Cropping Systems and Rotation
The diversity in the tribal farmers’ fields has been enhanced by the practice of multiple cropping and mixed cropping in both space and time. The rotation of crops helps in maintaining the soil health and meeting their multiple needs. Based on the amount of rainfall, soil types and farmers' preferences, different cropping systems and cropping rotation are followed, ragi based mixed cropping system is extensively practised with or without rotation, depending upon the rainfall, normally semmotchai (Panicum vulgaris) or coriander can be raised after the mixed cropping system.
The continuous cultivation of tapioca in the same field results in absorption of nutrients from the same soil depth leading to fall in yield in subsequent years. This effect has been experienced by the tribal farmers and so, to combat this effect, they have started to follow crop rotation with minor millets and upland paddy in the middle geomorphic units (terraced fields).
Traditional Mixed Cropping Systems
Mixed cropping is defined as the growing of two or more crops simultaneously intermingled with each other without definite row pattern. This system is a traditional method of multiple cropping and the cropping intensity is often more than 100 per cent. The main objective of this system is to meet the food requirements of the family. The system involves the combination of crops with different food values, maturity periods, input requirements and capacity to withstand natural calamities and also results in minimising risk and thereby help in stabilising the food supply.
This unique practice is complemented by the use of crop varieties having wider genetic base. This wider genetic base is acting as a risk averting mechanism in this undesirable environmental condition. Based on their experience, the whole system is designed in such a way that it acts as an insurance agent against biotic and abiotic stresses. It also satisfies the diverse needs of the farmer and efficiently utilises the space and time to a greater extent. It effectively protects the soils from run-off and moisture from evaporation by covering the soil throughout the crop period.
Common Crop Rotation Practices
Field Visit to Kollihills January 25-27, 2019
The Kollihills (Box 1 for landscapes of the hills) are a really beautiful place, full of varied and enjoyable landscapes. Every visit the Team makes brings some new perspective on the landscapes. There are indeed so many places that show up narratives that are an unspoken pledge to the visitor to present factually accurate account of themselves, in a deeper and sometimes in an entertaining way.
As the Team travelled down to Paravaaru hamlet of Ariyur Nadu for a meeting with the people, the people of the villages around were engaged in paddy transplantation work. The entire Paravaaru valley was very active, with farmers and labourers plucking the seedlings and women transplanting them in the fields prepared for it. Elsewhere some workers were involved in ploughing, harrowing and levelling; further away some others were involved in basal dressing. The valley looked a beehive of activities, keeping people seriously engaged in their work.
On reaching Paravaaru, the Team found people, men and women, boys and girls, gathered around a community hall for a feast after an engagement. Men were eating and some men and women were serving. One of them even served liquor tin plastic tumblers to the guests at the eating tables. Near the temple, some youth and children were playing volley ball even as some men and women engaged in cooking for the guests. There was celebration in the air and animated conversations among the guests filled the air.
After spending a few minutes talking to the guests of the occasion, the Team moved away to meet with the women of the self-help group that goes by the name Thamarai. The Team had a very useful discussion with a small number of women. The President (Ms. Yogalakshmi) and Secretary (Ms. Chitra) of the SHG asked for a coffee pulper which could be used for generating income for the households of the SHG. The women suggested that the pulper could be hired out to people in their as well as neighbouring hamlets during the season to make some income for the group.
As the discussion was still on about what development activities we could arrange for, Mr. Rajagopal of Paravaaru showed interest in mushroom cultivation (the hills are a veritable haven for several edible wild varieties of mushroom) and offered to gather a few people from about the hamlet for a training session.
About lunch time, the Team moved to Thegavoipatti and met with three women. In the discussion about what could possibly provide them sustainable livelihood as well as other members of the SHG, they hit upon the idea of a flour mill (rice, wheat, ragi, millets), which could be similarly used to make some good income for the SHG households. They further said that the members could take turn to operate and maintain the mill, if the mill could be set up. In the end they promise to discuss the project with the other members of the SHG and get back to the Team through our local support Mr. Prakasam.
