Back to traditional farming systems – a case of Monpa tribes

The Monpa are an ethnic group of Tibetan descent inhabited in the western Arunachal Pradesh. A population of 45,000 is centered in the districts of Tawang and West Kameng. Nearly 80% of the community is depending on agriculture. Agriculture is based on local resources available with limited or no external inputs. However, without considering and incorporating the traditional ecological knowledge evolved through century old experimentations, policy planners and developmental agencies have been enforcing modern methods of crop production with high external inputs.

For nearly three decades, government agencies have been emphasising the use of chemicals to improve yields and protect crops. Commercial cropping led to declining crop diversity. Mono-cropping of cabbage, potato, Pisum sativum, etc., in agricultural plots and fruits like kiwi, orange and apple in horticultural plots took over. The traditionally valued crops for rituals (e.g. buckwheat, etc), soil health (soyabean, common beans, etc.) and human health (maize, millet, soyabean, common beans, etc.) got replaced.

The dietary patterns also changed from maize as staple to rice. Consumption of soyabean-cooked or fermented (Churpi), millet, common beans etc., was also dislodged, which directly or indirectly affect the nutrient demand of human body. Farmers viewed that due to declining of crop areas under maize, millet and soyabean, nutrient rich traditional diets preparation and thereby the health of younger generation is being affected.

 Rejuvenating traditional practices

Monpa tribes, particularly belonging to Yewang, Namshu, Zimthung villages having understood the importance of oak forest and gaining awareness about the health risk of chemicals, are looking back to their traditional practices. They started re-managing oak forest, which is an integral part of agro-ecosystem for soil health management.

Soil nutrient optimization is crucial for sustaining the agro-ecosystem in fragile Arunachal Himalaya. Interestingly, Monpa tribes managed it through a type of agro-forestry by maintaining oak (Baisnang Sing; Baisnang­ mean oak, Sing mean tree) forest on the periphery of agricultural land. The oak (Quercus sp.) tree generally shed their leaves during January-February month, which are collected and kept in one corner of the agricultural field. The collection and mulching is basically done by women in group called Mila. The mulched leaves have ecological and economic value by protecting soil erosion and runoff, maintaining soil moisture and soil health, which in turn enhances the economic yield per unit area.

Monocropping system was broken and several crops are being cultivated on the farms. As many as 53 species of vegetables, grains and tuber crops and 7 species of fruit crops are grown in different crop combinations in their traditional agro-ecosystem.

It took nearly 3-4 years for the land to regain its status with traditional management practices. Besides ecological and economic benefits, the revival of traditional system helped to maintain an organic crop production system by limiting the use of chemicals, ultimately benefitting the health of the community.

 Community management of agro ecosystem

Traditional Village Institution (TVI) or Chhopa/Mangmajom, as it is locally called, has been playing a pivotal role in revitalizing traditional agriculture and managing oak forest resources. The village institution is headed by Tsorgen (village chief) and assisted by Thumis or Tsoblas and village messenger (Gomin), as approved by general assembly (Tso-Tsangzon). A village fund (Khrien) has been generated though household contributions. All the households participate in every activity irrespective of their social and economic status. Villagers place their views in TVI, which are then extensively discussed and decided.

Now, Chopa have also developed some local norms and rules to avoid conflict in accessing the forest resources. The private and community oak forest lands are demarcated separately using stones or some other traditional symbols. A fine of a sum of Rupees 2,000 to 20,000 is imposed by Chhopa headed by Gaon Burah (village head) if rules are violated. The Chhopa reserves the right to reduce the fine depending on economic status of the guilty person. The collected money from the imposed fine is used by the community in social welfare activities, managing natural resources like plantation on community lands.

Getting back to traditional diets

With increasing crop diversity including grains, pulses, tuber crops and fruits, the Monpa tribes are getting back to their traditional diets. Besides, giving food security during environmental stress periods, these crops provide the required nutrients to the human body. Maize, a protein rich grain is the staple crop and firmament food (Churpi) of soyabean is being extensively used by the community. It has been observed that traditional diets including a combination of different vegetables, grains, tubers and fruits produced without use of chemicals are helping farmers maintain their health.


Agriculture and health are intricately linked together. Policy intervention in agriculture and human health are often pursued in a parallel and independent approach. Coherent, joint action in agriculture and health could have large potential benefits and substantially reduce the health risk of traditional farming comminutes. There is a growing recognition that agriculture influences health, and health influences agriculture, and that both in turn have profound implications for poverty reduction.


Author is thankful to Director, G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development (GBPIHED), Almora, India for providing the facilities, Scientist Incharge, GBPIHED, NE Unit, Itanagar, India for guidance. Thanks are also due to the farming community of Monpa for their cooperation during formal and informal discussion.


Dollo M and Sundriyal, R.C. (2003)a. Agricultural status and future potential in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, India. Arunachal University Research Journal. 6(2):21-33.

Dollo Mihin, Chaudhury Shivaji and Sundriyal, R.C. (2006).Traditional farming and land tenure systems in West Kameng district, Arunachal Pradesh. In: Shifting agriculture and sustainable development of North-Eastern India, (eds. P.S, Ramakrishnan, K.G Sexena and K.S. Rao). UNESCO-MAB series, Oxford & IBH, New Delhi, India. 293-315.

WHO (1992). Basic Documents, 39th ed. Geneva: World Health Organisation.

Mr. Mihin Dollo. G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, North East Unit, Vivek Vihar, Itanagar-791113, India,

Ph. No. +91 9436223597 (mobile); +91 360 2216423 (O); +91 360 2211773 (telefax)

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