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Integrated Management of Land, Water and Bioresources for Sustainable Agriculture in North Eastern Region of India

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The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. There is no single way to implement the ecosystem approach, as it depends on local, provincial, national, regional or global conditions. The North Eastern Region (NER) of India represents three geographies (East Himalayas, Brahmaputra Valley, and North East Hills) and covers about 7.7 percent of the total geographic area of India. Around 56 percent of the cultivated area of the NER is under low altitude (valley or lowland), 33 percent under mid-altitude (flat upland), and the rest under high altitude (upland terrace). The environment, local conditions, socio-economic and socio-cultural life of different tribal communities and the rituals associated with agricultural practices have developed many Indigenous farming systems, which have in-built eco-friendly systems for conservation, preservation and utilization of natural resources. However, with the passage of time, some of these practices have been further refined and modified to cater the location specific present day needs for conservation of natural resources, particularly soil and water resources. The present article is to discuss some important ecosystem approaches/traditional practices followed in the North Eastern Region with recent innovations to make agriculture more efficient and more sustainable.
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Integrated Management of Land, Water and Bioresources for
Sustainable Agriculture in North Eastern Region of India
Sanjay-Swami
School of Natural Resource Management, College of Postgraduate Studies in Agricultural Sciences,
Central Agricultural University Imphal, Umiam (Barapani) 793103, Meghalaya, India.
Email: sanjayswamionline@gmail.com | ORCID: 0000-0001-8961-4671
Abstract
The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated
management of land, water and living resources that promotes
conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. There is
no single way to implement the ecosystem approach, as it
depends on local, provincial, national, regional or global
conditions. The North Eastern Region (NER) of India represents
three geographies (East Himalayas, Brahmaputra Valley, and
North East Hills) and covers about 7.7 percent of the total
geographic area of India. Around 56 percent of the cultivated
area of the NER is under low altitude (valley or lowland), 33
percent under mid-altitude (flat upland), and the rest under high
altitude (upland terrace). The environment, local conditions,
socio-economic and socio-cultural life of different tribal
communities and the rituals associated with agricultural
practices have developed many Indigenous farming systems,
which have in-built eco-friendly systems for conservation,
preservation and utilization of natural resources. However, with
the passage of time, some of these practices have been further
refined and modified to cater the location specific present day
needs for conservation of natural resources, particularly soil and
water resources. The present article is to discuss some important
ecosystem approaches/traditional practices followed in the
North Eastern Region with recent innovations to make
agriculture more efficient and more sustainable.
.
Keywords
Ecosystem approach; Principles; Operational guidance; North
Eastern region; Sustainable agriculture
How to cite this paper: Sanjay-Swami (2021).
Integrated Management of Land, Water and
Bioresources for Sustainable Agriculture in North
Eastern Region of India. Grassroots Journal of
Natural Resources, 4(2): 136-150. Doi:
https://doi.org/10.33002/nr2581.6853.040210
Received: 02 November 2020
Reviewed: 15 December 2020
Provisionally Accepted: 11 January 2021
Revised: 20 April 2021
Finally Accepted: 11 May 2021
Published: 05 June 2021
Copyright © 2021 by author(s)
This work is licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution International
License (CC BY 4.0).
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Grassroots Journal of Natural Resources, Vol. 4 No. 2 (June 2021)
ISSN 2581-6853 | CODEN: GJNRA9 | Published by The Grassroots Institute
Website: http://grassrootsjournals.org/gjnr | Main Indexing: Web of Science
M 00222 | Research Article
ISSN 2581-6853
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Sanjay-Swami
Introduction
The challenges arising from global economic and population growth, pervasive rural poverty, degrading
natural resources in agricultural land use, and climate change are forcing ecological sustainability elements
to be integrated into agricultural production intensification. Chemo-centric technological advancement
during Green Revolution period boosted the production potential and provided food security to the nation.
