Conservation specialist Joli Rumi Borah has discovered that a traditional Indian farming method that feeds millions of people in the Global South also has carbon, biodiversity and cultural benefits.
Borah, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, says carbon stocks and biodiversity have recovered where shifting cultivation, called jhum by the indigenous Naga people, was found in Nagaland, northeast India.
“My research has shown that farmers in northeast India have adopted various innovative methods to improve crop yield and forest regeneration,” she says, adding that this was evident in the high levels of stocks of carbon and the diversity of birds in the jhum culture landscapes in Nagaland.
Borah, who studied jhum as part of his doctoral research at the University of Sheffield, UK, suggested that there was significant conservation value in jhum cultivation, which is an important traditional agricultural method that covers an area of 280 million hectares and provides sustenance for 200 to 300 million people in the countries of the South.
” Manage effectively jhum cultivation is crucial to reducing carbon emissions and biodiversity loss while ensuring food security for local communities,” she says, adding that the project’s biggest challenge was the region’s extreme remoteness and lack of previous studies.
“Living and working with the indigenous Naga communities of Nagaland has helped me realize the importance of community conservation for positive societal and environmental outcomes,” she says, “I learned that contrary to widely held perceptions of jhum cultivation as a primitive and ecologically unsustainable practice, it is a dynamic and complex system that is well adapted to high rainfall and environmental conditions in mountainous regions and less harmful to the environment and biodiversity compared to the permanent agriculture (for example, plantation of oil palms or rubber trees). ).”
Communities close to nature
Borah was born and raised in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam, northeast India.
“Growing up in this biodiversity-rich region, I developed a fascination with nature from an early age,” she says, adding that local concerns drove her from the start of her STEM journey.
“During undergrad, I wrote a dissertation on human-elephant conflict, a major concern in and around my home town of North Lakhimpur, and co-founded a conservation NGO to help raise awareness about biodiversity conservation,” she said.
Borah would then receive a full scholarship to do a Masters in Wildlife Science at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India.
“Being from the South, I have witnessed the impact of some of the global challenges such as deforestation, food insecurity and climate change on local communities. Therefore, finding nature-based solutions to these challenges is very personal to me,” she said. says, “Breaking down linguistic and economic barriers and building fair and meaningful partnerships with local communities and scientists in the Global South will also help make science more inclusive and equitable.
During two years, as a project assistant at the National Center for Biological Sciences in India, studying the impacts of logging on bird communities in the Eastern Himalayas of northeast India, she experienced first-hand how the indigenous Bugun tribe worked together with the government and scientists to conserve this biodiversity hotspot.
“It inspired me to pursue a doctorate in conservation science to find such ways to reconcile biodiversity conservation and human well-being,” she says.
Borah has also been actively working to break the language barrier by communicating science in my mother tongue, Assamese, on various platforms such as blogs, podcasts, magazines and Assamese Wikipedia over the past decade.
“This can be a crucial step in decolonizing science by incorporating multiple ways of knowing and doing,” she says.
Rajeev Varshney is another Indian scientist who studies the relationship with cultures and communities.
He’s spent decades learning all about the chickpea, probing the depths of its genome to unlock the secrets of yield, nutrition, drought tolerance, and pest and disease resistance.