By Devasis Sarangi
The Prime Minister of India declared the status of GIAHS status to Koraput, Odisha conferred by FAO, a UN organization, on 3rd January 2012 in the 99th Science Congress held in Bhubaneswar.
Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) are defined as “Remarkable land use systems and landscapes which are rich in globally significant biological diversity evolving from the co-adaptation of a community with its environment and its needs and aspirations for sustainable development".
Pilot systems and sites selected for project implementation by FAO currently are:
1. Andean Agriculture (Peru)
2. Chiloé Agriculture (Chile)
3. Ifugao Rice Terraces (Philippines)
4. Oases of the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia)
5. Rice-Fish Agriculture (China)
6. Hani Rice Terraces System (China)
7. Wannian traditional rice culture system (China)
8. Maasai Pastoral System (Kenya, Tanzania)
9. Noto, Satoyama and Satoumi (Japan)
10. Sado, Satoyama (Japan)
Traditional Agriculture in the Koraput Region (Odisha – India) was added to this list, the first one from India, in this important list by FAO.
The other candidates systems under consideration are:
• Milpa-Solar Systems (Mexico)
• Chinampa Agricultural System (Mexico)
• Lemon Gardens (Southern Italy)
• Traditional Agro-Ecosystems in the Carpathians Region
• Soppina Bettas Systems (Western Ghats – India)
• Qanat Irrigation Systems and Home gardens (Iran)
• Qashqai Nomadic Pastoralism (Iran)
• Wewe Irrigation System (Sri Lanka)
Where Koraput Region and what is its characteristics?
Koraput is a high land plateau with a number of hills and hillocks forming part of the Eastern Ghats in Odisha, India.
The altitude here ranges between 150 and 1500 metres above mean sea level. Mean average, annual rainfall is 1521 mm, giving it a potentially productive agro climate. Forest types range from semi-evergreen to dry deciduous. The whole area is drained by five major rivers namely Vansadhara, Nagavali, Indravati, Kolab and Mackanad and several tributaries and small perennial streams.
The district has the highest population growth in the state. Koraput is primarily a tribal district; more than 70% of the total population belongs to one of the district's 52 tribal groups. Some of the numerically large tribes in the district are Khond, Bhatada, Paroja, Bhumia, Bondas, etc.
Koraput region is endowed with impressive biodiversity. The Jeypore tract (undivided old Koraput district), is conceived by rice researchers a centre of genetic diversity and secondary center of origin of rice.
The topographic diversity of the Koraput region has resulted in a wide diversity in ecosystems under which rice is cultivated: upland (unbunded as well as bunded), medium land (irrigated and rain fed) or low land condition.
Within each ecosystem, innumerable rice varieties are grown depending on the local preferences for morphological characters (such as plant height, pigmentation of plant parts, grain shape and size, presence of awns) or cultural practices such as broadcasting, transplanting, food preparations (such as cooked rice, popped rice, puffed rice), palatability (aromatic or non-aromatic, etc.).
The official net sown area is around 25% of the total area of the region and is concentrated in plateaus and the wide river valleys. In the hilly areas however, permanently cultivated fields can be as low as 10% of the landscape. 33% of the cultivated area is irrigated; paddy occupies around fifty percent of the cultivated lands. Upland paddy and ragi (finger millet) are cultivated on around one third of the cultivated area.
To supplement their income and sustain their livelihood, people depend on forest produce for fuel wood, material for construction of their houses, agricultural implements, timber and medicinal herbs. The tribal population depends on the low value non timber forest produces for their subsistence. They manage food from different forest produces including roots, tamarind, tamarind seeds, leaves, jackfruits and seeds, and mango stones.
The hill forests are used as agricultural fields by the tribal groups who practice slash and burn agriculture, which is also called shifting cultivation or locally “Podo” cultivation.
Significant use of the indigenous knowledge system by the tribal can be seen in their various agricultural practices.
Considering the ecological limitations, tribal use the lands in the best way. This is also reflected in their food habit. Tribal on the hilly area take more minor millets compared to the tribal of the plain.
Using their indigenous knowledge they take the viability test for seeds before sowing, maintain the soil fertility and conserve the landraces of rice and other crops. This knowledge has been transmitted from generation to generation among the family members.
The “Sacred Grove” is an effective method of preserving plant genetic resources. It is a biological heritage as well as social mechanism by which a forest patch is protected. The concept of “sacred grove” is found deep rooted in the minds of different communities irrespective of their geographical locations. Even today some forest patches are left to local deities as a traditional custom.
