Changes in Agriculture: A story from Himachal’s Lahaul Valley

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Photos Courtesy: Prasenjeet Yadav

I hail from Gumrang - a small rugged village in Lahaul (Himachal Pradesh). There are about 22 households and we are majorly dependent on agriculture. Farming along with livestock husbandry and agro-pastoralism has been traditional livelihood for locals here but there has been significant changes in since last decade. I have been farming for over the last 17 years, I have seen how much has changed in the valley in terms of food sustenance, practices around agriculture and resource usage.

 

I remember, when I was young, we used Yak and bulls to plough our fields. Traditional methods of ploughing like this required at-least two men and yaks to complete the task but we have gradually shifted to machinery to get the work done single handedly. About 30-40 years ago, we would cultivate Kaatu/Kathu (buckwheat), Jo (barley), Kala matar (black peas) in Lahaul which is enough for our sustenance. These traditional crops are full of nutrients and are suitable for people living in high altitude landscapes. In the current economy, even with introduced cash crops like green peas, potatoes and apples, it is sometimes hard to make ends meet. One cannot fully rely on cultivation anymore, we are less resilient towards changes in weather and crop disease.

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Photos Courtesy: Chhering Gaaji

Many villages in Lahaul are dependent on snow fed glaciers and springs for water resources. People wait for glaciers to melt and collect in water reservoirs before it is channelled for various purposes. In older days when the water was abundant, we could make water channels by our hands and get the water to the fields. Irrigation was done through hand-made Kuls (canals) and the water was distributed among different households on a rotational basis. However, due to change in weather patterns and growing need, the glacial water melt is a scarce resource and sometimes there is also a need to pump it up from the river. The general access for water and irrigation has become more convenient with the use of drip and sprinklers in the fields but at the same time, many of the natural water sources like springs are drying up and there’s less water in our Kuls now. Sprinklers and drip irrigation seem to consume less water but I realized our crops require frequent watering (2-3 times a week) as the water is not able to penetrate deeply in soil.

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Photo Courtesy: Chhering Gaaji

Years ago, each household had 40-60 livestock which was a good source of manure to the fields. Many families now have sold their livestock and now it's hard to find any cattle in the villages. Due to this, the access to manure also reduced and the fields produced less. Cash crops like green peas, cabbages and the cultivation of exotic vegetables like broccoli which is increasingly becoming more dominant in the valley require more tending. The families then opted to supplement their field with urea fertiliser which caused damage. Excessive usage can deteriorate the soil quality and can lead to more pest attacks. In many cases, it also impacts the field of neighboring families who might be using organic fertilizers for the crops. I hope we, as a community, become more sensitive to these changes and be mindful of long term sustainability of our land and resources.

About the Author

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Chhering Gaaji

Chhering Gaaji is from Gumrang village in Lahaul and has been farming for over 17 years. He grows green peas, potatoes and barley in his field. He is very passionate about traditional farming systems and continue to practice them on this fields.