The Team then moved to Kulivalavu, by about 2.30 pm, and met with Ms. Vanitha of Ilamthalir (Tender Leaves) SHG and her husband Mr. Nehru who is employed at the taluk e-service centre. Ms. Vanitha elaborated on her accountant work with the Pudhu Vazhvu (New Life) programme of development for several months and was involved in a scheme known as Amudhasurabi (literally, a bowl of unending supply of food). It was a scheme of development credit to the women’s SHGs of the Kollihills. The loans with a 40 percent subsidy involved various amounts of credit: Rupees 20,000 as initial credit, followed by Rupees 40,000 on clearing the initial loan without default and finally Rupees 50,000, for generating income for the livelihood of the member-households. She was also involved in a subsidy scheme for unemployed people of the Kollihills under the same programme of development. Mr. Nehru, the spouse of Ms. Vanitha, is employed at the e-seva maiyam (e-service centre) at Semmedu, the Kollihills’ administrative headquarters. He narrated his work at the e-service centre and a slew of services the centre offers to the people of the Kollihills.
In the evening, the Team visited several families in the hamlets to get to know what they would prefer to do for sustainable livelihoods, working in non-agricultural occupations, if they wished to make a decent living. The individual and groups discussions centred round the resources they could wield and be happily engaged.
The next day, January 27, 2019 Sunday, the team travelled the ups and downs of the Hills to acquire an appreciation of the landscapes and the agriculture. The visit was very rewarding, as the Team stopped at several interior villages to have informal discussions with the people, especially women and girls and men and boys of the villages to listen to and understand about their varied and practical ideas of development they think and care about.
Cognitive Knowledge of Rainfall Pattern
The Malayalis of Kollihills are basically agriculturists and hence are more dependent on the rains for their livelihood. By virtue of the long association with the monsoon patterns and understanding of the vagaries of climate, they have been able to classify the rains received every month and the resulting pattern of agriculture and yield for the season.
After the harvest festival, Pongal, in January, the agricultural season begins with the onset of south-west monsoon. The rains normally begin to fall in the Tamil month of Chittirai (April-May) and the same is called Chittirai mahai (rains of Chittirai). The rains of the first fortnight of the month is called Ashwini mazhai (rains of Ashwini) and the rain occurring in the second fortnight of the same month is called Bharani mazhai (rains of Bharani), Ashwini and Bharani being the stars.
The rains of the first fortnight are not preferred because it is believed that it would setback five spells of rains to follow. In the next Tamil month of Vaigasi (May-June), rains are referred to with reference to dates: the rain on the 4th, 5th and the 6th days of the month are said to be very productive. On the other hand, the rains that begin on the 7th or 8th of that month in the season is believed to be unproductive. The understanding is that, if it rains on the 10th of the (third) month of Aani (June-July), it is believed then that paddy would grow even on the rocks (parai ellam nel vilaiyum). Generally, the 8th of Aani is considered to be inauspicious and if it rains on the 8th of any month, it is believed to have negative impact on agriculture. Likewise, for every month, the tribal people have identified dates of rainfall and related beliefs are also spelt out clearly for them by their ancestors.
Agricultural Development of the Past
Our knowledge of agriculture and its development in the Kollihills cannot be described with any exactness. The tribe, who claims to have come from Kanchipuram in the 16th century, were essentially plains people who knew agriculture of particular value. However, the fact is that, until the beginning of the 19th century, the agricultural operations in the hills were anything but shifting cultivation, known as 'Podu' or 'Kumari' cultivation.
The First Malayali Cultivators, Prior to 1900:
Prior to the advent of permanent settlements and agriculture, some 300 years ago, the landscape of the Kollihills presented a picture of gently rolling, forest-covered slopes, but not since then. The transformation from food gathering before the 18th century and hunting to shifting cultivation during much of the 18th and 19th centuries, and then to settled agriculture in the early part of the 20th century occurred in the Kollihills in a combination of ways.
