The Wisdom of Traditional Farming
Many farmers in Meghalaya still use indigenous farming methods and techniques developed over centuries, like using natural manures and growing mixed crops that complement one another. The inputs, irrigation systems, farm equipment and tools etc are largely traditional, manufactured with indigenous raw materials. Time and again this strategy ensured steady and sustainable yields, and has remained fail-safe and gentle on the environment. It is only in recent times that this wisdom of traditional farming is being edged out by modern “scientific” methods. However, many farmers like Bah Khongji, who you will meet in this story, still stick to tradition.
Meet Bah Khongji, a Traditional Farmer
As Zizira explorers, we visited the farm of Bah Khongji of Ri-Bhoi district in March, 2017. What we saw greatly amazed us.
It wasn’t a huge farm, just one hectare or so and mostly sloping, even steep in parts. It was entirely laid up with ‘buns’, which are raised seed-beds, ready for planting.
A bun is a bench terrace constructed by the ‘cut and hill’ method, usually on slopes. Dead and decaying plant matter are piled up into benches or mounds and topped with earth cut from the sides. Buns are usually set alight to smoulder slowly for about two to three weeks. The soil then transforms into a fine, ashy and excellent loam for plants. Buns also help conserve moisture and soil nutrients as well safely drain away excess run-off”, said Bah Khongji.
Bah Khonji — Lets Nature Do the Composting
The buns in Bah Khongji’s farm were raised just after the previous harvest, which was in the month of November/December, but not set alight. They were left to compost naturally. That was the big difference between him and many other farmers of the region. During the next 5-6 months’ process of natural composting nothing was sown and the land was left fallow. Not burning the Bun piles greatly favoured millions of earth creatures, i.e., microbes and other insects, to take over the task of natural composting.
By April the plant matter in the buns would have gently transformed into fine, rich humus, fully composted and ready for planting. No further addition of manure of any kind is required, like in burnt buns. Bah Khongji’s traditional method was a fine example of letting Nature do its own fertilizing.
Bah Khongji plans to grow ginger in his farm land. Planting would start by the beginning of April and finish by mid-April, before the rains. Weeding is done once a month. By November the crop becomes harvestable. It is from traditional farmers like these that Zizira procures the produce that go into its products.
Seeding Material for Next Harvest – Follows a Natural Process
Seeding material, which are but the carefully selected rhizomes from a harvest, are stored in a natural environment. We saw a thatched hut in his field where Bah Khongji stored the rhizomes. “The storage area must be cool and dry”, he said. We noticed nice, succulent ginger in the hut. The farmer also dug up some ginger from the ground nearby, to show it to us. These were the unsold ones, stored underground, and loosely covered with twigs and straw.
Unsold Stored Underground
We learnt that low-price was the reason that a lot of ginger was not sold. In the previous season the market was very bad, according to him. Rather than lose money Bah Khongji chose to retain the ginger rhizomes underground, to sell later.
Keeping them underground keeps the ginger rhizomes from rotting. To retain freshness, they must not be washed, or exposed to moisture, we are told. Only the ones to be sold are first washed.
Other Crops being Tried
We pointed to clumps of bushes all over the field. Bah Khongji told us they were tapioca. He intended to plant more, along the borders, and across his fields on the slopes as it helps combat soil erosion. He plans to grow yam too, planting them at the head and tail ends of the buns. There’s a good demand for yam and tapioca, we learnt.
Bah Khongji’s technique is quite remarkable indeed. He uses no chemicals and burns no fields. He synergizes with Nature in letting microscopic and macroscopic organisms break down organic matter into perfect and complete plant food. Is this is not an extremely sustainable method of farming? At the same time gentle and harmless to the environment. And significantly inexpensive. What do you think?
Zizira’s Continued Quest
Across the globe, awareness about natural and safe food is growing. Governments now acknowledge the strengths and sustainability of organic, natural and traditional agricultural practices and methods. Every State Department of Agriculture in India now has Organic Mission and Sustainable Agriculture on its agenda. Yet our farmer-friends, with traditional wisdom, are still scrounging the earth to make ends meet, waiting to be acknowledged and rewarded for their services to mankind. It is to discover these unsung farmer-heroes that Zizira carries on the quest. Would you like to know more about these friends? Be a discoverer yourself and follow our blog.