Ukhrul: Yomatha Raleng, a 29-year-old theologian cum entrepreneur from Ukhrul district, Manipur, brought laurels to her hometown by speaking at the World Food Forum 2023 event organised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Raleng, a rewilding project coordinator with Hill Wild (a Ukhrul-based start-up), was among the six panellists from across the globe speaking on the topic ‘Youth-led agroforestry’ at an online event titled ‘Branching out: Youth Action and Entrepreneurship in Agroforestry for Economic and Environmental Impact’.
Speaking to EastMojo over the phone, Raleng said she highlighted the efforts of Teinem village in Ukhrul district, where people are rewilding barren areas to restore biodiversity based on Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge in collaboration with Hill Wild.
“It was an amazing experience speaking and listening to my fellow panellists, where youth presented their incredible experiences and insights on entrepreneurship in agroforestry for ecological and environmental impact. The event showcased the integration of GIS, challenged the food estate concept, and highlighted post-COVID economic strategies in tourism. We delved into global challenges, celebrated traditional wisdom, and emphasised the long-term sustainable potential of agroforestry,” said Raleng.
The round table conference, with its engaging Q&A session, pushed her to explore her work at a deeper level, she added.
While extending a congratulatory note to the young entrepreneur to be on the global platform, Hill Wild co-founder Zeinorin Angkang said, “I’m very happy with this initial step in our generational work. This collaboration with Hill Wild is one of the founding principles of why we want to share indigenous food with the world while preserving our biodiversity and emphasising the need for investment in this mission. Our food system is one of the most resilient systems in the world, and we must protect it at all costs.”
Raleng, who has a background in Theology with a specialisation in Social Analysis, has a deep interest in tribal theology, spirituality, and worldview, deeply connected to the land and ecosystem and how intrinsically related we are that produce the very base of life.
“I am committed to contributing to the restoration of biodiversity in Teinem village, my hometown, which is currently facing soil nutrition loss and the disappearance of indigenous food and knowledge systems,” said Raleng.
She further informed that her village’s focus is on reclaiming ancestral knowledge to maintain forests and establish a robust food system.
Teinem village is about 12 km west of Ukhrul district. It comes under the Lungchong Meiphei Sub-division community development block. The area of LM block is community land donated for development purposes, however, around 30-40 acres of land approximately remain as wasteland, of which the village authorities are enthusiastic to turn the area into a land use system such as agroforestry that can have both ecological and economic impact.
Raleng also informed that Hill Wild’s rewilding project aims to alleviate climate change effects through reforestation, restore soil nutrition and generate better income for the community.
In the project, they identified three crops that grow vigorously in the given climatic conditions: tree tomato, plum and sugarcane.
According to Raleng, these crops are widely neglected as cash crops despite the feasibility of developing and growing. One example and purpose of economic viability from the proposed crops is that every year Teinem village, like every other village of Ukhrul district, buys jaggery (around 2000 kgs) for Christmas celebrations. “This rewilding project will give the opportunity to produce their own jaggery that can improve the value exchange of the community. They can also have the breakthrough to be the largest producer of plum and tree tomatoes to meet the local demand and even beyond,” she added.
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Rewilding projects need a lot of community involvement in terms of volunteering labour, enduring non-profit partnerships and mutual understanding within the community in using the community land for the benefit of the municipal in ecological impact and economic development. The community will be involved in the traditional and easier method of planting, with low investment in locally available plants.
Through the project, they wish to plant 10,000 saplings of tree tomatoes and around 5,000 to 10,000 plum trees, looking into the availability of saplings. Tree tomatoes and sugarcane take about a year to harvest, while plums take three years at the minimum and six years at the maximum, she added.
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