Zabo: A Traditional Way of Integrated Farming
R. K. Singh1, V. Singh2, C. Rajkhowa3 and B. C. Deka4
1. Programme Coordinator, KVK, NRCM, Phek,
2. Scientist (Animal Health), NRC on Mithun, Jharnapani, Nagaland
3. Director, NRC on Mithun, Jharnapani, Nagaland
4 Joint Director, ICAR Research Complex for NEH, Nagaland Centre,
Corresponding author’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Science is the art of observing and understanding the nature and recreating the process in
the controlled environment, and “Zabo” the aboriginal way of water conservation and integrated
farming system is the result of such an endeavor. Human - Environmental interaction is basically
how we affect and how we get affected by the environment and also how we exploit the natural
environment for the benefit of the mankind. People of the Kikruma region of the Phek district of
Nagaland have learnt the process about decades ago and evolved this matchless system of
integrating different crops, livestock and fishery in a very scientific manner. The system is so
unique in water resource development and management, devised by ingenious and skillful
tribal people that even modern methodologies seem to be no match for it (Sharma, U. C. and
Sharma, V. 2003). It is now practiced in many Chakhesang tribe inhabited areas of Phek
The term Zabo is derived from the word zabö, which is used for “impounding runoff
water” in Chakhesang dialect. Zabo is also known as Dzüdü or Ruza system in other parts of the
region. It has a combination of forest, horticulture, agriculture, fishery and animal husbandry
with well-founded soil and water conservation base. Water resource development, water
management and protection of environment are inherent aspects of the system (Sharma et al.,
1994). Though Kikruma region of the Phek receives enough rain but due to surface runoff people
suffer from water scarcity. This suffering from water scarcity have forced them to evolve an
elaborate water harvesting arrangement that ultimately resulted in Zabo, the most efficient land-
water management system. This system has an inbuilt water harvesting and recycling systems
with well founded conservation base to control soil erosion, proper management of soil fertility
and available water. It is a viable practice of resource management and maintenance of
ecological balance (Pulamte L., 2008).
Construction of Water Harvesting Ponds:
Ponds are dug in the middle to harvest the water and the bottom surface of the pond is
properly rammed to minimize the loss of water through seepage. Protected forest lands, on
hilltops, act as catchments and water is channelized through inlet channels from the catchment
area. The rain water is collected from the catchment of protected hill tops of above 100% slopes
in a pond with seepage control. Silt retention tanks are constructed at several points before the
runoff water enters in the pond and water is kept in the silt retention tanks for 2 or 3 days before
transferring to the main ponds. The silt retention tanks are cleaned annually. Sometimes, more
than one pond is constructed and in such circumstances it will be constructed in a way that the
surplus water from one pond flows down to the pond below. Water is released from the pond for
irrigation through an outlet at its base. The water from the ponds is carried either by open
channels or by bamboo pipes. The channels are normally compacted by hammering its base to
reduce water percolation. Water is passed through animal yard before taking it to the fields for
irrigation. The water while passing through the animal yard carries with it the dung and urine of
the animals, thus helping in maintaining soil fertility (Singh, A. K. 2007).
Sharing of water and Repairing of Ponds and Channels:
The sharing of harvested water between different families or clans is through mutual
negotiations. Water flows from one plot to the other through passages and reaches the last plot.
The excess water is drained. April to May is the sowing season in terrace cultivation and
transplantation is done in June and July. Water is allowed to remain in the field for the whole
period of plant growth and drained out from the fields just before harvesting. Normally the ponds
dry up by March or April and during this period ponds are repaired. All the families who has
terrace fields in the irrigation command area participates in the cleaning of the siltation tank and
as desilted material has good amount of organic matter and nutrients, so it is transferred to the
terrace fields below the pond
Selection and Placement of Different Farming Activities:
Vegetables and fruits like squash, colocasia, cucurbits, banana, papaya, oranges and
citrus are cultivated on the banks of the pond. Vegetables are also grown just below the livestock
enclosures. Livestock like cattle, goat, sheep, pig and poultry are raised besides the pond. The
cattle enclosures are fenced with bamboo and wooden branches. Enclosure and houses for
livestock are constructed on a little lower side of the water-harvesting pond. The water for
irrigation of rice fields is taken from the pond through the livestock enclosures so that the dung
and urine of the animals can be carried to the fields. This serves as a good source of nutrients for
the paddy crops.
