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'Barahanaja': The Traditional System of Subsistence Agriculture

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

The adobe of holy shrines, Uttarakhand, is a rich land of fauna and flora, heritage, traditions and culture. One part of its wealth is the traditional way of life, which in modern world is a valuable resource to an affluent ecosystem. Today we are talking about the climate resilient farming practice of 'Barahanaja', sourced from the lands of Garhwal.



Barahanaja literally translates to 12 grains ( barah - twelve; anaja -grain). This is an ingenious and entirely indigenous system of mixed farming from the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. In this practice, 20 or more different type of native seeds are sown together, which include complimenting grains of lentils, cereals, oil seeds or vegetables even. They are inter-cropped in a combination that is suitable for each plant’s individual growth.



The protagonist of Barahnaja is Maduwa (Ragi/Millet). Other edibles include cholayi (amaranth), kuttu (buckwheat), jowar (sorghum), kakdi (cucumber) and several legumes like rajama, urad, moong, gahat (horse gram), bhatt (soybean), naurangi (ricebean) etc. Til

(sesame), jakhiya (wild mustard), bhaang (hemp) are some of the oilseeds grown in Barahanaja.



The crops in this mixed farming culture follow the Kharif season where crops are sown in May-June and are harvested by October. The next are Rabi crops which are sown in October to be harvested in April. This include gehu, wheat. Non irrigated fields are divided into two parts, in what is locally called the Saar system. 'Saar' is the fields that are along one slope. During the summer cropping season, jhangoora (Barnyard millet), Foxtail millet and rained rice is grown in one saar while other saar has Barahanaja growing. In the following season, the order of saar is changed.



After each harvest the traditional and age old seeds of each crop are kept preserved for the next cropping season. The importance of this seed preservation is such that people could be sleeping empty stomach of hunger but won't consume those. Bindu Devi

says,


Beej ka bhi humare apne jeevan mein bahut mahatva hai. Kyuki jiska apna beej hi nahi hai wo kuch nahi hai
Seeds are very important in our lives. We cease to exist without them.

Vijay Jardhari and his fellow farmers started the ‘Beej Bachao Andolan’ (BBA), save the seed movement, at a small village Jardhargaon in Tehri (Uttarakhand) in 1986 with the same view.



The scientific expertise of today shows that the system of Barahanaja is an ecologically befitting and benefiting farming practice. The diversity of crops help maintain the fertility of the soil. The creepers of legumes use the stems of grains/plants as a natural support, while the grain roots grip the soil firmly, preventing soil erosion. Also the legumes return nutrients to the soil, which are used by other crops, with their nitrogen fixing abilities. Moreover, people in hills stick to the traditional way of pest control using neem leaves, ash or cow's urine. No chemicals are used and the sanctity of the soil remains preserved. The farmers who would have invented this mixed farming culture might not have been familiar with these scientific terms, but with their own experiments and temperament they had been very successful to devise a sustainable and soil-friendly practice.



As for the benefits it provides to the farmers, barahanaja helps combat the food shortage and ensures food supply at all times. With the evident climate change that is happening around the world, heavy rains or draughts might damage some crops from the barahanaja fields, but some will remain unaffected. This, hence provides food security. Not only that, the cultivation of barahanaja prevents the crops from complete destruction by any sort of animal attack. Monkeys, for example can destroy a number of crops but they won't even touch cholayi (amaranth). Likewise, in higher altitudes bears are known to love manduwa (Ragi), which means they won't bother about the rest of the lentils or vegetables grown alongside. Barahanaja not only feeds farmers but provides fodder for their cattle as well. This proves that barahanaja is not just agriculture, but a practice in gramaswaraj, self sustenance and self dignity.



Practice of Barahanaja needs to be preserved for it bears the potential and hope for providing us food security, food sovereignty and nutrition, sustained animal husbandry, environmental conservation and a new lease for resurrecting our lives.


However much or less is said about it, this climate-resilient technique of agriculture needs acknowledgement even from the people of Uttarakhand. Not many are aware of the immense prosperity of this organic approach. The local activists like Vijay Jardhari must be provided with an adequate platform to enlighten people of this sustainable know-how in the times to come.

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