However, over a period of time, this production system has started exhibiting its carrying capacity as
reflected by production plateau in green revolution belt (Sanjay-Swami, 2017). This version of agriculture
wherein the soil structure, soil life and organic matter are mechanically destroyed every season, and the soil
has no organic cover, is no longer adequate to meet the agricultural and rural resource management needs
and demands of the 21st century (Kassam and Friedrich, 2012). The future farming must be multifunctional,
and, at the same time, ecologically, economically and socially sustainable, so that it can deliver ecosystem
goods and services as well as livelihoods to producers and society. The farming needs to address effectively
the local, national and international challenges. These challenges include food, water and energy insecurity,
climate change, pervasive rural poverty, and degradation of natural resources. All these challenges can be
addressed by adopting integrated management of land, water and bioresources.
The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and bioresources that
promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. It is based on the application of appropriate
scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization, which encompasses the essential
structure, processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. It recognizes that
humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of many ecosystems. During its fourth
meeting of Conference of the Parties (COP4) in Bratislava in May 1998, the Convention on Biological
Diversity (CBD) acknowledged the need for a workable description and further elaboration of the ecosystem
approach, and requested the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA)
to develop principles and other guidance on the ecosystem approach. Based on the work of SBSTTA, which
had a mandate of operationalizing the ecosystem approach, the fifth meeting of the members of the
Conference of the Parties (COP-MOP5) endorsed a description of the ecosystem approach and
recommended 12 principles for application of the ecosystem approach. It also suggested 5-points operational
guidance for the ecosystem approach (SCBD, 2004).
Methodology
Both primary and secondary data were used to document some important ecosystem approaches/traditional
practices followed in the North Eastern Region of India along with the recent innovative modifications to
make these practices more efficient in the present agricultural scenario. The primary data/observation/
pictures were collected during multiple field visits/survey, whereas the secondary data were collected from
relevant research papers published in various journals, articles, books and searching google search engine
with the appropriate key words like ecosystem approach, traditional practices, North Eastern Region of
India, etc.
North Eastern India’s Regional Perspective
India’s North Eastern Region (NER) represents three geographical entities (East Himalayas, Brahmaputra
Valley, and North East Hills) and covers about 7.7 percent of the total geographic area of India. Around 56
percent of the cultivated area of the NER is under low altitude (valley or lowland), 33 percent under mid-
altitude (flat upland), and the rest under high altitude (upland terrace) (Sanjay-Swami, 2019a). Nearly 22
percent land area is under crop cultivation in the region leaving 78 percent without cultivation. Majority of
the fields in the region are situated across the hilly slopes (Sanjay-Swami, 2019a). Traditionally, farmers in
both upland terrace and valleys practice mono-cropping under rainfed agriculture, where rice (Oryza sativa)
is the major crop occupying more than 80 percent of the cultivated area followed by maize (Zea mays). The
cropping intensity of the NER is 130 percent. The “slash and burn” agriculture (shifting cultivation or Jhum)
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is practiced on about 0.88 million ha. Soil health/fertility is the most crucial factor in deciding the
agricultural productivity. Approximately, 84 per cent of the soils in the NER are acidic in nature, having
low available phosphorus and zinc with toxicity of iron and aluminum.
The region has several unique features: fertile land, abundant water resources, evergreen dense forests, high
and dependable rainfall, mega biodiversity and agriculture-friendly climate, yet it failed to convert its
strengths optimally into growth opportunities for the well-being of the people. It has diversity in cropping
pattern, livestock management and diversity in culture and socio-economic life. The size of land holdings
is small that varies with state to state within the region. The mainstay of livelihood is only the agriculture,
which is predominantly traditional and CDR (complex, diverse and risk prone), with a very backward
industrial sector. The environment, local conditions, socio-economic and socio-cultural life of different
tribal communities and the rituals associated with agricultural practices have developed many Indigenous
farming systems, which have in-built eco-friendly systems for conservation, preservation and utilization of
natural resources. However, with the passage of time, some of these practices have been further refined and
modified to cater the location specific present day needs for conservation of natural resources, particularly
soil and water resources (Sanjay-Swami, 2019a).
