Adapting to climate change - Conserving rice biodiversity of the Apatani tribe in North East India - An IGREC working paper

It also deals with the threat to the biodiversity in the area due to climate changes and argues for the need to devise adaptation strategies at an urgent level to preserve the unique genetic variability of the region and the indigenous knowledge of farming practices in the area.

The North Eastern part of India is perhaps the most rice biodiversity rich region in the world. The estimated diversity of rice found in the entire region is about 9650. The state of Arunachal Pradesh itself yielded around 616 germplasm collections of rice from 1987 to 2002. The region supports such a rich genetic resource owing to its highly diverse physiographic and agro- climatic landscapes. Natural selection coupled with the preference of farmers belonging to distinct ethnic groups has contributed to the development of wide range of rice varieties.

The Apatanis of Ziro valley in lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh are one such tribe which grow a wide variety of paddy in very small land holdings. This tribe, known to be relatively advanced among other tribal societies, grows paddy varieties of unique grain characteristic, nutrition requirement, duration, productivity and resistance to disease and insect pests, in highly evolved wet paddy cultivation coupled with pisciculture. The Apatanis, who practice terraced cultivation, have evolved 16 varieties of paddy with predominance of japonica strain of which those exhibiting low yields over a few consecutive seasons pass into oblivion.

However, in recent years it has been found that the varieties giving low yield are being gradually abandoned by the farmers and the indigenous knowledge of farming practices of such varieties passed on to succeeding generations is being lost. The unwillingness of younger tribe members to continue with the traditional practices and their migration to distant places in search of better economic avenues further aggravates these losses. This situation could worsen in the changing climate scenario where decreasing trends in sunshine duration have already been observed on annual, seasonal and monthly cycles for North East India.

No evidence has emerged from experimental studies of possible impacts of climate change on traditional rice production in Arunachal Pradesh specifically. However, it is being assumed that yield and quality of rice grown in the area would also be affected. The paper explores adaptation options to cope with this situation and argues that alterations in sowing seasons, moving to higher altitudes, intervention to grow different varieties of rice would not be viable options in such cases and argues that efforts need to be urgently made to see that every nuance of genetic variability achieved so far in rice of the North Eastern region is preserved.

The entire paper can be accessed from this link