In some instances, the Malayalis thought, when hunting became hard because of difficulty in finding the game, it might be possible to grow crops on cleared forest patches. In other instances, an intelligent Malayali or a group of them might have suggested the possibilities of growing food crops, on a smaller scale, in the fashion of the plains. Or a few Malayalis had brought, and carefully preserved, ideas from their ancient parentage on lowland acquaintance which, when they put to practice, proved successful in satisfying their day-to-day subsistence requirements. By these various means, it would appear then, that the cultivation of crops was introduced.
The estimation for this activity was undoubtedly a mixed one. In the first instance, it stemmed from the constant internal pressures generated by the value system and the rule that everyone of the group should be fed by all means. Or it came about by the Malayalis who caused continual pressures to be exerted against the prevalent economic milieu within which they were housed.
And whatever the population pressure, and conversely the need to go in for food production, exerted influence, the tribe felt that the food situation could be improved by economic functions similar to those with which the people of the plains, the tribe's own, ancient parents, were rather familiar. Thus, factors both internal and external to the tribe provided the basic motivation for economic ventures, mainly cultivation of food crops, within the by-now innovative social system.
A second and associated motivation was the desire of many Malayalis to gain economic subsistence and self-sufficiency. This was certainly a two-fold desire: First, there was the wish to be in greater control of their individual and family economic future. Second, there was also the feeling of risk and uncertainty associated with food-gathering and hunting, and the attendant wish for lesser dependence upon a nomadic way of life, probably grazing cattle, and shifting cultivation.
The overall desire was for an independently owned economic enterprise, and even a small place of forest-cleared land: a subsistence farm was within this category. The tentative planting of a handful of grains, where a spring supplied water, was a start towards this end. Finally, there was some motivating force in the simple desire to 'work with the land', in the sense of a desire of individuals of peasant origin.
Adivasi (Indigenous People), A Strong Sense of Self and Place
The land, forests and rivers of the Kollihills yield just enough to live by, and in bad years, not even that. Modest crops of paddy and tapioca, millets and fruits of all kind, pepper and coffee are the products of unremitting toil of the Adivasi families. If the rains are plenty, then they are happy because they will have better yields. But if the rains fail, then they are unhappy because they will have a food insecure situation in most families but those involved in activities other than agriculture or labour. In bad times, however, the forests stand the Adivasis in good stead. There are minor forest products, the leaves, herbs, nuts, roots, wild and edible fruits and so on, to fall back on, to be collected. But not many people appear to be doing this because of the forest department restricting their foraging to only those areas they have legal access to, which is for all we know are limited in extent.
So much so, the effects of an uncertain and inadequate livelihood are seen in the wrinkles of their faces and their hard lives. Without food, three square meals, and sometimes without vegetables and fruits, and medical care, people do suffer entirely avoidable illnesses. The absence of schools, or schools at long walking distances, especially to those living in the interior hamlets, denies children a chance to learn and improve their lives. The residential schools – just two of them – for the Adivasi children are not enough to accommodate all of them can be seen from the fact that most children go to private schools and the parents often struggle to pay. Of course, there are some families in each of the 261 hamlets who can afford the private education.
Poverty and hunger put the people, especially women and girls, for the adivasis have more or less the same cultural milieu as the plains people, men and boys are made much of, at the mercy of a callous government bureaucracy and rapacious plains people who literally devour the Adivasi land and water and all other resources, to whom the adivasis do not matter. The adivasis are to be exploited and plundered. There has been an invasion of the Kollihills by the plains people that the rightful owners of the Kollihills have become over the years alienated from their lands and resources. But the life goes on for the Adivasi, despite the state’s refusal to recognize Adivasi rights to lands and forests. Worse still, the Supreme Court in 2019 has given a verdict in a case for vacating the adivasis from their traditional abode, the hills and the forests. It is almost a total failure of the welfare state in the region.
