Korapat Agriculture System in Odisha: Outstanding Value of Cultural Heritage and Agriculture Biodiversity

Theme: The Expected Threats to Small-scale Farm Heritage Land Use

By Ms. Madhura Sham Joshi
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Mumbai, India
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in International Architectural Regeneration and Development, Oxford Brookes University (UK)



In today’s time food production sustainability is major challenge where we are facing problems related to climate change, growing population, natural resources destruction with major loss of biodiversity. (Singh & Singh, 2017). Agriculture is at the forefront of the climate change effects and rising temperature, battling with growing population. With green revolution we managed to produce more food but we have damaged the natural resources and traditional agricultural system. The revolution has used fossil fuels, natural resources, machinery and agrochemicals. The green revolution has disrupted socio-ecology by creating environment pollution, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, soil erosion, decline in human health, threat to traditional agricultural system and knowledge. (Singh & Singh, 2017).

In recent time many studies have been conducted on small scale traditional farming systems across the world. For so many years’ farmers, tribal/indigenous people have developed diverse and locally adopted agricultural systems managed with time-tested techniques. Globally important agricultural heritage system is successfully providing food and livelihood to many poor people and small-scale farmers worldwide. These traditional farm and heritage has shown unique relationship between culture, landscape and agriculture suitable for its social environment. Unfortunately the climate change and biodiversity threats created by green revolution have been major threat to traditional agriculture system as well as lands of traditional small-scale farms. The economic viability of small-scale farm lands have reduced drastically due to urban migration, which has resulted into loss of indigenous farming techniques with loss of local species/breeds. (Zhang et al., 2017)

Figure 01: Heritage farming system and factors attached to them. (FAO, 2016)

The relationship between cultural heritage and agriculture is of special relevance for two reasons: The combination of agriculture as economic activity and system of land use on the one hand, and cultural heritage involving conservation and limits on use on the other hand, represents a challenge. (Daugstad et. al., 2006).

Koraput System – Traditional Agriculture System of Odisha:

Koraput region of the state of Odisha is known for its ecological wealth coexisting with poverty with more than 70% of the total population comprises of scheduled tribes. Despite the genetic richness and poverty in plenty, no significant effort has been undertaken in the region to overcome the prevailing dichotomy between resource richness and rural poverty. The system could well be designed to provide opportunity for developing efficient people centered, pro-nature, pro-poor and pro women oriented programs in the region that could bring in rural prosperity and ensuring a long-term bio-happiness for the people and the region. The unique features of the system assume global importance and initiatives need to be in place for local people to be a part of the conservation and, sustainable and equitable use of the bio resources.

Figure 02: Farmers from community working in farms using Koraput system (Koraput, 2016).
Figure 03: Farmers from community working in farms using Koraput system (Koraput, 2016).

Traditional agricultural practices have regained the increased attention worldwide as climate-smart approach. Traditional agriculture is the outcome of experiences provided by local farming practices through thousands of years. High productivity, biodiversity conservation, low energy inputs and climate change mitigation are some of the salient features of the traditional agriculture systems. (Singh & Singh, 2017)

Figure 04: Farmers from community working (Koraput, 2016)

Traditional farming systems in India have received a major boost at a time when Indian agriculture is struggling to come to terms with modern technologies. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has accorded the status of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) to the traditional agricultural system being practiced in Koraput region of Odisha.

In India recently many studies are conducted on traditional farming pattern due to growing issues with modern agriculture system. Many part of the India has traditional agricultural system practiced for so many years; Koraput agriculture system is one of the indigenous systems. The Koraput system is one of the agriculture systems with indigenous knowledge, rich in biodiversity, and promotes food security. (Sood, 2015)

The Koraput region situated in the Eastern Ghats of Odisha district is a high land plateau with number of hills and hillocks. The tribal people of Koraput region use their traditional knowledge to check viability of seeds before sowing, maintain soil fertility and conserve the landraces of rice and other crops. Families transmit the knowledge from generation to generation. Jeypore area in the Koraput region has rich genetic resources of medicinal plants. The place has over 1,200 medicinal plants that are used for curing bone fracture, malaria, gastro-enteritis and other ailments. Besides, Jeypore is also the place where many rice varieties originated; farmers in the area have conserved hundreds of rice varieties. Another important feature of their agricultural system is the tradition of maintaining sacred groves, which preserve plant genetic resources. Sacred groves are a biological heritage as well as a social mechanism through which a forest patches are protected and treated as deities by the tribal people. The Agro-Bio-diversity recorded in the region includes 340 landraces of paddy, 8 species of minor millets, and 9 species of pulses, 5 species of oil seeds, 3 species of fibrous plants and 7 species of vegetables. (Sood, 2015).

Traditional systems in the Koraput Region are strongly linked to the local traditional communities. From their knowledge and practices, a high biodiversity has been conserved through an in-situ conservation preserving endemic species. The food production is not always enough to satisfy all of their needs during the whole year. Being sustainable and integrated to its environment, the traditional farming systems of the local communities plays a role in conserving the rich floristic diversity consisting of about 2500 species of flowering plants. Strongly linked as a cultural trait, sacred grove is an effective method of preserving plant genetic resources. It is a biological heritage as well as social mechanism by which a forest patch is protected with a religious significance. Due to the current threats toward forest and agrobiodiversity such as mining and deforestation, the recognition of this GIAHS would aim to enable rural families to derive economic benefit from their past and present contributions to conservation of genetic resources. This would be part of the social valorization and integration of the local communities. (Zhang et al., 2017).

