Friday, June 15, 2012

Maize Amazed

Traditional agriculture in Nepal largely depends on rain, especially in hill region where there is no irrigation facilities. This year, there is not much pre-monsoon rain that has severe impact on crops mainly maize.

This long drought and scorching heat make new shoots of maize get dried and they are at the verge of complete destruction if there is no rain sooner.

People are growing different crops depending on geographical location and climatic condition but maize is their staple crop especially in the hills. Along with maize, people grow millet, buckwheat, wheat, mustard, potato, lentil, different types of beans and seasonal vegetables. Rice is main crop in the Terai (lowland), where there is plenty of water. Maize has been already harvested in Terai and now people are preparing nursery bed for paddy.

Planting maize

Procedure of cultivating maize is almost same everywhere in the hills. People prepare the land by burning the dried plants and spreading well-rotted manure. They plant maize ploughing the field at the end of February. After a month of plantation, they manually turn the soil to get rid of weeds and after two months, they plough the field using ox when maize plant is about 2-3 feet high. It takes some 5 months before maize is ready to harvest around last week of July. People select the best grains as seeds from the harvest for next year. These agricultural activities may vary depending on various factors: location, variety of seed, and preference of growing crops after maize. They generally grow millet and buckwheat after harvesting maize.

 Planting millet

Chepang people live the subsistence life working very hard in the difficult terrain in the hills but, sadly, their agriculture produces are not sufficient for whole year. If there is good harvest, it could be enough for the family for some 6 months. During food deficit months from Fagun (February/March) to Asar (June/July), they depend on wild foods: gittha, vyakur and tyaguna, the underground roots that naturally grow in the forest. Many men descend down to nearby town or go to other districts to work as day laborers.

Situation is further exacerbated by the culture of drinking jaad (locally made beer) and rakshi (alcohol). Generally both men and women indulge in drinking spree inviting family and friends until the last resources are available. As jaad rakshi are made of maize or millet, at least one-third of total produce is used to make the liquor.

When parents are away searching for foods or working in other place, elder children have to stay in the house looking after their younger siblings and doing household work. They often go to jungle with their parents to collect foods.

This is general situation in typical Chepang communities but things are changing in the places where local people are intermingling with other cultures. But the progress is obviously slow as old tradition is deeply ingrained in their heart and mind. Their socio-economic condition could be improved with improvement in agricultural practices when indigenous knowledge is blended with new ideas. But, most people find themselves at ease with their age old traditions and do not want to come out of that comfort zone. Probably they hesitate with change as it subjects to uncertainties.

Apparently people are getting worried, "If this situation persists, we won't have even enough grains for seeds for next year". Certainly, food crisis is looming for many Chepang communities.

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