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Saturday, January 28, 2012

An innovation in agriculture by Angami Tribals of Nagaland

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So far, we are well acquainted that the leguminous plants are able to fix nitrogen of the atmosphere as they host Nitrogen Fixing bacteria called as Rhizobium in their root nodules. Have you ever heard of a non- leguminous tree that possesses nitrogen fixing bacteria in it its root nodules? The first strange thing that comes to our way is that even a non- leguminous plant can have nodules on its roots; and the second strange thing is the act of Nitrogen Fixation by such a plant or tree.

Image : The Alder Tree

Well, it is true. There is a tree called as Alder i.e. Alnus nepalensis, which extensively grows in Himalayas and that it is a non- leguminous tree, and that it contains root nodules that host nitrogen fixing bacteria. The Angami, Chakhasang, Chang, Yimchounger, and Konyak tribes of Nagaland identified the property of alder tree many- many years ago and started planting it in their Jhoom- Cultivation plots.

Since it had been very difficult for slope dwelling tribal farmers of Nagaland to leave their traditional system of cultivation, they remained trying to stabilize it at lower cycles and to make it environment friendly. The tribal people living in Knononome or the Khonoma village finally succeeded in finding out a viable solution. They learnt the nitrogen fixing property of the alder tree. They started growing crops of maize, millets, potatoes, chilies, pumpkins and barley etc. by enhancing soil fertility by planting alder trees in their Jhoom plots. Alder grows well in the altitude ranging from 800 to 3000m.Besides improving soil fertility for growing crops, alder tree also supplies timber, furniture and fuel wood.

The alder tree is chopped or pollarded within a period of 6 to 8 years after which the trunk sprouts into new and delicate shoots that are called as coppices. After proper pollarding, one alder tree is capable of giving birth to 100 to 200 coppices but only five to six coppices are left for regeneration. Rest of the coppices are cut and mixed into the soil along with their leaves that forms very good manure for the soil and future crop. The cultivation of crops is done after chopping the alder tree till the new branches come out and develop good coppices within a period of two to three years. After that, a new plot with alder trees is selected for cultivation. Thus the trend set by the people of tribal villages, especially the Angamis who are masters of cutting excellent terraces, shows that traditional systems are extremely important even in the current age of science and technology. The Ecological rationality of traditional practices still remains valid in the present context. Here one point needs special reference -

One of the prime goals of the alder plantation project in Nagaland, is to bring women into the process of Agricultural decision making while augmenting their traditional roles as farm labourers.Now, Angami women in Khonoma are preparing their own nurseries of alder saplings. Afterwards, the Nagaland Environmental Protection and Economic Development (NEPED) project was started for the development of this type of farming using alder trees by the assistance of the Canadian International Development Agency through the Indian Canada Environment Facility.

Key Words : Angami Tribals,Nagaland, alder, NEPED

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