Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Fire-Goat Co-op

Reading about the 'fire-y' methods of ecosystemic control employed by the native Americans in North America reminded me of a similar, interesting example; that of the use of fire by farmers in India and their ensuing social/business interactions with goat-herding nomads.
My family comes from a small village in the Konkan area of coastal western India, and we traditionally have a growing season of 4 months coinciding with the monsoon. Paddy is the staple crop. After the rice is harvested in September, the land is allowed to lie fallow till April-May. However, right after the crop is harvested, the fields are burned in controlled fires to clear any remains of the rice stalks on the ground or any weeds that might have lodged themselves in the field. The ash is later used as a natural fertilizer. However, as in the case of North American Indians, the farmers in the Konkan are aware that a profusion of (in this case, unwanted) grasses and shrubs begin to shoot up soon after the fires. The farmers deal with this by making a 'contract' with the dhangars, a nomadic tribe of goat- and sheep-herders. The farmers allow the dhangars to live and trespass on their fields and lands, in return for which the goats and sheep of the tribe graze on the succulent new grasses. This means that the unwanted weeds and grasses are controlled without any expense to the farmer, while the dhangars are able to perpetuate their herds. It is a win-win situation for everyone.

No comments: