Traditional Knowledge is Tool for Resiliency and Food Security

The jumia/jhumia are cultivators engaged in hillside agriculture which has been a traditional practice in Chittagong Hill Tracks in Bangladesh. Jum or shifting cultivation has been the  only  livelihood  means  for  around  50% of the marginal and  landless  farmers  living  in  the  remote  hills, which has been regarded by the  government and some sectors as a  harmful  practice. 

With the challenge posed by climate change and food insecurity, the jumia have to be resilient. The workshops conducted by Trinamul Unnayan Sangstha (TUS) were opportunities to learn about diversified jum crop production, traditional harvesting techniques and technology. Participants discussed cropping and harvesting seasons, crop storage, traditional seed  and preservation  techniques. The seeds brought  by the participants  were  the focus of traditional  knowledge (TK)  in crop cultivation.

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The  jum  crops were classified according to price  and  production rate to promote the  importance  of  jum  economy  in  the jumia’s overall  livelihood  status. Jum  seeds  were  collected  from  the  participants to  encourage them  to  find   options  that will yield  maximum  output  from the  land  and tools through traditional methods of  cultivation. Towards resiliency and their survival  as  traditional  Jum  cultivators, they learned to combine high  value  and  general  crops  while  improving  their economic  status.   

The women,  youth,  and the elderly,  in a workshop on food  and  seed  preservation learned about the  existing  practices  of  traditional  seed  preservation;  local  ethics  and  norms  in  the  process  of seeds exchange;  community  seed  bank management; criteria in seed  selection; improving  seed  quality;  traditional  seed  storage  methods;  and  traditional  food  preservation  methods.

Women’s significant role and contribution in seed and food preservation and in upholding traditions was the focus in a separate session. Their task of gathering resources from the forest, and their spiritual and medicinal healing was recognized. There was a consensus that women have the right to participate in  decision making, and they should be allowed  to make  decisions  in their  respective  fields. 

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Traditional healers who shared their knowledge on traditional healing practices and forest medicines brought  medicinal  plants  and a  list  of  common  diseases  that they treat and discussed  spiritual  healing  system. The medicinal collection and  preservation  methods were organized as a database to  help  the  healers  learn  from  each  other  and  nurture TK. This database was used in a workshop focused on the history of traditional healing in the country and expected  to help  the  healers  practice  the  knowledge  for the overall  wellbeing  of  the  indigenous  communities. Biddut  Lata  Tripura, an elder and traditional healer reflected that they “…usually  practice  in  our  locality  and  rarely  get a chance  to  meet  other  healers  who  have  knowledge  on  hard  to  heal  diseases  and  know  the  local  names  of  many  herbal  plants  we  collect  from  the  forests.” He was grateful  to TUS for giving them the opportunity to share their  knowledge. 

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The workshop for women,  youth, and the  elderly  on  Village Common Forest and Natural  Resource  Management  focused  on  drawing  a  list  of  TK practices, beliefs,  customs  and  rituals in the collection  of  resources  and  their  usage.  The examples cited can improve  the  TK  based  natural  resource  gathering  system  and  livelihood  as  well  as  food security,    traditional  agro-forestry  practices, and  biodiversity.

In the workshop  with  Line  Departments  officials  and  experts, TK  as  an  essential  part  of  sustainable development practices was recognized in the fields of Natural Resource  Management,  local  food  and  seed  preservation,  and  traditional  healing.  Officers  of  line  department  and  development  boards  expressed  their  interest  to  utilize  some  selected  TK methods. Tarun  K.  Bhatcharya from the Directorate  of  Agricultural  Extension stated that “TK  is  invaluable  for  the  marginal  hill  farmers whose life  skills  and  opportunities  are  managing  forest  resources  and  jum  cultivation. TK can  be  utilized  for  their  betterment.”

A jumia mused that “This  is  most  probably  the  first  and  foremost  initiative  for, and with  Jumias  because  no  other  organizations  call us  in  this  kind  of  workshops  and  work  on  our concerns.”

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The project “Enhancing  climate  resiliency  and  increasing  food  security  through  traditional  knowledge” was implemented by Trinamul  Unnayan  Sangstha (TUS) in January 2018 with the support of PAWANKA Fund.