Eastern Himalayan Naturnomics™ Forum 2016

Learning off the Land

Knowledge is not confined to books or academia alone – one can learn from years of observation and experience too. Three local Botanists from Balipara, Assam, whose great knowledge of Botany was gained through decades of practical experience and not through formal education, bear testimony to this fact

L-R - Rajen Kurmi, Bhadra Nahak and Komission Mille of the Eastern Himalayan  Botanic Gardens

L-R - Rajen Kurmi, Bhadra Nahak and Komission Mille of the Eastern Himalayan Botanic Ark

The Founder & Managing Trustee of the Balipara Foundation – Mr Ranjit Barthakur –   felicitated Rajen Kurmi, Bhadra Nahak and Komission Mille at the recently held Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics™ Forum. Rajen Kurmi has over four decades of experience in joint forest management, and is now a leader and mentor at the Eastern Himalayan Botanic Ark at Balipara. Bhadra Nahak, an expert in gardening techniques, germination and plantation, is considered the Kitchen Garden Expert at the Eastern Himalayan Botanic Ark, while Komission Mille, with a wealth of knowledge handed down through five generations, is an authority on common medicinal plants. Like these three, there are many indigenous experts on trees, plants, birds and animals whose knowledge has been garnered through years of observation or learned from past generations. Some know the habits of local birds and the detailed movements of migratory birds just by having observed them year after year.  Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have a very rich tradition of using herbal medicines in the treatment of various ailments. Tribal communities practice different types of traditional healing practices. These are not confined to the treatment of humans alone, but of animals too. This data bank has to be preserved and the ‘teachers’ encouraged to propagate their knowledge before it is lost forever.  

These ‘teachers’ can teach children about local flora and fauna through the senses of touch, taste and smell in ‘open classrooms’ – small plots of forest or farm land. This will give the children a sense of their natural heritage and teach them to take pride in its richness. We tend to measure wealth based on how much money we have  – perhaps we can teach our children to measure it by how much natural resources and biodiversity they have surrounding them.

Forests can be used as pharmacies. They are teeming with varieties of indigenous medicinal plants either growing naturally or, perhaps, having been planted decades ago. The bark, leaves or seeds can be harvested and sold to pharmaceutical firms making herbal medicine.

Forests can also be a source of food. Many edible plants, fruit and berries grow in the forest and can be harvested without damaging the trees or plants. Micro-industries can also be developed based on forest products such as the stinging nettle and banana plants. Fibre from these can be used in the pulp industry and in making handicrafts.  The stalks of the water-hyacinth can be woven into bags and mats after drying. 

At the Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics™ Forum held in Guwahati on 8 & 9 November 2016 under the aegis of the Balipara Foundation, Rajeev Goyal from Nepal addressed the gathering of Botanists and conservationists and spoke about the 8000 metre Vertical University with six campuses that he was proposing to create in eastern Nepal. The aim of this venture is to educate people, create livelihood opportunities and conserve the biodiversity of the region.

Rajeev Goyal, Vertical University, Nepal

Rajeev Goyal, Vertical University, Nepal

Perhaps others can emulate this endeavour – take education out of classrooms and let Nature be the teacher. As G.W. Carver said, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books.” 
Only when we learn can we understand; only when we understand can we appreciate; only when we appreciate will we conserve. So, conservation begins with learning – learning off the land.
Sarita Dasgupta



Back to Top