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.
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!