The following sections deal with some important ecosystem approaches/traditional practices followed in the
North Eastern Region along with recent innovations to make agriculture more efficient, more sustainable.
Shifting Cultivation
The agricultural system, which is characterized by a rotation of fields rather than of crops, by short period
of cropping (one to three years) alternating with long fallow periods (up to 20 or more years, but often as
short as 6-8 years) and clearing of forest by means of slash and burn is known as “slash and burn” agriculture
or shifting cultivation or jhum. This system involves cultivation of crops on steep slopes. Land is cleared by
cutting of forests, bushes, etc. up to the stump level during December-January months leaving the cut plant
materials for drying and final burning to make the land ready for sowing of seeds of different crops before
the onset of rains. Upland rice is the main crop grown in mixtures with maize, finger millet, foxtail millet,
beans, tapioca, yam, banana, sweet potato, ginger, chilies, sesame and vegetables. All these crops are grown
as rainfed without tilling the land. Harvesting starts from August onwards. Maize and cucurbits are first
available for consumption. Rice harvesting starts with maturity of panicles, which are picked up in time,
leaving behind stubbles in the jhum field to decompose. The jhum practice has an in-built mechanism of
sustenance, conservation and renewable system of resource management (Sanjay-Swami, 2018).
Traditionally, jhum cultivation was productive and sustainable. However, over the past four decades, due to
increasing human population, the jhuming cycle in the same land, which extended to 20-30 years in older
days, has now been reduced to 3-6 years (Sanjay-Swami, 2018). Deforestation and biomass burning in jhum
aggravate soil erosion and ecosystem degradation. Annual soil erosion on steep slopes (44-53%) under
shifting cultivation can be as much as 40.9 Mg/ha along with attendant losses (in kg/ha) of 702.9 of soil
organic carbon (SOC), 63.5 of phosphorus (P) and 5.9 of potassium (K). Soil erosion, during the 1st and 2nd
years on the abandoned land has been estimated at 147, 170, and 30 Mg/ha, respectively (Saha, Mishra and
Khan, 2011). Similar observation was also made by Ray et al. (2020) who reported that shifting cultivation
is the primary source of livelihood for farmers in the hilly tracts of North East India. However, the jhumias’
(farmers involved in shifting cultivation) livelihoods are at stake due to low productivity and low profit due
to detrimental effects of soil erosion, loss of soil nutrients and biodiversity. Steep slopes, cultivation along
the slope, with negligible nutrient replacement and high rainfall are among the major causes of land
degradation in Meghalaya state. The annual soil loss and carbon content in different land use systems are
presented in table 1.
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Table 1: Soil loss and carbon content in different land use systems
S. No.
Soil loss (ton/ha/yr)
Organic carbon (%)
1.
30.20-170.20
1.24-2.54
2.
5.10-68.20
1.96-2.70
3.
0.88-14.28
1.80-2.94
4.
0.37-1.83
2.84-3.25
5.
0.38-1.22
2.01-3.22
6.
0.04-0.52
2.92-3.05
Source: Saha, Mishra and Khan (2011)
Figure 1: Burning of hill side
for jhum cultivation
Source: Field trip, 2014
Figure 2: Making bunds to
reduce soil loss
Source: Field trip, 2014
Figure 3: View of jhum field
after germination
Source: Field trip, 2014
Modified Shifting Cultivation Ensuring Soil Conservation
Bun cultivation is a modification of shifting cultivation and is mostly followed in the Meghalaya plateau for
last four decades. In this system, the crops are grown on a series of raised beds of 0.15-0.30 m height having
0.75-1.0 m width with almost equal width under sunken area made along the slopes, locally referred to as
“Bun”. While preparing buns, biomass is burnt under the soil, and the land is abandoned after two or three
years. It provides an improved production system, helps conserve soil moisture, and prevents land
degradation and soil erosion. In this system, bench terraces are built on the hill slopes running across the
slopes. The gap between each bun is levelled using the cut and fill method. The vertical break between each
terrace is 1 meter. Such measures help in preventing erosion and retaining maximum rainwater within the
slopes. It also helps in safely disposing-off the additional runoff from the slopes to the lower areas.