Despite its hardships, this life is all there is for adivasis and I know it for a fact that they value it. In the midst of the vicissitudes hunger, malnutrition, exploitation and alienation, what keeps adivasis going are the certitudes of community, their cohesive social and ethnic system, their faith in the bonds of kinship: the knowledge that relatives will help out in times of troubles as they always have. And the adivasis also have a sense of self, pride and place that leaving the hills and forests never arises in their minds. They are bound to the nature and multitude of their place of living. What the plains people and the bureaucracy do not understand is that the fear and the hardships the Adivasi faces generate a courage that could defy death or the threat of annihilation, leave alone persecution.
Visit to Taluk and District Offices (November 26, 2018)
At the Taluk Office Complex of Kollihills at Semmedu, the Team met with the Project Officer (Mr. Yuvaraj) who spoke to us of the projects being run currently on the Hills and directed us to THADCO (Tamil Nadu Adi Dravidar Housing and Development Corporation Limited) at Namakkal (district headquarter) to learn more about training, subsidies and loans for the tribal people. He also informed us about Women Development Corporation (WDC) functioning from the Collector’s Office at Namakkal having done a survey of the population of the Hills.
There is a e-seva (e-service) centre operating at the Taluk Office Complex where the tribal people are given any number of services, most free of cost.
Travelling down to Namakkal town, and the Collector’s Office Complex, the Team met with Ms. Kasthuri of THADCO, who briefed us on all programs of tribal development particularly of training, subsidy and loans for the tribal youth with skills. On her direction, the Team then met with the Project Director of the WDC (Dr. R. Mani) who in turn briefed us on the Pudhu Vazhvu (New Life) Thittam (Project), which has been implemented from 2006 through to 2016. He gave us the information that the Pudhu Vazhvu Thittam was primarily for alleviating village poverty (A poverty detection officer was in charge of the poverty survey of the Kollihills) and was an employment related program of development.
Pudhu Vazhvu Thittam (PVT) was a special focus on women (Mahalir Thittam – Women’s Project) and targeted people such as the Malayali tribe with an express objective of evaluation and monitoring of the programs in place. Forty-five of the 251 hamlets of the Kollihills were selected under the scheme and were given 100 per cent coverage.
The PVT worked in the following manner. On completing a survey of the population of the villages, in all relevant aspects of sustainable development, a Village Development Plan was prepared by the participating community. A Model of Development that could be adopted was then prepared and implemented. The Project Director of the WDC categorically said that the PVT was a great success in the State.
Eco-Tourism of the Kollihills
Kollihills are a serene mountain range with an inter-montane basin. There are several nature tourist attractions as well as cultural attractions. Though very attractive, the hills remain an unexplored nature, ecotourism destination because of lack of basic amenities. However, there are now quite a few privately-run hill resorts, catering to the tourists.
The hilltop, Semmedu, is reached by journeying through 72 hairpin bends on 28-km hill road, from Karavalli at the foothills. It is 55 km from Namakkal town, the district headquarters. There is an alternative route to the hilltop at Nariyankadu of Chittor Nadu, which is about 30 km from Semmedu towards the north. This road has just 3 hairpin bends and approaches the hills from Mullukurichi in the northeast of the hills.
The tourist attractions are the Agaya Gangai (Sky Ganges) waterfalls, Arappaleeswarar temple, botanical garden, boathouse, Seekuparai viewpoint, Maasila falls, Nam Aruvi, tribal market and a gamut of others. Most imposing of all are the pristine mountains and undulating hill landscapes covered with rainforests, sholas and secondary growth (eucalyptus) forests. Jackfruits of the hills are tasty and have mouth-watering fragrance. Pine apple, pepper, spices, minor millets, honey, bananas, guavas and 38 different kinds of edible routes.
The hills, especially the hilltops, have great potentials for tourism development, particularly for adventure tourism like trekking up the hills and breathing in the clean air while enjoying the sylvan scenery around. The hills have a salubrious climate throughout the year.
With the development of basic amenities such as star hotels serving quality foods and beverages, restroom facilities and other visitor and hospitality services, the tourism of the hills can be greatly improved.
Another attraction is the herbal garden, both government and private-run. Flower shows and herbal parks and recreational activities, the hills can be made more attractive to the domestic as well as international visitors.