With large-scale destruction and rapidly dwindling forest cover; in the Koraput district, it is highly noteworthy that in a large number of villages, the local communities have initiated the process of protection of degraded forest patches and allowed them to regenerate. This process of community initiated protection and management of degraded forestlands started since the early 1970ies. Amidst vast degraded landscape, one can see luxuriant tree growth. In addition, a large number of sacred groves in their primeval form are distributed throughout the Koraput district.
The agro biodiversity recorded in the region includes:
• 340 landraces of paddy, (24 aromatic, 27 flood resistant, 2 deep water and 1 drought resistant and some others are having characters like insect/ pest resistant, puffing quality, etc.)
• 8 species of minor millets,
• 9 species of pulses,
• 5 species of oil seeds,
• 3 species of fibrous plants,
• 7 species of vegetables
The tribal groups have rich traditional knowledge about forest species too. They identify and use plants for food, fodder, firewood, medicine, etc. for their subsistence.
The Jeypore area is rich in genetic resources of medicinal plants: more than 1200 medicinal plant species are available in this area. Some of the endemic medicinal plant species of the region are used for curing different diseases like gastrointestinal disorders, malaria fever, bone fracture, etc.
The Bio Diversity is unfathomable:
The region is a reservoir of rich floristic diversity consisting of about 2500 species of flowering plants, angiosperms, well known gymnosperms and 30 species of ferns. Due to isolation and physical barriers, nearly 4 percent endemism in the plant species has been reported in the region. About 79 plant angiosperm species and one gymnosperm are endemic and spread over 58 genera and 25 families, Fabaceae and Acanthaceae being the dominant families.
Studies carried out by the Botanical survey of India and National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources reveal that there is a rich assemblage of species useful for:
food: Amaraphophallus, Borassus, Cajanus, Caralluma, Cinnamommum, Citrus, Curcuma, Discoria, Glycine, Lablab, Limonia, Luffa, Mangifera, Momocardia, Musa, Oryza, Phylanthus, Phoenix, Piper, Rumex, Rubus, Sesamum, Setaria, Solanum, Sorghum, Syzygium, Zinziber etc.;
timber: Boswellia, Chloroxylon, Gmelina, Hardwichia, Pittisporum, Polyalthia, Shorea, Toona, Zanthozylum etc.;
medicinal purpose: Aegle, Caesalpinia, Costrus, Cissus, Embellica, Gymnea, Hypericum, Piper, Pogostemon, Psychortia, Rouvolfia. Sarcostomma, Solanum, Strychnos, Terminalia, Tinospora, Tylophora, Vanda etc.;
horticultural and ornamental value: Argyria, Bauhinia, Clematis, Cyanotis, Cycas, Dysophylla, Habenaria, Hardwickia, Oleo etc. and
fibre: Crotolaria and Decaschistia.
Rice is the predominant crop in the Jeypore area –both in terms of land as well as in terms of production. More than 40% of the land is under paddy cultivation. The other crops grown are maize, finger millet (Eleusine coracana), green gram (Vigna radiata), black gram (Vigna mungo), mustard (Brassica juncea), sesame (Sesamum orientale), groundnut (Arachis hypogea), etc. The tribal people in the hills grow minor millets, littlemillet (Panicum miliaceum), foxtail millet (Staria italica), niger (Guizotia abyssinica), pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) and horse gram (Dolichos biflorus), etc.
What support will accrue to Koraput, thereby Odisha, for being conferred this status by FAO?
FAO will make interventions at three distinct levels:
• At the Global level, it will facilitate international recognition of the concept of GIAHS wherein globally significant agrobiodiversity is harboured, and it will consolidate and disseminate lessons learned and best practices from project activities at the pilot country level.
• At the National level in pilot countries, the project will ensure mainstreaming of the GIAHS concept in national sectoral and inter-sectoral plans and policies.
• At the Local/Site level in pilot countries, the project will address conservation and adaptive management at the community level.
Objectives of FAO for the GIAHS recognized sites are:
• Enhancing the benefits derived by local populations and indigenous peoples from management, conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity and natural resources;
• Adding economic value and sharing derived benefits from these systems; enhancing food security and alleviating poverty while maintaining ecosystem goods and services of traditional agricultural systems
• Improving awareness and education among government agencies, local authorities and communities, and other stakeholders;
• Demonstrating “local livelihood benefits – global environmental benefits linkages” through agro-ecosystem approaches across government agencies, local communities, indigenous peoples and private sector;
• Guarantee that the right to adequate food is realized by ensuring that every man, woman and child, in the target communities, have the physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement;
• Disseminating key best practices and lessons learnt between implementing agencies, recipient communities and countries locally, regionally and on a global scale.