In zabo culture, paddy fields are generally located at the lower elevations. The field
embankments are thoroughly rammed by beating with wooden sticks to avoid percolation and
seepage of water. Paddy husk is also used with the mud to reduce seepage losses from the bunds.
Normally “Tanyekemüga”- a local long duration variety of paddy is grown in the paddy fields.
This variety matures in about 180 days. The seeding rate is 50-60 kg/ha and transplanting is done
in the months of June and July at about 10 cm x 10 cm to 15 cm x 15 cm spacing. Normally 2-3
seedlings are transplanted per hill. During the normal mansoon sufficient rain water is available,
but in case of poor rains on an average two supplementary irrigations are required, which is
given from the zabo ponds. About 10 cm deep water is maintained in the paddy fields. The yield
of paddy ranges between 3-4 tons per hectare (Sharma, U. C. and Sharma, V. 2003).
Paddy cum fish culture is commonly practiced and farmers raise the fishes in their wet
rice terraces. A small pit is dug out in the middle of the rice field and fish fingerlings are released
in the fields during the month of July. Paddy matures by the end of October and by then paddy
field dries or incase there is excess water then it is drained out from the fields before harvesting
of the paddy. As the ponds dries fishes move in to the pit and from there fishes are harvested. On
an average 50 – 60 kg of fish is harvested per hectare from paddy cum fish culture.
The entire continuum includes forestry on the top, horticulture on the embankments and
just below the ponds, livestock besides the pond at little lower level and paddy cum fish farming
at the lower terraces forms the zabö farming system (Fig.1). It has an inbuilt water harvesting
and recycling systems with well-founded conservation base to control soil erosion and soil
fertility management. It is a viable practice of resource management and maintenance of
ecological balance developed by observing the nature.
Tradition, Culture and Festivals :
After getting the good harvest the Chakesang people go in festive mood as feasts and
festivals are the most fundamental elements of the lives of the tribes. Nagaland house of 17
major tribes, is a land of fairs and festivals and they are generally celebrated throughout the year.
All the celebrations are the part of offering prayer and thanks giving to bountiful nature. Farming
is the main occupation of Chakesang tribes, so after having a good harvest of paddy they use to
celebrate Fǚnye (Fish Festival) and enjoy the beauty that the seasons have bestowed on them.
Fig.1: Land management in ZABO farming system
Fǚnye is celebrated right after paddy harvest coinciding with the observation of
Vatö/Kevãketö (grain-gather) and Khĩyîtî (partaking the first grain from Barn/Container with
thanks givings to the deities) in the month of Ngứhă (November). Fǚnye is a unique and rare
occasion. It is rare because hardly any other society celebrate Fǚnye. Initially, this Fǚnye is
practiced by the Chokrĭ sect of Phek District but now practiced by all Chakhesangs sects. 15th
November is set for its celebration for the convenience. Programme start with thanks giving
prayers for His generosity and bountifulness.
Fish is regarded to be clean and holy as it lives in water and traditionally, it signifies
money and wealth. It is also believed that water signifies richness. Thus, partaking fish with the
first grain of the new harvest is believed to bring good fortunes.
Traditionally, the Chakhesang practices paddy cum fish culture on terraces. Every
household rears mostly mud fish in the wet paddy fields. This ensures the practice of Fǚnye since
the olden days. Every household equally participates in the celebration with reared/unreared fish.
People exchange their curry and Shědzǘ (grain-brewed juice) with friends, near and dear ones,
and also offer them to the old and needy people. This way they carry their unique culture and
tradition that is the integral parts of a society’s richness and pride.
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Technology: 2008, published by National Institute of Science, Technology And
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Conservation Challenges and Opportunities (Proceeding of 8th, ISCO conference. Ed.
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Singh, A. K. (2007). Indigenous water management system by the farmers of northeastern hill
region, Leisa India, March 2007. http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/magazines/
farmers/at_download/article_pdf downloaded on 23rd September 2011.