Name: You Haichao
Status at Waseda University: 4th year, School of Economics and Political Science
This summer our class went on a fieldtrip to Nagaland, in the northeast of India. We spent around one week in a typical Ao* village called Mopungchuket. Shifting cultivation is a specific method of agriculture that is being widely applied there. In this article, I’d like to briefly discuss some sustainable aspects of shifting cultivation as well as other, less sustainable forms of development that I observed during my stay in Mopungchuket.
Walking around Mopungchuket village on our first day to gain an overview of the village.
A day of fishing. I felt like a true fisherman siting on the river stones.
First of all, working on a certain field for several years and then turning to another field to let the former one rest is quite a scientific and long-sighted idea which is of great benefit to the ecosystem. People in Nagaland have been applying such cultivation methods for thousands of years and the scenery we saw in the fields showed that the earth had indeed been well protected. I feel that such kinds of resource management and land usage practices are wise and suitable for sustaining the environment.
In addition, from a social aspect, shifting cultivation is a collective practice that involves all the farmers in the village and contributes a lot to the unity of the community. In other words, shifting cultivation makes the community more sustainable as well. During our stay in the village, I observed close relationships not only between humans and nature, but between fellow humans as well. The village seemed to have a magic way of bonding people together. When I asked the villagers whether they would prefer to be a free-rider in the community, they answered that no one would willingly act in such a way. If they cheated a fellow villager they might get a certain one-time benefit, but they would never be accepted by the community again, and in the end there would be no benefit to the cheater. In such a society, participation in the community is just as much a priority as individual identity. What’s more, if the whole community shares the burdens and risks, the costs of cultivation can be decreased in an efficient way. Shifting cultivation links people in the village closely and provides a good method of resource management.
A farmer named Ben cooked a meal for us using certain special plants and fish from the river.
The rice was cooked inside bamboo stalks.
However, there are also some problems with regard to sustainability in the village. Take shifting cultivation as an example, more and more villagers are now starting to work on projects offered by the government and no longer practice shifting cultivation. Such people are often regarded as “lucky”, but I suspect there may also be some problems with the selection of such “lucky people” as well as with the distribution of land and benefits. During the selection process, bias may arise and hurt the harmony of the village. Many of these issues are brought about by the market economy. For example, another serious issue related to the rise of commerce within this area is that people are gradually becoming aware that even though they own land resources, they lack currency to exchange for other goods and services. “People here are fascinated by the world of commerce, but at the same time they are also confused by it.” said one of the members of a NPO in Nagaland. Young people in the village are beginning to go out to seek jobs with the government. In consequence, many traditional skills such as the making of bamboo crafts are being lost. Traditions are being forgotten, and that, unfortunately, is an unsustainable aspect of development in these villages.
The issues above are also linked closely to the purpose of education for young people in the village. The central question is this: what is the purpose of education in the village? Does it aim to educate the young to be knowledgeable enough to leave the village and find a job in urban areas? Or does it try instead to hold them within the community and teach skills and farming methods that will benefit them when they are working in the fields?
The departure of young people from their villages is a serious problem faced by not only Mopungchuket village but many other traditional villages as well. A method offered by one local council was to focus on specialized place-based education, and to keep maintaining traditional skills while developing small industry that fits the scale of the village as much as possible. To educate young people about traditions re-emphasizes the value of the original norms of the village, and helps them to rethink the concepts of “self-sufficiency” and “sustainability” both for the village and for the ecosystem as well. In my opinion, focusing on the village’s natural resources and how to use them to create value and land-specialized products is the best way to attract young people back to their hometowns and promote sustainable development in these villages.
In conclusion, I noticed both sustainable and unsustainable aspects of village life in Nagaland during our fieldtrip. Although I was not able to write down everything that I observed, the aspects I mentioned above should hopefully provide a brief overview of my thinking in terms of “sustainability”.
* A Naga tribe living in northeastern India
Cultural performance day. I performed a traditional Chinese dance in a special costume
while the other Japanese students performed a dance called “Tokyo Ondo” wearing Yukata.
Dressing in the traditional costume of Mopungchuket village. We were told that each village
has a slightly different style of dress.