This biodiversity has a public good value deeply interlinked with the lifestyles, cultural value from local communities who needs to be recognized and valorized as custodian and owner. Food and livelihood security – Local communities mainly grow their self-consumption food. However, it is not always enough to satisfy all of their needs during the whole year being sometimes critical. Paddy occupies around half of the cultivated lands. Other food crops such as maize, millet, green and black gram are cultivated. Besides, they manage food from different forest produce including roots, tamarind, tamarind seeds, leaves, jackfruits and seeds, mango stones. The average income of a household comes from agriculture, poultry and employment as agricultural. To supplement their income and sustain their livelihood, local communities depend on forest produce for fuel wood, material for construction of their houses, agricultural implements, timber, and medicinal herbs. The tribal population depends on the low value non-timber forest produces for their subsistence. (Zhang et al., 2017)

However, due to threats such as deforestation and mining, the rate of loss of genetic diversity is very important dropping from 1800 rice landraces in the 60’s to 350 in the 90’s. The area, therefore, makes an excellent case for ecosystem approach to agricultural biodiversity conservation and management. This region is endowed with impressive biodiversity and is one of the primary centers of origin of rice. The cultivated diversity recorded in the region include: about 340 landraces of paddy, 8 species of minor millets, 9 species of pulses etc. Besides, new crops introduced are high yielding paddy and cash crops like sugarcane, cotton, and sunflower and improved vegetable varieties. Being sustainable and integrated to its environment, the traditional farming systems of the local communities play a role in conserving the rich floristic diversity consisting of about 2500 species of flowering plants belonging to angiosperms. (Zhang et al., 2017)

Local communities’ knowledge is mainly about small scale fields integrated to the land forest management. The hill forest is used as agricultural field by the tribal by slash and burn method of agriculture. Using their indigenous knowledge they take the viability test for seeds before sowing, maintain the soil fertility and conserve the landraces of rice and other crops. Strongly linked as a cultural trait, sacred grove is an effective method of preserving plant genetic resources. It is a biological heritage as well as social mechanism by which a forest patch is protected. The sacred grove has religious significance since it is believed that the vegetation is under the protection of their local deities. Even today we find forest patches left to local deities as a traditional custom.

Tribal have rich traditional knowledge on the forest species. They identify and use plants for food, fodder, firewood, medicine .. etc. for their subsistence. More than 1200 medicinal plant species are available in this area. This healing system is part of the Indian traditional medicinal system. Some exhaustive studies put into relief the religious aspects of the Sabara tribe of Koraput, covering even their magi co-religious beliefs about agriculture and food collection. Bondo tribe have complex magico-religious rites in seed conservation, fertility and production.

Integrated to its environment, traditional local communities’ cultivation has remained sustainable. Preserving the agrobiodiversity including cultivated and wild plants but also the traditional knowledge farmers had played a great role. That is why, forest preservation is a result of the human management. Looking at the water resources management, agriculture is mostly rain fed. Small streams are used for irrigation. Recently some areas in the region have irrigation facilities originating from a major river has changed the traditional agricultural practices. Due to the current threats toward forest and agrobiodiversity, recognizing this GIAHS would aim to enable rural families to derive economic benefit from their past and present contributions to conservation of genetic resources (Zhang et. al., 2017).

Threats to farm heritage land use from the study of Koraput traditional agriculture system:

The sustainable food production is one the major challenge of today’s time where climate change is one of the greatest threats to agriculture and farm heritage land use. In 21st century urbanization, changing social patterns, economic downfall, non-adaptable policies and lack of finance dedicated for farming has disrupt the traditional agriculture and heritage farm use of land. Major factors threatening the traditional agricultural system in today’s time are unsustainable model of agriculture using machines, major loss of breeds and seeds, pressure on accessibility to land, global warming. The traditional small-scale farm heritage land is under serious threat due to habitat loss, introduction of new varieties and lifestyle change with new food demands.

Figure 05: Land affected by human-induced soil degradation (Going Bio: Sustainable Agricultural Practices, 2018).

Indigenous farmers and local people perceive climate change in their own ways and prepare for it through various adaptation practices. Farmers who still use traditional agro-system are highly dependent on locally available resources and indigenous technology. The traditional system and indigenous methods are appreciated for its aesthetic, natural, cultural, historical and socio-economic values. Traditional agricultural practices have potentials to adapt and mitigate climate change through their agro-ecological features. They increase agro biodiversity and resilience of agro-ecosystems. Moreover, they are low-cost, energy-efficient and based on locally available resources. Indigenous people are custodians of traditional agriculture knowledge. (Singh & Singh, 2017). Incase of Koraput system, due to changing land use and many industries the common source like water bodies and forest are polluted. The changing use of land has disrupted the common resources of small-scale Koraput farming patches. (India, 2014)

Figure 06: Land issue in farming sector (Sustainable Land Management (SLM), n.d.)

Traditional agriculture can be adopted as an alternative method for sustainable food production in changing climate. Besides mitigating climate change, traditional agriculture is also helpful for human health safety, natural resource management, energy conservation and socio-ecological integrity. Agroforestry, intercropping, crop rotation, cover cropping, traditional organic composting and integrated crop-animal farming can be adopted as the model practices for climate-smart approach in agriculture. These practices not only mitigate climate change but also enhance agricultural sustainability. (Singh & Singh, 2017).

Traditional agricultural systems are extremely important for sustaining livelihoods, maintaining rural communities, preserving knowledge, and protecting fragile landscapes and agro biodiversity. Today most important threat to small-scale farm heritage land use is created by green revolution and modern agricultural methods. The main factors are unsustainable models of agriculture, dramatic loss of local verities, land access pressure, climate change, and migration and less economic output. (Zhang et al., 2017).


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