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Chapter 6. Ancestral nomadism and farming in the mountains Agro-pastoralism and gathering food system of the Bhotia and Anwal peoples in Uttarakhand, India

Section 3 Conclusions and future projections


The Indigenous Peoples’ food system of Namik not only depends on the village’s farming system, but also on its forest, meadows, livestock and their handicraft. All of these are closely interlinked. The diversity in the food system helps the community survive in extreme conditions despite their remoteness to other communities. To obtain their desired outputs, the community has to provide some inputs to keep these systems sustainable.


The main outputs are the diverse food products generated from the system such as potato, wheat, maize, kidney beans, buckwheat, black soy bean, amaranth, garlic, black gram, pigeon pea, adzuki bean, apple, plum, peach, lemon, golden Himalayan raspberry, Asian barberry, mustard and its leaves, cabbage, spinach, leafy mustard, daikon radish, taro, and fenugreek and its leaves. From livestock, they get milk, milk products such as buttermilk, clarified butter, butter, yoghurt, meat, dung, manure and wool. They obtain honey, medicinal plants, edible ferns and mushrooms from the forest. From wheat, buckwheat and corn flour, they prepare bread daily. They make pickle from garlic. Clothes are prepared from wool collected from sheep and goat hair. Traditional medicines are prepared from wild medicinal plants. Honey is also used as medicine.

Villagers either sell or barter crop produce like potato, kidney beans and garlic to get money or additional food items. Other produce like honey and clarified butter is also sold and bartered. Goats and sheep are sold for meat or wool at good prices.

Agriculture hardly produces any waste. All crop residues are used either as fodder or manure or burned to control pests. As indicated, the waste of concern is the one generated from processed and packaged food material from the market.


The main input in the food system is human labour, which is required for agriculture, livestock rearing, handicraft confectioning, and collecting wild resources from the community forest. For cultivation, community members mainly use traditional varieties of seeds, tools made from locally sourced materials, and organic fertilization and pesticides sourced from the farm and landscape. Livestock is reared with fodder, fresh grass and dry grass from the landscape.

External inputs come in the form of seeds and seedlings of governmental crops. In addition, the Government provides food items such as rice, wheat and sugar at subsidized rates. Farmers now also purchase packaged and processed food from the market like chips, biscuits, pickles, wheat, sugar, pulses, jaggery, rice, salt, cooking oil, noodles and fruits. To supplement local energy sources, the Government provides kerosene oil at subsidized rates. They have also introduced lights run on solar energy.


The agroecosystem presents many elements of sustainability. One of the main strengths of the food system are the traditional varieties that have been conserved by the community, and which are climate resilient and well adapted to local conditions. A significant proportion of crops grown can be stored for long duration, and the agroecosystem is diverse in its outputs for food and other by-products. The generation of food optimizes and enhances the functioning of the ecosystem, as it relies on crop rotation, organic cropping, strong linkages between the farm and forest ecosystems, and pollination. The community members benefit from a diverse and changing landscape, allowing different food production activities throughout the year. Finally, community members support each other through cooperation, especially in times of emergency and shortage of food. The transmission of knowledge allows the children to develop skills and to learn from the experience of the elders in ensuring the sustainability of the food system. By being dependent on the natural ecosystem for their livelihoods, community members have a strong self-organization in managing resources through their village institutions.


The food system faces numerous challenges, the primary one being the migration of youth from the village, which puts the transmission of traditional knowledge at risk. Community members also face a decline in traditional practices, such as beekeeping, which is now practised by only a few farmers in the village. Similarly, land fallow is practised less often than in the past, which poses a threat to sustainability in the long term. Community members have seen the introduction of practices related to modern agriculture, including the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. This has had an impact on micro-organisms in the soil, as well as on the population of bees. Goat and sheep rearing has diminished, resulting in less manure for agriculture.

Climate change is seen as an important threat. If snowfall continues to decrease, it will lead to scarcity of water in the springs.

In the future, community members hope to be able to continue collecting wild edibles such as fiddlehead ferns, mushrooms and medicinal plants, as these varieties are essential components of their diet and traditional medicine. The prospects for crops like potatoes and kidney beans are good, as these are both healthy and profitable. Further, other traditional crops are essential for certain dishes in their cuisine. Therefore, with respect to cultural obligations, these crops will likely remain in the village.

The transmission of traditional knowledge related to the food system is slowly changing over time. As the new generation becomes more exposed to the outside world, they are inspired to experiment and grow short rotation horticulture crops, which proves more profitable in monetary terms. People are slowly losing interest in livestock rearing, as it is a time-consuming activity. Although the older generation values their traditions and lifestyle in the village, students and the younger generation are fascinated by the modern world and are migrating from the village. They want to pursue higher education and work in urban areas. More men than women are migrating to urban areas. Increased contact with external societies further affects diet preferences of the new generations. They choose to include processed food, meat and eggs to a larger extent than before, potentially threatening the survival of traditional crops.

“Our traditional crops are not only part of our food but also an important part of our unique culture.”

Mr. Laxman Singh, community member of Namik village.