Traditional mixed cropping systems that existed before the Green Revolution could well be key to securing the country’s food and nutrition security in the climate change era.
The Kurichia tribal community from the district of Wayanad in northern Kerala has been practicing Ponamkuthu, or shifting cultivation, for centuries. It is a system of mixed cropping that includes an oil seed variety, cucurbits, and two varieties of minor millets. Unfortunately, as a result of improving forest rights, the Kurichia have been evicted from lands that belonged to them for centuries. Due to diminishing farmlands, the government provided non-Adivasi farmers with the right to cultivate on traditionally tribal lands. This has reduced space for indigenous practices like Ponamkuthu, and accordingly, this system has now gone extinct.
Similarly, the Paharia community in the Rajmahal Hills of Jharkhand has their own version of shifting cultivation known as Kurwa. The difference in this system is that vegetables, cereals, and pulses are included, and their cultivation is carried out over a span of years. Unlike Poonam Kuthu, the Kurwa system, though still in practice by over a thousand families, has seen a decline in crop diversity. These communities have slowly begun cultivating paddy under the PDS system and other crops promoted after the Green Revolution.
The Rammol system of cropping, unlike the above two, is practiced in the arid region of Kachchh. On account of this area being drought-prone, this system of mixed cropping has evolved to survive in these harsh conditions. When considering the Kachchh region, the government has actively promoted industrialisation, and traditional farmlands are now being increasingly taken over with no regard to the tribal population that subsists here.
India needs a new agricultural paradigm for ensuring climate resilience: a paradigm that ensures regenerative agriculture and maximises agro-biodiversity, nutritional security, and farmers’ incomes.
Agrarian development assistance can no longer be targeted towards modern styles of farming and limited varieties of crops. Assistance must be all-encompassing and should cover such indigenous cropping systems as well. Such genetically diverse farming will not only ensure environmental sustenance but also that of rural households.