Bamboo Drip Irrigation System
Meghalaya is well-known for having the highest rainfall in the world with about 11,500 mm rainfall
recorded annually (Sanjay-Swami, 2021). This makes Meghalaya the wettest places on Earth. Though, the
state gets plenty of rainfall during the monsoon season, a well-managed irrigation system is required during
the dry spell. Hill farming is subject to a number of serious constraints such as undulating topography, steep-
slopes, poor and shallow soils (prone to erosion). Majority of the fields in the region are situated across the
hilly slopes. Therefore, the water-retention capacity of the terrain is poor and bringing water from distant
water sources to the fields is a big challenge for the farmers in the rural areas. Ground channeling is also
impractical due to the harsh landscape. Confronted with such adverse conditions for irrigation, the
traditional farmers of Meghalaya have come up with an innovative way. The farmers of the Jaintia and
Khasi hills have developed unique bamboo drip irrigation system of trapping springs and stream water
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normally to irrigate the betel leaf or black pepper crops planted in areca nut orchards or in mixed orchards
(Sanjay-Swami, 2021).
Figure 4: Buns ready for
sowing
Source: Field trip, 2019
Figure 5: Vegetable cultivation
on buns
Source: Field trip, 2019
Figure 6: Larger view of bun
cultivation
Source: Field trip, 2019
The bamboo drip irrigation system is based on gravity and the steep slopes that facilitate in implementing
it. Water from an uphill source is trapped and brought to the plantation by a main bamboo channel. Usually,
these water sources are far off from the plantations and the main bamboo channel runs hundreds of meters
- in some cases even few kilometers. The water is then regulated through a complex bamboo network of
secondary and tertiary channels to all the parts and corners of a plantation, right up to the bottom of the hill.
Bamboos of varying diameters are used to build the channels, support structures, diversion pipes and strips.
Channels are held above the ground by bamboo or wooden Y shaped sticks. About a third of the outer casing
in length and internodes of bamboo pieces have to be removed while fabricating the system. One stretch of
channel is lashed to another by thin bamboo strips. Indigenous tools like a dao, a type of local axe, and
chisels of various shapes and design are used to build the bamboo network. Two labourers can construct a
network covering 1 hectare of land in 15 days. They are built with such skill that water wastage by leakage
is minimal. The construction is based on a simple thumb rule that the ratio of diameter of primary channel
to tertiary channel determines the quantity of water which will reach the trees. It is a subtle skill that comes
with years of observation and experience. It is so perfect that about 18-20 litres of water entering the bamboo
pipe system per minute gets transported over several hundred metres and finally gets reduced to 20-80 drops
per minute at the site of the plant (Sanjay-Swami, 2021).
The cost involved in building the system is minimal. Bamboo is available freely in this region. Usually, the
farmer himself sets up the system in his plantation with some help from 1 or 2 labourers (Sanjay-Swami,
2021). The region gets heavy rain and, as a result, each installation lasts for about 2-3 years. After the rainy
season the undergrowth is cleared, and reinforcements are provided. Old bamboo is left to rot, which, over
the time, returns to the soil as humus. Cooperatives are formed and each farmer provides his skill and labour
to build and maintain the system. The distribution of water from one plantation to another is done by
diverting water at fixed timings. This avoids the occurrence of conflicts between various farmers. By this
method, the whole community works harmoniously sharing the limited resources judiciously (Sanjay-
Swami, 2019b).
