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Jayanta Kumar Sarma
Date of Publish: 2015-09-02

The benefits of a ‘bari’


The traditional concept of ‘bari’ or home garden in Assam can be utilised not only to help converse Assam’s natural capital through agro-forestry but can provide large-scale employment too.


Jayanta Kumar Sarma

A traditional Assamese house is incomplete without the component of a ‘bari’, or a backyard filled with a variety of useful trees, shrubs and herbs. In modern-day parlance, you can call it a home garden.

Call what you may, but this ubiquity on the landscape of Assam, without many realizing it, has been an important factor in conserving the natural capital of the State. And if the model can be kept going in an organized manner, it can not only prove to be an important means of sustainable development -- key words to tame the tide of climate change gripping the country including Assam, but also can provide large-scale employment in the State.

In scientific terms, this mode of land use is called agro-forestry. It basically means a special land use approach where field cropping, livestock farming and plantation of forest species can be practiced in an integrated manner. It is an age-old method, quite commonly practiced in the homestead areas of tropical and monsoonal climactic regions.

With the global focus shifting to means of sustainable development in the recent decades, there is now a renewed interest in agro-forestry worldwide. Simply because this practice has the potential to provide environmental, economic and social benefit from just a small plot of land (as in figure -1).

It is noteworthy that in an agro-forestry system, the combination of trees and field crops create different vertical and horizontal stratifications which are diverse in nature (as in figure-2). These stratifications of diversity depend on the approaches of designing a plot for operation.  In general, it is designed with due consideration of spatial arraignments in relations to its characteristics of roots penetration and spreading, requirement of sunlight and sheds, etc.

In Assam, the practice of agro-forestry has been in existence from time immemorial in the form of traditional homestead farming practices. It is common both in the plains and hills of the State, among all the indigenous communities, though they have a different name in different language and dialect.  Like, it  is called ‘bari’ in Assamese, ‘intathingre’ in Singpho, ‘gimrouck’ in Tangsa, ‘nolai-haphai’ in Dimasa, ‘kilou’ in Zeme, ‘kho’ in Kuki, ‘khou’ in Hmar, ‘shong’ in Jayantia, etc. Today, this age-old practice has become a potential natural capital of the State which represents 21.67 per cent of its total geographical area. These homestead areas with trees are a significant presence in all the districts of the state (as in fig.3).

However, such areas are yet to be harnessed in a systematic manner to become a means of sustainable development. Conservation of biodiversity, control of land and soil degradation, regeneration of vegetation cover, generation of employment and creation of livelihood security are some of the important challenges of creating a path for sustainable development. With Assam having a high density of population (397 per sq. km. against the national average of 382 per sq. km) and with more concentration of youth in the population (42.57 per cent against national concentration of 41.05 per cent), the situation regarding natural cover and also employment opportunities are alarming in the State. Introduction of agro-forestry along with improvisation of the existing traditional agro-forestry practices may provide some scope of facing the two challenges by appropriately harnessing the natural capital of the region.

To do that, these homestead areas need to be designed systematically for plantation, cropping and animal rearing practices in an integrated manner, keeping the agro-climatic zones of the State in mind. Some of the possible combinations can be --

Agri-silviculture: Field crop plus trees

Agri-horticulture: Field crop plus horticultural crops

Agri-silvo-pasture: Field crop plus trees and grass

Agri-horti-silviculture: Field crop along with horticultural crop and tree 

Horti-silviculture: Horticultural crop plus tree

Horti-aqua- silviculture:  Horticultural crop along with tree and fishery

Silvo-pastoral: Tree plus grass

Silvo-aquaculture: Tree plus fishery

Silvo-apiculture: Tree plus bee keeping

Agri-silvo-apiculture: Crop with tree and bee keeping

Agri-silvo-aquaculture: Field crop with tree and fishery

Agri-horti-silvo-aquaculture: Field crop with horticultural crop and tree and fishery

Agri-silvo-sericulture: Field crop plus tree and sericulture practices

Agri-horti-silvo-sericulture: Field crop with horticultural crop, tree and sericulture practices

Such agro-forestry practices can be followed by developing a cluster base approach of value addition to the agro-forestry product through rural ago-based industrialisation. It may create opportunity of employment generation in primary (agriculture, plantation, animal rearing, etc), secondary (processing and value addition) and tertiary (promotion, marketing and management) sectors. But it requires a systematic planning and integration among the interrelated sectors. One can imagine a situation like this: a farmer will produce banana in his agro-forestry plot. He may sell the fruit and the value addition unit can go for producing fruit juice from the ripen banana or make banana chips from raw bananas. The remaining raw material waste can be used for face mask production or to make banana powder (a raw material for bakery). Banana leaf can be used to produce packaging material as an alternative for polyethylene carry bags. A fibre can be extracted from the banana stump and be used for handloom or textile units. Same can be possible from papaya, pumpkin, taro, betel nut, tapioca, etc.

Such an approach is possible when government agencies play a proactive role and focus on integration and coordination among the departments of agriculture, forest, fishery, sericulture and industry and financial institutions along with NGO/CSO/VO and private enterprises. Till date, such initiatives are not overt to the public. It is high time the Government thinks on such lines because it holds the key to solve some of the teething problems of the State at one go.

(Jayanta Kumar Sarma is a freelance consultant in the area of Environment and Development and  he has been working with NGO, Educational Institutions, private entrepreneurial farm and government agencies of North-east region. He did his Post graduation in Geography from Gauhati University and Post Master in Natural Resource Management from IIFM.)








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