02 October 2014

Women, Environment, and Sustainable Development

A study of  Women among Sumi Community of Nagaland - Page 4

Women and the New Ecological Paradigm in Agriculture

As  discussed  earlier  in  the  introductory  part  of  the  present work,  traditional  agriculture  also called  jhum  or  shifting  also called  slash  and  burn  cultivation  resulted  in  rampant exploitation of  the  forest  land  leading  to  land  degradation, deforestation,  soil  erosion,  pollution  of  water, health complications with increased use of artificial fertilizers.

In the contemporary  times,  modern amenities  have  reached  the remote  corner  of  the  village betraying  its  rural  location  and economy.  Population  pressures,  food  demand  coupled  with adaptation  to  advanced  lifestyles and modern forces,  the  local poor  no  longer  remain  self-sufficient  with  hand  to  mouth existence.

This  has  lead  to  trigger  their  conscious  being  of making  the  best  of  what  they  own  with  more  judicious  and meticulous  efforts  giving  more  of  a  picture  of  survival  of  the
fittest  in  their  attempt  to  upgrade  themselves  socioeconomically  with  changing  times.  Agro-pastoralism  as  their mainstay and high dependence on forest and forest products as the  only  source  of  livelihood  options  for  women,  they  brought about  new  ecological  paradigm  in  Agriculture  in  the  form  of Modern Organic Farming and Vermiculture/Vermicompost.

Organic  Farming:  Organic  farming  is  a  technique  of farming  to  achieve  high  quality  yields  without  harming  the natural  environment  or  the  people  who  live  and  work  in  it. Modern organic farming is not entirely a new technique in itself but  it  is  a  new  concept  of  agriculture  which  does  not  work without  incorporation  of  local  indigenous  knowledge.  Soil structure  and  soil  fertility  is  given  major  emphasis  for  which several techniques are employed such as seasonal crop rotation, mixed  cropping,  crop  and  animal  wastes,  mulching,  animal husbandry,  increasing  genetic  diversity,  good  cultivation practices,  natural  pesticides,  careful  management  of  water sources, Crop nutrition, weed control, Pit compost etc .

Sensing increasing  issues  of  environmental  deterioration,  organic farming  was  first  introduced  in  the  village  by  one  educated woman belonging to same village but reside in far off town who had  acquired  degree  and  training  in  modern  application  of organic  farming.  Bearing  in  mind  the  nurturing  capacity  and inherent knowledge of women she organized them into several groups  and  trained  them  in  organic  farming  in  collaboration with their  indigenous knowledge.  Each  group  has  about  15  to 25  members  namely  Akumto  group,  Topuvi  group,  Tokulu group,  Xakulu  group, etc. All the members of each group work on  their  common  field  which  is  taken  on  rent  from  the  local land owners, or village council. Some groups work in more than one field depending on their group strength, availability of field land and labor. For the present paper although all the groups were interviewed and their agricultural field sites were visited, focus was given on 2 to 3 groups for deriving case studies.

Case Study 1 
Akumto Organic Group: The name of the group implying itself as “Strong/ Strength”,  this  group  emerged  as  the  most  dynamic  of  the  entire  existing  group  with  active participation in training programme, exhibition, cultural festival, agricultural events, and fete day both at the local as well as the national level. A group of 15 women all married of different age groups ranging from 30 to 60 (approx); they have their own executive  bodies  elected  with  collective  decisions.  The  chairman  takes  initiatives  of the  activities  such  as  group  meeting,  training,  welfare  programme,  supply  of  food crops  and  vegetables  etc.  she  acts  as  the  head  of  the  group  and  any  decision concerning the group activities is finalized by her.

The banker takes  responsibility of  hosting group meeting and discussion at her place. All the property of the group such as  utensils,  agricultural  implements,  files  and  document,  machines,  essential  food items  etc  rest  under  her  care.  The  finance  secretary  deals  with  the  finance  of  the group.  She  maintains  register  on  group  expenditure  and  income.  She  also  takes responsibility  of  group  bank  account  of  deposition  and  withdrawal.  Fund,  prize money,  donations  etc,  is also  taken  care  by  the  finance  secretary.   Initiated  by  the local educated women to combat the environmental crisis, these organic groups do not fall  under  Government  recognition  and  so  they  do  not  receive  any  loan  or compensation  from  the  local  Government.

However,  with  their  painstaking  efforts and labor they receive timely appreciation and financial aid from Government official,  Affluent  personalities,  Political  leaders,  and  local  leaders  etc  who  notice  their contribution  in  the  environmental  fronts.  They  have  also  showcase  their  organic products on  many  occasions  and  represented  their  village,  community,  district  and their state at the national level. In the earlier times of subsistence agriculture based on jhum cultivation, the food production was excess for household consumption and was not sufficient to sell in the market. What little they could save was sold in the nearby town or village proximity to generate humble income for their immediate use. But with organic farming they now not  only  supply  organic  food  crops  to neighboring  towns  and  cities  but  also  to different state of the country due to its high demand. Due to high quality yield it has more price value than the conventional food crops and therefore they generate a good source of income for themselves. With economic benefits the group has opened a joint account in which they deposit money every month as a security for themselves. They have also purchased grinding machines, drying machines, and other essential items needed  for  processing  and  preserving  seasonal  food  items  which  they  export  it  to different  places  adding  to  their  sources  of  income.