Small Dams and Crops
I am writing this from the top of the Kollihills which is a good place to be. There is a singing wind that moves gently through the forests. There is greenery, an endless expanse of greenery. There are birds and there are friends. When I am alone here at the top of the hills, nature exists as a mysterious force. As the hissing wind breaks, there is a sense of beauty and a fear of alienation. I wonder how a Malayali should feel in the same in the craggy rock and whispering trees.
All of a sudden, I am struck by a question: do I belong here? I look at my approaching friends and then I see, clearly, assurance and certainty. The tribes have come back through a fire of hard life and brought assurance and certainty with them, for me to cherish.
No more ramble. Beth Finnis (a Canadian Researcher) once sent me a note saying that the issue of damming was relevant to people's lives, and that villagers were interested in addressing such development issues. In the process of her research, particularly during September and October 2003, it became clear that dam developments were not as central to food issues as it originally appeared. In the process, her research focus had shifted somewhat, reflecting more immediate development and food concerns for the tribes. Her initial intention was to gauge responses to and outcomes of small dam construction projects and proposals, but this focus lost relevance because of the ongoing drought in Tamil Nadu and the Kollihills, then. While there are small, irrigation dams in Chittur Nadu, these dams had become next to useless over approximately 10 years.
The general consensus among villagers was that dams are useful and good, in that they have enabled villagers to extend rice paddy fields. From the installation of these dams, beginning approximately 30 years ago, conceptual land use maps show, how one river was used to create a networked system of paddy fields (cultivation of paddy along the rivulets). However, as drought has reduced rainfall, the use of these dams as water reservoirs and dispensers had fallen.
Tapioca cultivation in the 1980s and 1990s was a response to changes in environmental conditions. However, before it became a viable crop in the area, other changes had to take place, including the construction of a reliable road into the area. Then came tapioca, the root crop, which is used for industrial production. Tapioca was not merely a responsive crop. It was a crop of opportunity, and the ways that people took advantage of this opportunity were affecting their environmental changes. Tapioca and drought had contributed to dietary changes. The tribe had accepted tapioca as a food source, making them food secure, but only for those growing the crop. In the 2000s, pepper has become the crop of the hills and every farmer has a creeper or two and some own plantations, small and large. Now that everyone has begun to grow pepper, there is now a glut of it. The prices are down. And so, their incomes are low. Some families have already begun to work on others’ farms to make a living. Others are waiting to see what will happen and how their fortune will change.
In the Kollihills, the poor and the landless always live on the edge of optimism, aware but committed, frustrated by lack of opportunities, given or taken away. But they are spirited in their challenge to organize and tread on a trail to access water, food and resources. Their strength I believe is their traditional ways of life and traditional ecological knowledge. And not many of them share my conviction, though.
The 7-System Management: Indigenous Knowledge System and
Traditional Managerial Practices of the Kollihills
Management Category Forms of Practices
1. Slope: Terracing, levelling, hedging, timber and rock heaping (what is generally called ‘cyclopean structure).
2. Soil: Bunding, application of green and cattle manure, tillage and field forms.
3. Water: Ayacut (gravity, down the terrace steps) principle of irrigation, storage in checkdams, traditional lifts (manual, animal-drawn), diversion devices and traditional delivery systems.
4. Micro-climate: Shade management (plantation and homeyard bushes of coffee), surface geometry management, tillage and wind management (hedging to keep off winds).
5. Plant-Vegetation: Crop selection, mixtures, intercropping, planting methods, agro-forestry practices, and predation management.
6. Animal: Domestication, and preventive measures against destruction of crops by animals and wild life.
7. Space: Spatial arrangement of fields and crops (land utilisation types) in relation to homes, distance minimisation and crop care maximisation.
Source: Kumaran, 1983; 1991; 1993.
Welcome to our new blog. We've teamed up with our colleague in India, Thangavelu Vasantha Kumaran, to publish updates on his humanitarian work in southern India. Updates will first be published in our newsletter, followed by more detailed updates here on our blog, for those who want to learn a little bit more!