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!