."

ICAR's suggestions
A Singh suggests alternatives like watershed-based farming along with livestock rearing and planting of long duration timber crops: "If the farmer is employed elsewhere, his trees will give him good returns." Other suggestions include agroforestry, horticulture and jhum . Another suggestion is a three-tier system in which agricultural practices are carried out on the lower portion of the slope with support of bench terraces as conservation measures. Horticulture takes place at the mid portion of the slope with support of contour bunds and half-moon terraces and, finally, agroforestry is carried out at the topmost portion of the slope with support of contour bunds. Singh is highly supportive of this option.

The only aspect that has caught on in the region is agroforestry. What happened to the others? Singh says one of the reasons is that they are models not meant for farmers but for the scientists to research and develop better systems for the future. Perhaps it's time that icar looks closer to home, looks at the common sense of the past before announcing another blueprint for the future but fails to deliver it.

Scherr suggests a range of approaches suitable for farming systems of different land-use intensity. In areas where land availability is high but labour is scarce, an effective way to control erosion is to leave contour strips of natural vegetation unploughed -- a practice common in Southeast Asia. Small-scale hillside farmers producing intensively for the market would find it more attractive to cultivate economically useful plants as live contour barriers. "Technologies that increase productivity or reduce the costs of conservation practices, and good market prices for farm products can encourage land-improving investments," she suggests. More secure land ownership or access rights (not necessarily formal title) will make it more attractive for farmers to make long-term investments in land and forest resources.

In most developing countries, the number of hillside farmers will continue to increase for some time, says Scherr. Even as economies grow and urbanise, hillside farming will be essential for food security during periods of economic slowdown. For the poor who depend on hillside resources raise their productivity is a sure way to alleviate poverty. As transport infrastructure improves, the diverse microenvironments in hillside farms can help diversify economies and diets by producing crop and tree products not available elsewhere, Scherr underlines: "Sustainable farming systems can be an integral part of landscapes that also protect the flow of critical water resources and other environmental services, both to local people and to downstream users."

With the United Nations designating 2002 as the "International Year of the Mountains", Ives feels that the condition of the hillside people will improve worldwide. That this will assist the intelligent, adaptive, inventive, yet poverty-driven hill farmers and graziers. That it will facilitate the necessary blending of indigenous knowledge and appropriate science and technology."

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.