Monday, 28 May 2012

Traditional animal penning in the deltaic regions – A waning practice for soil fertility management


Yuvasenthilkumar R., Research Associate, KM portal project
Shiva kumar P., Junior Research Fellow, KM Portal project
Pastures and professions
            “Pastures” is a word that denotes the large grasslands of Savanna of North America and Europe. Sometimes it will start with the dense forest and exist in kilometers. It is also extended in the semi arid forests of Africa from Sahara to Zambia. The Pastoralists were the nomad communities around the world, who thrive by animal grazing in the pastures for their livelihood. In some places, the pastoralists were accused for high soil erosion and destruction of forests. In some areas, the pastoralists suffer from the denial of rights to graze in the ecological reserves and in grasslands. Their grassland and the grazing grounds were encroached and these were the soil problems around the world between them and the administrators. Even in India, the pastoralists were regulated under the ancient economic regulation book written by Kaudilya known as Arthasasthra. It reveals the laws that have governed the village forests and the cultivable lands from over-grazing. Arthasasthra penalizes the pastoralists or the cattle herders, one who graze the land without the permission of the owner of the cultivable land or the governing body of the village administrative unit. The vegetation on the soil was considered as the major resource as well as the protection in the village governance.

Pastoralism Vs Cattle penning
            Most of the Pastoralists of the world were different from the Cattle penners and also in their function of the Profession. Pastoralists were professional nomads and they don’t have any place to settle permanently. The Cattle penners of Tamil Nadu were the seasonal nomads and they have permanent settlement of their communities at one village, who will also be doing some permanent profession there like Agriculture.


            Cattle penners have Socio-functional utility with their profession, unlike the nomadic pastoralists, who thrive for their livelihood alone. In short the Cattle Penners and their communities was the flower of the civilization’s excellence and the societies have evolved in such a way to protect and effectively utilize the existing resources. These cattle penners stand as the symbol for sustainability. The life of the cattle penners and their community is the best coping mechanism in the Eastern Tamil nadu’s livelihood. “The Konars” is the name of the community that has followed this profession for millenniums forms a key position in the civilized society.
Coping mechanism how?
            The Cattle and the Sheep penners of Eastern Tamil nadu, take the cattle and the sheep of the agrarian communities of dry upland in the summer and bring them to the greenish lowlands. Here the agrarian communities of dryland insure the cattle thrive in the summer with Konars. In rainy season, the Konars return the respective cattle to the agrarian communities and help them for their profession for ploughing. In this way the upland agrarian communities’ by-pass the dry spell and protect the cattle with Konars. This coping mechanism has evolved along with the nature in the course of time. There was a talk among the farmers in the lowland, once upon a time the vice versa was also true. The lowland agrarian communities have sent the cattle to the upland in flood season to save their cattle.

Win-win-win situation
            The profession of Cattle penning, an intelligent natural design leads to a win-win-win situation among the communities of Eastern Tamil nadu with the coping mechanism. This differentiates the nomads of other region and the cattle penners in terms of socio-functional means.

For Upland Agrarian communities
            The upland agrarian communities send the cattle and sheep to the Konar communities to drove them to lowlands for grazing in the flood less green summer. Thus the risk of fodder and water less summer of the Ramnad and Pudukkottai districts were by-passed and the farmers protect the cattle through Konars. The farmers keep the limited cattle for daily usage. Here the upland farmers benefited in this way.

For the Lowland Agrarian communities
The lowland agrarian communities use the cattle and sheep penners for enriching the cultivable lands with the manures. For each day the penners charge Rs.300-500 depending upon the number of animals. The delta farmers will be happy in allowing the cattle to pen on their lands. They get good yields in the subsequent crop. Here the delta farmers also get benefitted.

For the Konars
            For the Konars after mutually benefitting the agrarian communities of both the elevations gets profit as money these days for their family. They use the money for their family investments in purchasing own cattle or sometimes for developing their lands. The cases described in the figures will tell the story of their lives. There are n number families which involves in this profession today, which live prosperously.

Keystones have become useless
The cattle penners were considered once as keystones for retaining the fetility of the cultivable lands, with the cattle management have become unimportant these days. The majority of the agrarian population has switched to synthetic fertilizers slowly in decades and the population of the cattles have also reduced slowly on the other side because of the unimportance of animals in agriculture. Moreover the young Konars have changed their profession based on their modern education and have become employers for urban. “Today most of the Konar communities were running the last generation of their traditional profession” says Mr.Ravanachandran, a sheep penner from Budhalur. He adds, “it is same also for the agrarian communities that we have served with our profession”.

Research Opening
The deltaic regions have started losing it 80% of the fertility due to the lack of silt deposition and bad silt management strategies due to various historical and administrative reasons.  The waning practice of animal penning again seriously threatens the fertility management of the cultivable lands of delta. The last source of the organic matters deposition in the delta is also threatened. The only organic matter that is most common in the delta is the green manuring practice. It should be seriously considered to make a census over the Konar and the cattle penning communities and their livelihood and their spatial spread out in the Delta and the adjoining uplands of Ramanathapuram and Pdukottai in South and Ariyalur, Perambalur and Tiruvannamalai districts of North. The traditional practices or the art of cattle penning should be documented scientifically and it have to be conserved through the special schools for educating and encouraging their offspring among themselves. There are success stories of the young generation cattle penners in Budhalur block of Thanjavur district, where the five children of the traditional father were engaged in the cattle penning have earned in million of Rupees and have bought 70 acres of land and some 100s of own animals in his farm. Such farms have to be encouraged to create interest among the younger generation.  The Government and the Banks should consider these people for availing the bank loans to by-pass the risk of economic losses due to epidemics in cattles. The need special focus from the animal husbandry and the agricultural ministries for protect their livelihood in the Eastern Tamil nadu for the welfare of the region.

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