The statement of the incumbent Rajya Sabha Member from Nagaland assumptively ascribing high prevalence rate of cancer in the Northeast region to the unchecked inflow of fruits and fishes treated with toxic chemicals holds water. Of the commonly applied chemicals detected, calcium carbide and formalin had been identified as highly carcinogenic and these two agents were reported to be widely used in imported horti and aquatic products in the state. The former is used as artificial ripening agent in fruits including apple, mango, pomegranate, et al whereas the latter is prominently found injected in aquatic products especially in fishes to prolong their shell life. Besides, colorants had been reported to be present in unpacked chilli powder openly vending.
Fish markets in the state run near dry subsequent to the detection of formalin-treated fishes first by Dimapur District Food Safety Authority, followed by other District Food Safety Authorities under the common umbrella of the State Food Safety and Standards Authority. As the ban on importation of fish into the state was temporarily imposed, price of the local fish skyrocketed even as the fish lovers thronged the few markets ready to splurge double-the-existing rate. Flatly, supply-demand equilibrium was further disturbed in spite of the unofficial hike in price for local fish.
Fruit is the next highly regular sector to have been tested positive for calcium carbide. Though not hardly hit as much the fish sector had been, fruit vendors largely disappeared from the scene until the time local women vendors partially took the front in meeting the market demand with local fruits (with their limited means). Uncovering the presence of carcinogens in fishes, fruits and foods did moderately have an effect on the market and bear an influence on the behaviour of the consumers. Closely happening result is the underline ideal that few dedicated farmers did, though inadequate, sustain the core demand of the consumers by networking their produce to the market. Ensuring continuity of market by the concerted effort of the hardworking farmers merit our reconsideration on the feasibility of reviving principally ignored traditional knowledge system as well as propagation of indigenous crops and fruits in regaining our lost battle in trade and commerce.
Traditionally, wet terraced fields were developed in close proximity to the perennial water sources to fundamentally serve two reasons – (a) to ensure the supply of rice and (b) for inland culture fisheries. No incident of importing snails and fishes from urban market to meet the consumption requirement of the rural inhabitants was heard until recently. On the reverse, rural areas had been playing host to commonly consume aquatic products in the state whereby people flocked to such areas during vacation to relish these special gifts. Sadly, overall productivity was not augmented even after Fisheries Department intervened with assistance for development of fishery ponds, supported by distribution of species of fish deemed favourable to our climate. The rationale for such low production is twofold. Firstly, the flow of perennial rivers and streams or other water sources is drastically reduced to the extent of drying up, partly due to anthropogenic activity including mismanagement of water sources and partly due to the effect of climate change. Such have direct ramifications on the wet terraced fields and fishery ponds as they suffered loss of its fertility. Secondly, excessive trawl for waterborne edible insects and bugs, apart from fishes and snails, has denuded sparsely available water bodies of its rich diverse resources beneath. Despite facing conspicuous limitations due to the combined effects of climate change and utter mismanagement of water sources, the Nagaland State Water Policy, 2016 gave an insignificant importance in rejuvenating drying up erstwhile flourishing wet terraced fields that sustained the need of our people (especially of indigenous aquatic product requirements) for centuries. Traditional ecological knowledge in double management of rice by simultaneously culturing and harvesting water-based edible bugs, fishes and snails need restoration. It is a two-way traditional approach in reinforcing our local economy. Local knowledge, in this attempt, may have to synergize with government initiatives.
Apiculture is another area in which the principles of Native Science may be invoked. The hives of bees and hornets are collected following an adventurous hunt in unearthing the nests, and are then reared in the backyard. In spite of the insufficient systematic database on the exact number of species of bees and hornets endemic to our state, Indigenous Knowledge on apiary has names of upto 27 bees and hornets in Sakraba Village under Phek District. It is stated that apiculture requires less labour as the bees themselves provides 80 per cent of the labour service leaving a mere 20 per cent manual work for the owners. A larvae-full big hornet’s (locally called fide) hive may cost anywhere between rupees five to ten thousand in the market or, so to say, a full-set nest may fetch close to rupees fifty thousand. Investing time and energy on apiary may not only prove adventurous for the off-work youths but it also possess a high potential to generate handsome income in strengthening rural economy. According to the Nagaland Bee and Honey Mission (NBHM), more than 3000 beekeepers in 502 villages produced 402 metric tonnes of honey in 2014, generating a total income of Rs 10 crores. The State Government need to upgrade the existing policy on escalating honey production so as to also accord primary importance to the propagation as well as ensuring the availability of hornets and bees round-the-year with local knowledge and scientific intervention.
