Date of Publish: 15 October, 2016
Kishore Talukdar –
Wealth going waste to the detriment of Deepor Beel’s ecology –
A tiny, wetland fruit tells you the tale of an opportunity lost in Assam. And where Assam has lost out, Bihar has benefited.
Back in the 1980s, farmers from Bihar took truckloads of seeds of makhana (fox nut) from Deepor Beel in Assam and cultivated it back home. Not just that. They carried out integrated farming of fish and makhana to such an extent that today Prime Minister Narendra Modi terms it the “Makhana Revolution” which can lift the poor out of poverty.
Sadly, in Assam, where the aquatic fruit is in abundance, its potential is still not being realised. “We are yet to exploit the export potentiality of makhana, highly rich in medicinal properties,” says M.M. Goswami, former professor of Gauhati University.
Consider this. According to an Indian Council of Scientific Research’s publication, 100 grams of makhana contains 9.7 percent protein, 76.9 percent carbohydrate, 0.1 percent fat, 1.3 percent minerals and 12 percent water. An irony that it is going to waste, considering that the highly nutritious fruit grows naturally in 30 percent wetland of the State.
Nalin Kumar Mohan, former chief scientist of the Horticulture Research Station echoes Goswami’s view. Mohan says the farming of this fruit has a tremendous potential to generate employment avenue without a penny being spent, but far from exploiting it, it’s shockingly seen as a source of problem in Assam.
On the contrary, says Mohan, by using the fruits the mounting anthropogenic pressure on the water body for fish capturing could actually be reduced. This is how it works. The harvesting of the fruit is done during the lean season. The fishing community, which sources it’s sustenance from fish, could switch over to harvesting makhana during this lean season when the waters recede, giving much needed relief to the wetlands.
“Harvesting this aquatic fruit during winter will be a good substitute to the livelihood as the availability of fish is at the lowest then,” points out Mohan. A win-win situation it seems for the fishermen.
Ecologically too, there are benefits. Harvesting in winter is a boon to the wetland ecosystem because it removes the excessive growth of large leaf plants that are potential threats to the wetlands. In the Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary, situated south-west of Guwahati city, the uncontrolled growth of the aquatic plants is bound to have a long term adverse impact.
“Given the uncontrolled growth of makhana in the wetlands, the huge floating leaves of the plant will hamper sunlight to penetrate into the wetlands. The dearth of sunlight under water will lead to ecological imbalances and primary productivity of the wetlands will be affected,” warns Goswami. The presence of the aquatic plant is required but only in limited quantities. “In winter, the plants decompose and are converted into organic matter, making the water nutrient rich,” he highlights. With the disappearance of underwater plant diversity due to lack of the adequate amount of dissolved oxygen, wetland productivity will suffer. The National Wetland Conservation Management Programme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests has in a study found variation of dissolved oxygen in the waters of Deepor Beel.
While human beings are neglecting their role in saving the wetlands, help is coming from animals. Wild elephants that migrate to Deepor Beel, the State’s lone Ramsar site, do yeoman service by gorging on the aquatic plant. The fruit is a favourite of the jumbos, in fact, its saviour when food becomes scarce in the elephant’s territory.
But it is the people of Assam who are losing out in a big way by neglecting the makhana. The fruit, with its medicinal properties, has a huge export potential. While Assam has not realised this wealth, farmers of neighbouring Bangladesh have successfully begun exploiting the aquatic fruit. Hopefully, good sense will prevail soon.
Title Picture: Kishore Talukdar