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Figure 7: Different stages of water distribution in bamboo drip irrigation system. Source: CSE (2021)
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Modified Bamboo Drip Irrigation System
The bamboo drip irrigation system, traditionally used for irrigating plantation crops from stream water, has
been further refined and modified to increase water use efficiency and to irrigate field crops apart from
plantation crops. Since the region faces lot of water scarcity during dry period, and as most of the crops are
cultivated on upland topography, water harvesting tanks (Jalkunds) at the top of the hills can be the solution
for water scarcity (Sanjay-Swami, 2019b). During wet period, water can be collected by making small ponds
or tanks and can be saved for dry spell. Since water in bamboo drip irrigation is actually conveyed from
higher elevation to the downstream with the help of gravity up to plantation crops, water harvesting tank
should also be constructed at the top of the hills or above the cultivated crops so that water can easily be
transported through bamboo.
Bamboos are laid down from the water source, which is the mainline, and from there lateral line bamboos
are connected. Bamboos are laid just above the properly spaced crop plants. Bamboo has a hole above the
plant so that water can just drip on the particular plant only. The height of bamboo placed above the plant
should be enough for the farmers to move under it for inter-culture operations like manual weeding. The
end of the mainline should be closed. Holes in the mainline convey the water to the laterals. The laterals
also consist of small holes just above the individual plant to drip water. For efficient utilization of water,
tying of some woolen thread with the cap in the holes of the laterals is also recommended to manage the
speed of drip or to irrigate only the desired crop area. If the wetting is completed, it can be pulled down for
seizing the flow of water for its efficient utilization. In the mainline, holes can be either closed with the help
Figure 8: Modified bamboo drip irrigation system suitable for field crops. Source: ICAR Research
Complex for NEH Region (2018)
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of mud or thread just like in the laterals for seizing the flow with respect to particular plant. It leads to better
utilization of rainwater which would have been washed out if not harvested during rainy season. It has also
been observed that about 25-30% water can be saved by modified bamboo drip irrigation followed by straw
mulching, although it is cost effective only for cash crops like potato, capsicum, tomato, strawberry, etc.,
which are grown with definite spacing (Sanjay-Swami, 2019b).
Rice-Fish System of Apatani Plateau
It is a multipurpose water management system, which integrates land, water and farming system by
protecting soil erosion, conserving water for irrigation and paddy-cum-fish culture. It has been practiced in
a flat land of about 30 km2 located at an altitude of about 1,525 m above m.s.l. in the humid tropic climate
of Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh. Local tribe “Apatani” who developed this system
dominates the area; every stream rising from the hill is trapped soon after it emerges from forest, canalized
at the rim of valley and diverted by network of primary, secondary and tertiary channels. The first diversion
from the stream takes off at a short distance above the terraces. Central irrigation channel of 0.61 x 0.61 m
size and embankment of the same size in each of the paddy plots are constructed. The water into the plots
is drawn from irrigation channel and has a check gate made of bamboo splits (huburs) at the inlet for
regulation of entry and exit of water through the outlet. The farmers drawn off the water from the rice fields
twice, once during flowering and finally at maturity on an average 10 cm water level is maintained in the
plots by adjusting the height of outlet pipes. For fish culture, a vertical pit is dug in the middle of the plot,
so that the water remains in these pits even when it drains away from the surrounding fields. To prevent
trashes or migration of fish, a semicircular wooden/bamboo net is installed at the inlet to reduce beating
action of flowing water regulating in soil erosion; wooden strikes or planks are put at the outlet. The huburs
are installed about 15 cm x 25 cm above the bed level. They are made of plank or pine tree trunk or bamboo
stem of different diameters. The water from terraces is finally drained into the river, which flows in the
middle of valley.
Figure 9: Rice-fish system of Apatani plateau
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ZABO System of Farming
“Zabo” is an Indigenous farming system of Nagaland state. This system has its origin in Kirkuma village of
Phek district of Nagaland, located at an altitude of 1,270 m above m.s.l. The word “Zabo” means
impounding of water. It has a combination of forest, agriculture and animal husbandry with well-founded
soil and water conservation base. It has protected forest land towards the top of hill, water harvesting tanks
in the middle and cattle yard and paddy fields for storage for the crops as well as for irrigation during the
crop period. Special techniques for seepage control in the paddy plots are followed. Paddy husk is used on
shoulder bunds and puddling is done thoroughly.
