Adverse farming conditions have resulted in a novel adaptation of slash and burn agriculture in Manipur -- floating paddy cultivation. Residents of Thanga village and other areas surrounding the Loktak lake have developed a method of growing paddy in the lake waters to counter paucity of arable land.
Floating masses of water grass are collected at an identified place in about 0.25 ha. The floating mass is one to two m thick. Grass leaves rising above the water are burnt. The young grass that sprouts again is then cut with a knife. This is left to decay along with the ash, which forms a rich organic soil-like layer over a period of time.
Young paddy plants raised in nurseries are then transplanted. "Yields per hectare match those from conventional field," claims O K Singh, anthropologist at D M College of Science, Imphal, Manipur.
Such floating fields can be used continuously for three years, after which the floating grass loses its fertility and becomes thin. The floating field is simply overturned and the roots allowed to decay to improve fertility. Or another field is prepared. The availability of water allows all round cultivation. The crop is transported to the village in canoes.
Villagers have improved upon their technique to allow double-cropping. The system is not without problems though. The crop is vulnerable to attack from rodents and birds and cannot be controlled from land. Villagers live in floating huts to protect their fields.
"If scientific inputs are put into reducing the labour involved and improving yields, life would be so much easier for them," says Singh. "This is probably the first case where paddy is cultivated on floating fields. The practice could be extended to other uncultivable and inundated areas," he adds.
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