Who will be the beneficiaries?
Major target beneficiaries will be local traditional family farming communities and indigenous people read small scale traditional farmers and herders of course.
Special emphasis will be placed on the specific roles of women including youth as custodians and beneficiaries of biodiversity and as protagonists of household food security.
Also Organizations that can be partners in the process of promoting alternative livelihood systems, markets and trade in the selected countries will be beneficiaries i.e. farmers’ organisations & local community based civil organisations, customary institutions – provide legitimate decision-making structures & regulatory functions according to customary law), local traditional and civic leadership systems,NGOs, national research institutes, international institutes, government ministries, local governments.
The forest was once upon a time very rich in Sal, Peasal, Teak, Sisoo, Baja, Mohul, Bamboo, etc. However, during the last few decades, there has been a rapid increase in the deforestation rate leading to large scale degradation of forests. In 1960, the district had more than 65% of the total area under forest cover, but in 1990 it has come down to less than 30%. Indiscriminate collection has led to a severe depletion of bio resources including many unique land races and medicinal plants.
The people are facing challenges of unemployment and poverty. The majority of the people of these villages are tribal and illiterate. The family size is often large and the average farm holding is small. The socio-economic indicators in the area are comparable to the worst in the world with the percentage of people below the poverty line ranging from 72% to 83%, compared to 47% for Orissa and 26% for India. Unlike the rest of Orissa and India, the poverty incidence in this area has increased in the last two decades.
During 1955-60, the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack (India) collected about 1,800 landraces of rice. In a similar effort during 1995-96 made by MSSRF, only about 350 land races of rice could be collected from the same area. This indicates the rate of loss of genetic diversity in a span of forty years. The area, therefore, made an excellent case for ecosystem approach to agricultural biodiversity conservation and management.
Effort locally before Koraput got GIAHS?
In 1994, an initiative was taken to give recognition to the efforts of farmers as conservers and cultivators, resulting in the formulation of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act 2001 (PPVFR)
In addition to acknowledging the important role played by farmers as cultivators, it also recognizes the role of tribal and rural farming women and men as conservers and enhancers of agro-biodiversity, and legally provides for their recognition and monetary reward.
The PPVFR Act allows temporary ownership rights on plant varieties to those who have developed them, including farmers or a community of farmers.
The biodiversity Act 2002 establishes sovereign right over biological resources, it seeks to promote their conservation and sustainable use and gives an entitlement for equitable sharing of benefits from commercialization of biodiversity or associated traditional knowledge to those communities, who had conserved or created it.
What are the expected benefits from this status to the region and the State?
1. Jeypore tract being the center of origin and genetic diversity of rice would drawn the attention of rice biosystematics, geneticists and conservationists. This would not only boost research but also educational and eco-tourism for the State.
2. The place would again gain importance with regard to farmer's rights and on-farm conservation, which are new dimensions of genetic resources conservation.
3. Large repository of medicinal plant resources can also be beneficially used for economic empowerment of tribal and rural communities.
4. High yields from local landraces of rice having been established, their cultivation will now be encouraged for sale in the market both nationally and internationally. Value addition products like flavoured puffed rice other attractive food items would soon emerge.
5. Awareness about market demand for local landraces with special characteristics like fragrance, taste, and medicinal properties would get highlighted. Farm families would then be encouraged to take up organic farming, which would reduce the need for expensive purchased inputs and lead to a renewal of interest in the cultivation of native varieties.
6. The area under local landraces would increase. Marketing of local landraces, medicinal plants and organic cultivation would have an impact on local incomes of the farmers.
7. Scope to further production of seeds and grain of Kalajeera rice and marketing under a brand name.
8. The healing system of the Jeypore area is apart from the Indian traditional medicinal system. Bio prospecting of such precious germplasm is likely to lead to the development of new drugs.
9. School of Biodiversity & Conservation of Natural Resources of the Central University of Koraput would become the epitome of research for these precious bio diverse valuables.
10. Odisha would be in the world map of biodiversity preserves and could see the development of a genetic heritage park of international scale.
11. Connectivity to the region is bound to improve with traffic figures now making it financially viable and the Kashmir of Odisha would regain its lost heritage.
Hopefully a day will come when the region would have access back to more than 1800 landraces, which CRRI had collected in the late fifties, and FAO will help us regain and preserve this heritage for our next generations.
Author: Devasis Sarangi, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org