Alder Based Farming
In some pockets of Nagaland, the farmers use Alnus nepalensis (alder) tree for agriculture. In this system,
the alder seedlings are planted on the sloppy land intended for cultivation and the alder grows fast till it
attains 6-10 years age. At this stage, initially the trees are pollarded, the leaves and twigs are burnt, and ash
is mixed with soil to prepare it for raising crops. Subsequently, pollarding is done once every 4-6 years.
Under this process, coppice is cut except 5-6 on top of the main trunk and crop schedule is followed
including fallow period of 2-4 years. The bigger branches stripped of leaves are used for firewood, while
the root of the tree develops nodules (colonies of Frankia) increasing the fertility of soil. Spreading nature
of the roots helps in preventing soil erosion on slopes. Nitrogen fixation in Alnus nepalensis takes place
through a symbiotic relationship between Alnus with nitrogen fixing actinomycetes of the genus Frankia
and is, therefore, able to improve degraded jhum lands. The symbiotic microorganism Frankia
(actinomycetes) is located in specialized structures, or nodules, along the root system of the host plants. The
root nodules are analogous to those induced by Rhizobium in legumes, and they provide an environment
where Frankia can grow and prosper, while providing the host plant with fixed atmospheric nitrogen. Unlike
Figure 10: Land management under Zabo farming system. Source: Sanjay-Swami et al. (2021)
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the Rhizobium-legume symbiosis, where most of the host plants belong to a single large family, Frankia
can form root nodules in symbiosis with actinorhizal plants. The ability of the alder trees to develop and
retain fertility of the soil has been fully utilized by farmers in Angami, Chakhesang, Chang, Yimchunger
and Konyak area in Nagaland at varying altitudes.
Organic Cultivation
The concept of organic cultivation/farming builds on the idea of efficient use of locally available resources
as well as the usage of adapted technologies e.g., soil fertility management, closing of nutrient cycles as far
as possible, control of pests and diseases through management and natural antagonists. It is based on a
system-oriented approach and can be a promising option for sustainable agricultural intensification, as it
may offer several potential benefits such as: (i) a greater yield stability, especially in risk-prone tropical
ecosystems, (ii) higher yields and incomes in traditional farming systems, once they are improved and the
adapted technologies are introduced, (iii) an improved soil fertility and long-term sustainability of farming
systems, (iv) a reduced dependence of farmers on external inputs, (v) the restoration of degraded or
abandoned land, (vi) the access to attractive markets through certified products, and (vii) new partnerships
within the whole value chain, as well as a strengthened self-confidence and autonomy of farmers.
Figure 11: Alder based
farming in Jhum land
Figure 12: Field after crop
harvest
Figure 13: Pollarding of alder
tree
The organic farming is based on following four basic principles:
Principle of Health: Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal and
human as one and indivisible entity.
Principle of Ecology: Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work
with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
Principle of Fairness: Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness regarding the
common environment and life opportunities.
Principle of Care: Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to
protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.
These basic principles provide organic farming with a platform for ensuring the health of environment for
sustainable development, even though the sustainable development of mankind is not directly specified in
the principles (Sowmya, 2014).
The NER has much strength for organic farming. The region is home to many niche crops like large
cardamom, ginger, turmeric, Assam lemon, Joha rice, medicinal rice, Naga chilly (Bhoot Jolkiya), areca nut
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and passion fruit with high market demands. Farmers can fetch premium prices for organic produce along
with conserving local crops, which are common for farmers in their localities as local crops are more
resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses (Sanjay-Swami, 2017). Sikkim has become the first state in India to
go fully organic in terms of production and consumption of food. The changeover is already apparent in
local markets where organic produce seems to be trumping non-organic. Approximately, 75,000 acres of
chemically fertilized farmland have been converted to organic farming in Sikkim state. NER is the fourth
largest producer of oranges in India. Best quality ginger (low fibre content) is produced in this region and
an Agri-Export Zone (AEZ) for ginger is established in Sikkim. Sikkim is the largest producer of large
cardamom (54 percent share) in the world.