Organic  farming  not  only  helps them  in  achieving  their  environmental  theme  but  also  gives  them  economic opportunities to generate their own income. Economic independence enhances their self-worth and increases their bargaining power within the household as well as the village  or  the  social  level.  It  also  provides  them  a  source  of  economic  security  for situation  like  death,  divorce,  or  separation  since  they  do  not  have  any  control  or power  over  land  and  property.  Working  in  group  also  enhances  social  solidarity among  the  women  and  prepares  them  to  confront  any  social  evils  or  conflicts  that target the women in general.
---End of Case Study 1 --

Vermiculture/Vermicompost:  Vermiculture implies rearing and cultivation of earthworms  and using them in manufacturing of vermicompost  replacing  chemical  fertilizers  aimed  for  the betterment  of  human  beings.  Vermicompost  is  the  excreta  of earthworms which involve rigorous process of collecting organic wastes, variety of plants, cow dung, water etc and allowing the worms to feed on it and give its excreta as the end product. It takes  about  6  to  8  months  to  harvest  the  matured  compost. Earthworms  not  only  convert  organic  materials  into  valuable manure  but  it  also  keeps  the  environment  healthy  and chemicals-free.  Vermicompost  as  an  ecofriendly  natural fertilizer  free  of  chemical  inputs  does  not  have  any  adverse effect on soil, plant and environment but it rather improves soil aeration and soil texture. It also helps in water retention of the soil  because  of  its  high  organic  content  and  enhances  soil nutrients. The worms are cultured in a plastic tank, makeshift box, tub, pit etc away from direct sunlight to allow the natural process of decomposition to take its course. Watering at regular intervals is required to maintain its moisture level.

Case Study 2
Akumto organic group: The concept of vermiculture/Vermicompost was first introduced to  the  women  by  agriculture  department  through  whom  they  purchased  a  packet  of earthworms for 500 rupees. They also received training from agriculture department on types  of  vegetation  to  be  used, quantity of  water,  cow dung,  and  other  precautionary measures to be taken. Initiated in 2009 they have harvested about 7 to 8 times till date. It  is  a  rigorous  process  which  takes  about  6  to  8  months  to  attain  its  full  maturity.

 Cultivation is done in a makeshift plastic tank measuring 12 ft length, 6 ft breadth and 5ft  in  height  provided  by  the  Agriculture  Department  for  they  do  not  own  a  land  to construct a permanent cement tank. A tin roof is constructed over the tank with wooden walls in all the four sides to keep away from direct sunlight. They begin the process by collecting several baskets of green leafy vegetation, soft grasses, tree leaves, and other local plants, slash the collected vegetations into pieces and spread them in the tank as the  base.  A  mixture  of  cow  dung  and  water  is  spread  over  the  base  followed  by scattering the earthworms over the bed. After this they covered the tank with jute bag and supply a large quantity of water into the tank. The jute bags allows the water to penetrate deep inside steadily without disrupting the arranged layers and enables the earthworms  to  come  in  contact with  the  mixtures  to  start  its  action  of  ingestion  and decomposition.  They  feed  on  the  mixture,  defecate  it  as  manures.

Regular  supply  of water is carried out, say 4 to 6 bucket twice a week to maintain the moisture level. This process  continues  till  the  mixture  level  shrinks  down  after  which  they  put  another
batch  of  slashed  leafs  and  plants  with  cow  dung.  This  action  is  repeated  again  and
again until the tank is filled. The water supply is cut short after 3 or 5 months to allow the mixture to settle down and dry out naturally with balanced moisture. In the due course  of  these  process,  the  number  of  worms  multiples  and  continues  the  cycle  of reproduction. In the 7 or 8 month the mixture is confirmed for harvesting by checking whether  it  contains  few  or  no  scraps  of  uneaten  food  or  bedding.

 The  process  of harvesting  is  time  consuming,  increased  labor,  and  involves  lots  of  precautions  to separate out the worms which have multiplied over the time for use in the next cycle. The excreta as the end product is harvested and spread over a large plastic/cane mat,
and left to dry in the  sun. They store the collected earthworms in a bucket filled with moist mud to maintain its moisture level. After drying they handpicked the stalk, twig, and other undigested remnants from the mixture and the separated manure is filtered out using sieve. The final filtered manure obtained is of high quality which is utilized for growing organic crops in their field. The surplus manure is sold in the market for its high demand and quality and fetches them good amount of money.
---End of Case Study 1 --

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