The State has a large collection of plants as well as wild vegetables. Almost all wild leaves/stems in our widely-spread forests possess either nutritional, medicinal, aromatic and aesthetic values or for other domestic applications. For instance, the Japanese Knotweed, or simply knotweed, that grows aplenty in jungles is locally known for its unique characteristic as fat-reducing agent. Wood worms grow near to the settlement areas can be collected, dried and clubbed to be used during sanitation drive. Flowering plants like orchid, blumbego tibetica, cherry et al have dual benefits – as floral bed in the wild and as pollination ground for bees. Neem, gooseberry, castor, etc. have both medicinal and aromatic values. All the above mentioned plants neither need much tending nor much labour as they can survive and carry as much distinct value naturally existing in the wild.
The state has high demand for horticultural products. Presently, most fruits available in the market are being supplied from other states. Years of efforts have, nevertheless, resulted in continuous poor yield excepting few and far bountiful harvest in between. Of late, it is observed that our farmers have been stealthily switching over to the horticultural crops alongside jhuming, supplying primary requirements of fruits to the people whilst generating stable income as freelance vendors. Local fruits such as pineapple, pear, peach, guava, cucumber, banana, mango, orange, apple, lemon, etc. can comparatively result in higher harvest locally and can simultaneously have an advantage as well as competitive market price over the imported fruits treated with toxic chemicals. Floriculture is other sector that registered a booming development whereby mostly local women edifice their income by primordially culturing varied species of flowers as private growers purely for aesthetic purpose of beautifying their residences, and thereafter as suppliers by channelling the surplus to the market flow. Nurturing green vegetables and cultivars in our backyards is also an emerging trend. Previously, gardening was largely confined to the rural dwellers. A healthy model that reverses the previous trend is the practice of gardening even pervasively invading deep into the urban spheres. Equally worth mentioning is the attitude and behaviour of the citizens in choosing organic products over chemical-based vegetables. There is a note of positivity by seeing organic horticultural produce flooding our markets with corresponding consumers’ leaning towards local products whose combined consequence is the gradual increase of local women vendors frequenting the full stretch of the pavement in our towns. However, local women vendors need to be supported by easy access to credit and loan, right to safe vending outlets as well as security of their consignment. Excess production of tomato with almost nil government intervention in disposing of the surplus in a village under Mokokchung District recently serves as a perfect instance of government’s apathy towards the plights of our humble entrepreneurs. Farmers in Nagaland do need help from the government in ensuring low transportation cost, secured networks of market, better storage facility and a sound capital by virtue that they don’t claim for loan waivers as their counterparts have been doing in the mainland.
It has been reported that antibiotic drugs are being administered on livestock population, especially chicken, to gain weight. China and India are two international markets that have records for high use of antibiotics in chicken. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, chickens raised in India have been dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics known to medicine. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are two identified destinations from where chickens are then destined to other prospective markets throughout India. Consuming antibiotic injected chickens ensure continual existence of antibiotics in our body which eventually blunts the effectiveness of drugs designed to cure or prevent infection in our body. This renders ineffectual treatment for serious illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis, and hampers recovery in post-operative surgery. We cannot rule out the presence of antibiotics in fowl population that pack our markets posing a direct threat to our overall health. Rearing chickens (including wild birds), raising livestock in a humble farm attached to our fields and in our backyard had previously been exercised by our predecessors as a part-time job by almost all; and savings on consumption of poultry products and less spending on healthcare were its celebrated dividends. Therefore, indigenous practice of poultry, raising livestock such as cattle, pig (local breed) et al may generate supplementary revenue while concurrently combating the risk of exposing ourselves to antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Reinforcing the hypothetical statement of the MP (Rajya Sabha), it may be iterated that by way of consuming carcinogenic-coated fishes and fruits imported from other states, we not only contract deadly disease in due course but have been consequently incurring a huge loss by spending our hard savings for consumption combined with the cost of medication as a result of our preferred lifestyle. For once, we used to utter boastful statement that we have been independent and remaining self-reliant throughout the historical stages. This needs to be instantly decoded into deeds. The present scenario depicts an immediate need for an alternative intervention as we are presented with a collateral opportunity to re-monopolise trade and commerce (with indigenous solutions) that we casually let outsiders frequented our commercial spaces. In the process, application of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge on dual management of rice and waterborne bugs /fishes/snails in wet terraced fields, augmenting existing apiary by propagating species of bees, hornets and flowering plants, management of horticultural crops alongside jhuming, raising livestock, and sustainable harvesting of ecosystem services including freshwater for domestic, agricultural and commercial uses, exploitation of Consumptive Use Value, aesthetic, medical and aromatic plants, timber, faunal resources and other non-forest produce may bail our state out of the present dilemma we encumbered ourselves with.