Friday, December 9, 2011

Northeast India: SRI to Zai Holes

I recently visited northeast India to follow up on an ongoing consultation effort for NEICORD, an NGO based in Shillong.  It was my third visit over the past two years.

It was good to see the fruits of labor related to the cooperation of NEICORD with a dozen communities in the Partharkhmah area just south of Guhawati.  With NEICORD involvement, since 2009, dozens of farmers have been experimenting with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Sloping Agriculture Technology (SALT) in addition to another couple of hundred persons who have begun making small kitchen gardens.  Practically all of the persons interviewed expressed satisfaction with their endeavors with intentions to continue as well as promote such approaches among their families and neighbors.

I was also intrigued/impressed with a number of their own farming approaches.  One included stripping grains by hand from the stalks of rice in their hill fields (see video clip).  I understand this is done mainly on extremely steep land, eliminating the need to cut, bundle, stack and thresh the crop in such precarious locations.

Another interesting rice system technique encountered there is the use of cattle to tread upon harvested rice to thresh crop (see video).

Finally, I was surprised to find zai holes of a sort being used in the kitchen garden of a Garo family.  Zai holes are traditionally employed in West Africa crop production.  According to the ECHO classic, Amaranth to Zai Holes, West African crops, such as millet, are grown in holes around 20x20 cm wide and 10 cm deep.  The holes are filled with mulch or compost, such as manures or crop residues.

Similar to the West African zai holes, some of the Garo make similar holes filled with a mixture of soil and manure.  Prijilla, the gardener, observes that vegetable crops planted on raised beds seem to grow a bit faster.  However, if water is short, the raised beds dry out much more quickly.  Therefore, the zai holes help extend soil moisture for dry season gardens.

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