Human beings, since their existence on this planet have adapted themselves to the places where they live. Depending upon the topography of the place and the natural conditions prevailing over there, men successfully managed to overcome the adversities of the nature and the place where he lived. As life progressed, men got to understand about the nature, its resources and their judicious use, various natural phenomenon, the hardships associated with them and the methods to overcome these and its resources. In due course of time, men thus became a storehouse of such knowledge. All such knowledge is referred to as the ‘indigenous knowledge’ or the ‘traditional wisdom’ being transmitted from one generation to another. Every specific area has its own indigenous knowledge.
The word ‘indigenous’ is used to or refer to the people who originally lived in a place, rather than people who moved there from somewhere else. Indigenous Knowledge (IK) thus can be defined as a corpus of knowledge of peoples belonging to a particular geographical area. Native knowledge, traditional knowledge, cultural knowledge and civilization knowledge are synonymous terms. It is unique to a given culture, society or a country. Indigenous Knowledge is ‘unique, traditional and local knowledge existing within and developed around specific conditions of women and men indigenous to particular geographic area’.
It is stated that ‘indigenous knowledge system is a cumulative body of knowledge and belief, handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment’. This indigenous technical knowledge holds a greater relevance in agricultural sector to make it more sustainable and profitable. In agriculture, all such knowledge comes under Indigenous Agricultural Practices (IAP). IAP are an unwritten body of knowledge. There is also no systematic record of what they are what they do and how they do what they do, how they can be changed, their operations, their boundaries and their applications.
The tribal communities living in far, remote and inaccessible places facing vagaries of weather are store house of Indigenous Knowledge. About 8.6 percent of the Indian population belongs to a category listed as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ enumerated in the Schedule to Article 342 of the Constitution of India. Tribal people have been seen to be strongly associated with the forests, hills and remote areas, practicing a unique lifestyle, having a unique set of cultural and religious beliefs. Almost 90% of the tribal population of the country lives in rural areas.
There are 90 districts or 809 blocks with more than 50% tribal population and they account for nearly 45% of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) population in the country. In other words, almost 55% of the tribal population lives outside these 809 tribal majority blocks. Another study done in 2007 reported that the Central Indian tribal homelands, comprising roughly 100 districts and running across the belly of the country, are home to roughly 55 million tribal people, more than 70 percent of India's tribal population. Notwithstanding the rich vegetation and good rainfall, this belt is home to one of the largest concentrations of rural poverty in the world.
For centuries, these communities have developed various indigenous agricultural practices for cultivation of different crops; processing and storage of produce and conserve natural resources. The development of indigenous agricultural practices including management of natural environment has been a matter of survival to these people who have generated these systems. Traditional environmental knowledge of peoples of India is greatly useful in developing location specific strategies for the protection of biodiversity and also useful in mitigation plans for coping with climate change and to sustain it. The location-specific knowledge gained through close interaction within natural and physical environments and cultural adaptation are now recognized to be more eco-friendly and sustainable. This local knowledge and practices have also been reported to help people in drought prediction and extreme weather management.
Insect pests cause serious damage to crops and livestock. Today all our policies and programmes revolve around sustainability and organic methods of doing agriculture are at the core of sustainable agriculture. The organic methods largely avoid the use of toxic chemicals which have already caused irrepairable damage to the ecosystem. The philosophy of today is to use chemical control methods like insecticides and pesticides on plants only as a last resort only after other cultural and preventative measures have failed.
If an insecticide or pesticide is required to be used, the least toxic option should be used first. A number of pesticides can be made at home using ingredients’ that we can commonly found in our home, neighbor or village. Using homemade organic pesticides to manage insect pests offers several advantages, including the accessibility of the ingredients, low cost and low toxicity to humans and other mammals. Garlic solution, Neem Oil, Pepper, Soap solution, Tobacco solution and may other homemade remedies are a glaring example of how traditional wisdom can be exploited to get rid of chemicals from agriculture and save the environment.
Natural Farming being promoted today by the government is also infact a synthesis of indigenous knowledge. All the four components of Natural farming viz Beejamrit, Jeevamrit, Mulching and Wapasha are the outcome of indigenous wisdom accumulated through experience and practice. The various plant protection preparations like Neemastra, Brahmastra, Agniastra and Dashparni extract used in natural farming are the outcome of local wisdom. Farmers can check the right time for sowing of seeds by estimating the amount of soil moisture in the soil simply by making a ball of soil of their fields.
The indigenous agricultural practices found greater use and are much more prevalent in regions where climate is a limiting factor. Farmers in such regions have to store the produce for winter months when none can be produced in the open due to freezing temperature outside. They have developed indigenous storage structures to store the produce. In Union Territory of Ladakh, Cellars/Tsothbang, Sadong are used to store vegetables. Cellar is an underground structure constructed by digging pits with length and breadth and depth ranging from 3 to 5 m each depending upon the requirement of the farmer to store vegetables in winter months. Peoples in Gurez have also dug underground pits called Khow to store potatoes and other vegetables. These are tried, tested and trusted and do not require any electric or other kind of power supply, being done using the locally available resources.
Moreover, these traditional method/techniques do not require any type of energy and does not bear any substantial cost. Studies have also revealed that the shelf life of stored vegetables in these structures is comparable with modern day energy intensive methods of storage. The stored vegetables serve as important source of nutritive food during the snow covered period in the region.
The indigenous wisdom particularly in agriculture sector is fast vanishing. Younger generation is not aware of all these practices. It is necessary to sensitize them about the economic and environmental benefits of indigenous agricultural practices.
(The author is a regular columnist, can be reached at: email@example.com)