Meghalaya, being organic by default, provides an ample scope for expanding and exploiting the potential
for this sector in right direction. The new policy of the state government also aims at building brand Organic
Meghalaya, which will produce organic certified food and products, link organic food to ecotourism, cleaner
and greener environment through lower carbon regime and build consumer awareness and demand for safe
and healthy food. Meghalaya Department of Agriculture has successfully initiated pilots during 2010, which
began with tea and, thereafter, cauliflower in Ri-Bhoi and East Khasi Hills district. “MEG” Tea
is presently marketed as Organic Certified Tea and is available in three variants - Green, Oolong and Black
Tea. All the organic tea variants are USDA and NPOP certified, which were certified by M/s Control Union
India. In Garo Hills, organic certification of pineapple and cashew nut are ongoing and are presently in C1
and C2 stage (Shabong, 2015).
Organic farming, without doubt, is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture production in
Meghalaya. The Meghalaya state aims to convert at least 200,000 hectares into organic farmland by 2020
(Shabong, 2015). The process to convert a portion of agricultural land to become fit for organic cultivation
takes at least three years. The agricultural land is being selected area wise to be converted into organic
farmland, and the land is put under observation for three years. After the third-year conversion period, the
land is certified as fit for organic farming or not. So far 1,410 hectares of agricultural land have been certified
for organic farming in the Meghalaya. The agricultural land, in which some crops have been organically
cultivated, includes 150 hectares for tea plantation, 380 hectares for cashew nut and 80 hectares for turmeric.
The process to convert around 16 hectares land under ginger cultivation has entered its second year (Sanjay-
Swami, 2019b).
Biochar for Soil Acidity Management
Approximately, 84 per cent of the soils in the North Eastern Hill (NEH) region of India are acidic having
low available phosphorus (P) and zinc (Zn) and toxicity of iron and aluminum (Lyngdoh and Sanjay-Swami,
2018). To overcome the problem of soil acidity, farmers adopt variety of soil amendments like ash, manures,
lime, compost and bio-sorbents. Although, liming is good practice to overcome the soil acidity problem, yet
the latest, cheap and good organic source is biochar as the availability of biomass is much more in NEH
region (Yadav and Sanjay-Swami, 2018). The usefulness of biochar increases when it is applied in
combination with organic manures like farm yard manure (FYM), vermicompost, poultry manure, pig
manure, etc. (Yadav and Sanjay-Swami, 2019).
Meghalaya is known for a large array of vegetables, both sub-tropical and temperate. Tomato (Lycopersicon
esculentum Mill.) is one of the most important vegetable crops supporting the livelihood of many vegetable
growers. Hence, for optimization of biochar dose with vermicompost and recommended dose of fertilizers
to maximize the yield of tomato in acid soil, a field experiment was conducted at School of Natural Resource
Management, College of Postgraduate Studies in Agricultural Sciences, Umiam, Meghalaya during winter
season of 2017. Tomato cv. Megha tomato-2 was used as test crop with three doses of biochar (B) @ 2, 3
and 4 t/ha, vermicompost (VC) @ 2.5 t/ha and two graded recommended doses of NPK fertilizers (RDF) @
75 and 100%. Sixteen combination of treatments as T1 - Control, T2 - B @ 2 t/ha, T3 - B @ 3 t/ha, T4 - B @
4 t/ha, T5 - 75% RDF + B @ 2 t/ha, T6 - 75% RDF + B @ 3 t/ha, T7 - 75% RDF + B @ 4 t/ha, T8 - 75%
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Sanjay-Swami
RDF + B @ 2 t/ha + VC @ 2.5 t/ha, T9 - 75% RDF + B @ 3 t/ha + VC @ 2.5 t/ha, T10 -75% RDF + B @ 4
t/ha + VC @ 2.5 t/ha, T11 - 100% RDF + B @ 2 t/ha, T12 - 100% RDF + B @ 3 t/ha, T13 - 100% RDF + B
@ 4 t/ha, T14 - 100% RDF + B @ 2 t/ha + VC @ 2.5 t/ha, T15 - 100% RDF + B @ 3 t/ha + VC @ 2.5 t/ha,
T16 - 100% RDF + B @ 4 t/ha+ VC @ 2.5 t/ha were tested. The trial was laid out in RBD and replicated
thrice. The results indicated that plant height, number of fruits/plant, fruit size and fruit yield of tomato was
superior with the application of biochar @ 4 t/ha with vermicompost @ 2.5 t/ha and 100% RDF and the soil
pH also improved significantly over control. Hence, the combined application of biochar @ 4 t/ha with
vermicompost @ 2.5 t/ha and 100% RDF may be recommended for Meghalaya farmers to enhance tomato
productivity coupled with managing their acidic soils (Sanjay-Swami et al., 2018).
