Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Migration and Home Gardens in the Brahmaputra Valley, Assam, India

Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Migration and Home Gardens in the Brahmaputra Valley, Assam, India

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Brahmaputra is the largest river system in northeast India. Its valley, in the State of Assam, is home to the Assamese people, indigenous Mishing and Karbi tribes, and Kaziranga National Park. A spectacular array of wildlife shares the floodplain including the endangered Asian elephant, tiger, one-horned rhinoceros and wild buffalo. The fertile floodplain and tea estates have attracted immigrants from within India and from neighboring countries. Migration has been linked to Assam's high population density and agriculture expansion. Based on household surveys in 37 villages in the park's periphery, we compared home garden productivity and economic return among residents and immigrants of different ethnic groups and explored the hypothesis that residents had an advantage over immigrants in maximizing gains from home gardens resources. The results indicated that, although resident home gardens were larger, production from immigrant home gardens was over four times higher and their economic returns were greater. Immigrants, who tended to live in low-lying areas close to the park and whose land tenure was less certain, were at higher risk of crop damage by wildlife and floods. They compensated in part by maximizing productivity of home gardens and by choosing crops that yielded greater economic return. We conclude that home gardens provide a basis for distinguishing between resident and immigrant land use practices.

Introduction

As the rate of forest cover depletion in densely populated regions has increased in recent times, the interaction of demographic and environmental change has received closer attention (Cincotta et al. 2000). Given the complexity of environmental processes, ecosystem resilience, in- and out-migration, plus socio-cultural, behavioral and demographic differences among immigrant groups, much is yet to be learned in order to achieve a balance between conservation goals and the management of landscapes where migration is responsible for population growth. South Asia in general has high population densities, but certain parts of it-and especially the plains of north India-support some of the highest human population densities on earth (Kar 1994).

One important reason for such a high population density has been soil fertility recharged by annual alluvial deposition. The Brahmaputra Valley in the State of Assam is an example of such an area. In such systems, although the land can support high human densities, continuing population growth in the long-term affects land use patterns, farm size and the state of natural resources. Efforts at ecosystem conservation through the establishment of protected areas, or other policy initiatives aimed at regulating forest resource use, can run into conflict with growing human populations and needs for cultivable land, pasture and employment. This is particularly relevant in India where biodiversity conservation has caused dislocation of people from agricultural lands (Agrawal 1992).

The loss of gainful employment and the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas may increase the incidence of marginal farming and-when coupled with a high rate of immigration-does force some immigrants to subsist on land on which they have no tenure (Shrivastava 2002). In addition to the effects of migration on land use, recent research from the Indian Himalayas indicates that seasonally immigrant households have greater resource needs than permanently settled households, with immigrants using more than twice the quantity of fuelwood (Awasthi et al. 2004). On the other hand, immigrants may bring sets of skills that are more developed than those of the residents. For example, refugees from wet rice cultivation areas in Bangladesh who settled the tribal areas of central India are believed by the indigenous Korku tribe to be especially good at earth excavation work (e.g., canal construction) (Awasthi et al. 2004). By their nature and circumstance, immigrants can be more versatile and adaptable compared to residents. …

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