Long before agricultural revolution swept farmers off their feet with fancy technology and science dose, the pahadi farmers of Uttarakhand had discovered a flawless way of ensuring there was never any food shortage. They called it Bara Naza (a local twist to ‘barah anaaj‘ which means 12 food grains).
This farming tradition, though on the brink of extinction, is still practiced in many remote villages in Uttarakhand in lower and middle Himalayan areas.
What is Bara Naza? Here are barah easy peasy points that explain it:
- Bara Naza is the practice of growing 12 crops in the same field in a particular farming season.
- These 12 crops include ram dana (Amaranthus), rajma (kidney bean), ragi (finger millet), mangjeer, green gram, buck wheat, lobia(black eyed pea), horse gram, a traditional soya called bhatt.
- This unique practice evolved from a simple need of being self-sufficient as far as food needs of pahadi people are concerned.
- Some crops can make do with little water, some are known to survive harsh winters, and some can flourish even in excess rains during monsoon. This ensures at least some output even at if major natural calamity like drought, floods, hail or snow strikes the state.
- So this way, if one crop fails, there are 11 other crops to fall back on. If two fail, there are 10 and so on… you get the drift right?
- This straightaway ensures that the farmer has food to get through a bad patch and does not go into debt. He won’t need to beg either, which is great for a self-reliant and respectable farmer.
- All crops mature at different stages, obviously. So a farmer’s family is generally quite busy throughout the farming season to tend to and later harvest each crop at a different time.
- As all school textbooks would have taught you, there are two farming seasons in India, — Kharif and Rabi. Bara Naza is usually preferred during the Kharif season (May-September/October that are the monsoon months).
- After a Bara Naza is harvested, farmers in the hills of Uttarakhand prefer to grow paddy, wheat, millet and masoor daal crops. This rotation and mixing of crops help in maintaining the fertility of the soil in a natural way. It also reduces damages due to pests.
- But as all sensible traditions and practices slowly fade away, this pahadi way of growing Bara Naza is also under threat from commercialisation. Farmers are being encouraged to grow single crop only to maximize profits. It works out all fine and the farmer also makes a lot of money until floods or harsh winters ruin a particular crop.
- As most of the farmers have now taken up other jobs and occupations to earn more money, women of the villages have taken up the arduous task of farming in many regions of Garhwal and Kumaon Uttarakhand.
- Terrace farming is the only practical way in which farming in can be done in the hills. Small terraces are cut out of the hills and mountains to make plain farming areas (called sari in local language). A single hill can have many terrace farms depending on the suitability of conditions and accessibility.