Comparative analysis of the village ecosystem function of different tribes living in the same area in Arunachal Pradesh in North-Eastern India

Maikhuri, R. K. ; Ramakrishnan, P. S. (1991) Comparative analysis of the village ecosystem function of different tribes living in the same area in Arunachal Pradesh in North-Eastern India Agricultural Systems, 35 (4). pp. 377-399. ISSN 0308-521X

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This study, done at Balijan, in the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh, considers the village organization and function, and the co-existence of four different tribes in the same area and the manner in which they share the common natural resources. Of the four tribes, apart from the local Nishis, two are from the adjoining plains of Assam (the Karbis and the Kacharis) and another (the Chackmas) from Bangladesh. The Nishis alone practice slash and burn agriculture (jhum) with a 10-20 year cycle length, though longer and shorter cycles are also met within the region. Though the gross economic return from jhum under a 60-year cycle was maximal and that under a 5-year cycle minimal, the net return was more under 10-year cycle because of the labour cost involved in clear-cutting a well developed forest under longer cycles, and poor soil fertility recovery under very short ones. The output from valley cultivation with one cropping, as done by the Nishis, was economically comparable to the 10-year jhum cycle. The yield from valley lands was much higher under two croppings, as done by the Karbis. Mustard cultivation on flatlands, or as kitchen garden crops, gave lower returns. A 10-year jhum cycle had higher energy efficiency with an output/input ratio of 43. Valley cultivation had lower energy efficiencies but had the advantage of yield on a continual basis year after year. Swine husbandry is practised by all except the Karbis, who avoid it for religious reasons. Cattle reared by the Karbis and the Chackmas is for milk production, whereas others raise them for meat. The energy and economic efficiencies of the Mithun (raised only by the Nishis) and the cattle raised for meat are reasonably high. Poultry and swine husbandry being largely detritus-based are less dependent upon the forest, unlike cattle and Mithun that need good forests for fodder. The energy efficiency of animal husbandry is related to free food availability, such as grazing, and also related to the slaughtering frequency. The Nishis, with better developed animal husbandry, consume more food energy and animal protein than others; they also export more meat from the village. The efficiency of the village ecosystem as a whole was higher for the Nishis, with greater self-sufficiency based upon recycling of resources. The village ecosystem function of the Kacharis is somewhat distorted in view of the absence of an agricultural base and their dependence on timber extraction from the rapidly declining forest resource base. This paper considers the implications of these results for the redevelopment of rural ecosystem functions.

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