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Fri, 20 Oct 2017

Northeast Today

Banana for Livelihood

Banana for Livelihood
September 20
15:10 2017

August Edition, Statewide Meghalaya, NET Bureau, Saidul Khan

It is inspiring to learn that farmers in rural hilly areas of Meghalaya’s Garo Hills are adapting to climate change in their own ways by abandoning jhum cultivation and taking up banana as an alternative as their livelihood.

Farmers of Adokgre and its adjoining areas in North Garo Hills of Meghalaya have adopted banana cultivation as an alternative to jhum cultivation for their sustenance.

Jhum also known as shifting cultivation is prevalent in most part of the Northeast, where a forest area is cleared for agriculture.

Adokgre village in adjoining Goalpara district of Assam has become a popular destination for banana cultivation. Almost every household in Adokgre region- both in plains and hills- are dependent on banana for generation of their income and livelihood.

The farmers say that jhum led to destruction of forest and the pristine ecology. They feel that they were on the verge of losing their identity as ‘hill people’, so that had to take the urgent call to protect their forest and rejuvenate the green cover.

“We have partnered with government organisation to plant more and more trees in the area, which had almost lost its green cover,” said Beckingson Sangma, a 60-year-old farmer, who has left jhum and is now cultivating bananas.

He said that during the peak of insurgency, the militants overpowered the forest department officials and has illegally cut down the trees.

“The militants came heavily armed and cut down the treesand sold it to traders in neighbouring Assam,” he said.

The lull in insurgency in the area, which was once a hotbed for militants have completely destroyed the Ildek Forest Reserve and the quantum of destruction is evident from the huge patches, which looks barren and empty.

Officials say that forest cover in Meghalaya has reduced Today 69.06 per cent to about 63.06 per cent in the last 15 years. The officials said that most of the forest cover has been reduced due to population pressure and conversion of forestland into agricultural fields, deforestation, urbanization and mining.

Farmers of Adokgre are into banana cultivation for ages. However, the area expansion under banana cultivation got a new impetus about five years ago with people abandoning jhum cultivation.

“I left jhum understanding as it was posing a threat to our environment. As a mean of sustainable income and livelihood, I have started banana cultivation in about 8 acres of land, which is enabling me to run my family,” said Beckingson.

In 2014, Beckingson started banana cultivation in a big way and is earning about Rs 10,000 a month. However, during peak seasons from September to November, he earns around Rs 25,000 a month.

For many farmers, banana cultivation has yielded better returns and has ensured economic stability. The farmers in the area are now increasing their land to plant other cash crops like pepper, bettlenut, jackfruit and oranges.

Though they say that help extended by the government agencies is minimal, yet they are upbeat with their farming activities, which have identified them as an important area for banana plantation in entire Garo Hills.

The farmers sell their produces at Adokgre weekly market, the biggest banana market in Garo Hills and at Darrangagiri district market in Assam’s Goalpara, the largest banana retail hub in Asia.

“Our farmers have realized that we need to conserve our forests. We have lost our forest cover due to jhum. Now, the farmers are getting back to their roots to conserve the forest,” said Charles Sangma, advisor of banana market at Adokgre.

He encourages the farmers to increase banana plantation and facilitates market linkage.

“I invite traders from Bihar and West Bengal to the market. Every Saturday, we are able to sell about 3-4 truck of banana Today Adokgre and the adjoining villages,” he said.

He admits that the demand of Adokgre bananas were huge as it is naturally cultivated. “Our farmers do not use any pesticides or fertilizers,” he explained.

Sardan Sah from Siwan in Bihar came to Adokgre about 40 years ago and started purchasing banana and sold it in Guwahati market. Over the years, he has expanded his business and has started a company of his own – National Fruit Company Pvt. Ltd and purchases banana on a weekly basis from Adokgre and Today Darrangagiri in Assam.

“I have made a living out of bananas of Garo hills. I enjoy a very cordial relationship with the farmers and banana agents here. It is an interdependent industry and we are keeping every ones interest in carrying forward the business,” said Sah.

The farmers fix the rates for the bananas depending on availability of their produces. On usual weekly market, the price of a truck of unripe banana varies between Rs 1 lakh to about Rs 1.80 lakh, depending on the variety.

A recent study published in – Climate Change and Food Systems: Global Assessments and Implications for Food Security and Trade states that temperature would change based on projected rainfall and temperature rise in 2030, 2050 and 2070.

It states that by 2070 land area suitable for bananas will increase by 50 per cent. Increasing annual temperatures will make conditions more favourable for banana production in the subtropics and in tropical highlands. In such a scenario, the Garo ills region can reap its benefit and make its pitch to combat climate change with food security, as banana can be an alternative to food and other nutritional needs.

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