Figure 14: Biochar
Source: ICAR Research
Complex for NEH Region,
2017
Figure 15: Application of
biochar in experimental field
Source: Experimental Plot,
2017
Figure 16: Mixing of biochar in
soil for managing acidity problem
Source: Experimental Plot, 2017
Figure17: Experimental plots with different
treatments
Source: Experimental Plot, 2018
Figure 18: Fruiting stage of tomato
Source: Experimental Plot, 2018
Das et al. (2012) also attempted to document the various indigenous techniques of soil and water
conservation in the North-eastern region of India linked with traditional farming practices like Alder (Alnus
nepalensis) based farming system, Zabo farming, Panikheti in hills and pond based farming system in plains
of the region developed by local farmers using their ingenuity and skills over the centuries and reported that
some components of these farming systems have good scientific base for resource conservation like nutrient
cycling through in situ residue management, green leaf manuring, soil and water conservation and
maintenance of forestry whereas there are few components like burning of biomass in jhuming needs a
relook.
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Sanjay-Swami
Conclusion
The future farming must be multifunctional and, at the same time, ecologically, economically and socially
sustainable so that it can deliver ecosystem goods and services as well as livelihoods to producers and
society. The environment, local conditions, socio-economic and socio-cultural life of different tribal
communities of the North Eastern Region of India, and their rituals associated with agricultural practices
have developed many Indigenous farming systems, which have in-built eco-friendly systems for
conservation, preservation and utilization of natural resources. Shifting cultivation or jhum, bun cultivation,
bamboo drip irrigation system, modified bamboo drip irrigation system, rice-fish system of Apatani tribe,
ZABO system of farming in Nagaland, alder-based farming, organic cultivation, and use of ash, manure,
composts, biochar, etc. for managing soil acidity are just some of the hundreds of traditional eco-friendly
practices performed by the farmers of North Eastern Region. The uniqueness of these practices is their
suitability to the local conditions, their economic feasibility and easy implementation.
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Author’s Declarations and Essential Ethical Compliances
Author’s Contributions (in accordance with ICMJE criteria for authorship)
This article is 100% contributed by the sole author. He conceived and designed the research or analysis,
collected the data, contributed to data analysis & interpretation, wrote the article, performed critical revision
of the article/paper, edited the article, and supervised and administered the field work.
Funding
No funding was available for the research conducted for and writing of this paper.
Research involving human bodies (Helsinki Declaration)
Has this research used human subjects for experimentation? No
Research involving animals (ARRIVE Checklist)
Has this research involved animal subjects for experimentation? No
Research involving Plants
During the research, the author followed the principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity and
the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Research on Indigenous Peoples and/or Traditional Knowledge
Has this research involved Indigenous Peoples as participants or respondents? No
PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses)
Has author complied with PRISMA standards? No
Competing Interests/Conflict of Interest
Author has no competing financial, professional, or personal interests from other parties or in publishing
this manuscript.
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