Decline of Paddy Fields in The Ziro Valley
Paddy fields of Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

Ziro: What image props to your mind when you hear of the Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh? The annual music festival, right?

But it is also true that no image of Ziro is complete without lustrous, green paddy fields surrounded by pine-cloud mountains. Home to the Apatani indigenous community in the state, the Ziro Valley, which covers an area of about 297 square km, made its way into the tentative list as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2014.

Agriculture plays a big part in Apatani Culture, especially the paddy-cum-fish cultivation, where little to no chemical fertilisers are used to maximise land sustainability.

According to mythological beliefs, the forefathers of Apatani started practising paddy cultivation to save their people from food scarcity. In fact, to protect their crops (as it was the only source of food) from harm from insects, birds, and for a good harvest and cultivation, they started practising some rituals now celebrated as the two major festivals of the Apatani; Dree and Myoko. 

However, over the past decade, there seems to be a marked decrease in the ‘green’ area, especially after the highway construction began in the Valley. 

When asked about the visible decrease in the paddy fields, locals pointed out that earlier, Ziro residents practised farming for sustenance and not for profit. Slowly, however, people started commercialising their harvest. However, income from paddy remained low, and that is where the problems arise.

The daily wage of a person who practices paddy cultivation ranges between Rs 400-600 rs per person, and the local rice is typically sold at Rs 700 per 15 kilograms, while the common carp fingerlings, which are grown with the paddy, are bought for up to Rs 3 per fish depending on the size. When they are mature enough to be harvested, they are sold for around Rs 300-400 per kilogram. In short, the income is low, and untoward weather can severely impact the harvest too. 

All this, coupled with the free ration of Rs 5 kilos of rice per family under the PDS (Public distribution scheme), further reduces the incentive to grow paddy. 

As a result, people started constructing buildings on their agricultural land instead of continuing paddy cultivation. A majority of the buildings constructed near the highway are used for commercial purposes such as renting homes, paying guests, garages, hotels etc. The buildings constructed in the areas away from the highways are used for residential purposes.

But the impact of increased construction in the region is now becoming increasingly visible. Most buildings in the paddy fields have no safe wastewater management, resulting in the area around the buildings getting polluted which affects the crops and the aquatic life of the area. Locals believe there is a need to create awareness among the people about the impact of increased construction in the paddy fields. 

Taku Chatung, the General Secretary of Tanw Supun Dukun (TSD), an Apex Council of Apatani, who has been raising his voice regarding this issue for some time, told EastMojo: “The paddy cultivation of Ziro is not like the others who grow it mainly for production or consumption. Paddy cultivation is a very important part of our culture. So, I’ve tried convincing the people of Ziro to continue their paddy cultivation. Because if we discontinue this practice it’ll eventually lead to the extinction of our culture.”  

To fight against this issue, a concerned citizen of Ziro Tage Kanno said the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Horticulture of the Lower Subansiri district will introduce a double-cropping technique to address the issue of reduction in paddy cultivation.

Tasso Butung, District Agriculture Officer of Lower Subansiri district stated, “The Agriculture Department has installed solar fencing on two locations of Ziro: a 20-hectare fence in Arambo and around 10 hectares in Hong village. The company had delayed installing the solar fence and the season to plant any crop is already over, yet we have planted wheat in the locations for a trial. The success rate of this project is very high and if the plan succeeds we will do it on a larger scale.”

Also Read | Arunachal: Apatanis, Nyishis revive ancient ‘Manayang’ tradition

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