The oldest law school in Europe takes care of plants too…
Plants are our partners since time immemorial so are plant protective measures. There are numerous such instances both formal and informal are observed across the globe. However, few of them specify the magnitude of penalty according to the social and economic importance of the plants. Let’s get the fascinating story of “Brehon Laws”. It was in the Europe in Pre-Christian era, when Brehons or judges were the law makers in the Irish Society. Brehon Law was for the people dependent on agricultural economy and barter system for transactions. Given the importance of natural resources, there were specific Brehon Laws for the plants. Under these laws plants important to the community were protected from unlawful damage due to branch cutting, barking and base-cutting.
The Law divided the important plants into four categories mimicking the classes of the early Irish society. Under these categories plants were grouped according to their importance to the community. Often the importance was based on their tangible characters viz., fruit, timber or size when they were fully grown. The penalty was in terms of livestock and it was decided according to the plant affected and magnitude of the damage. For instances, the damage to the highest category resulted into two and half milk cows whereas, for a common plant cost was one milk cow.
There are 28 plants listed under four categories in old Irish tree list which is available from Bretha Comaithchesa (judgements of neighborhood), a written form of the older Brehon Laws by Christian scholars of the later period. It deals with the various offences which a farmer is liable to commit against his neighbor (here it is the plant present in his vicinity).
Source: Kelly F. (1999) Trees in early Ireland (https://www.forestryfocus.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Trees-in-Early-Ireland.pdf
Collector: Rajasri Ray
Tubers and tubers, but not potato
Carbohydrate-rich energy-packed tubers of potato, yam, taro are all very popular among us. They have also grown in tonnes around the globe. But, even in the age of globalized food production, many local tubers are farmed and consumed locally, perhaps for centuries. Flemingia vestita of the family Fabaceae, locally known as Sohphlang, is a nitrogen-fixing
perennial herb having a prostrate but weak stem. The juicy tuber and its smooth cream-colored flesh has a sweet and nutty flavor that make it a highly palatable vegetable among the Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya. The plant is highly branched with hairy rhizomes and the roots are tuberous. With a wide distribution range, it can be found growing as a wild herb along the mountain slopes of the Himalayas, in south-west provinces of China, Nepal, the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya in northeast India, and further extending to Laos, Philippines and Vietnam. The root is edible in many Asian tribal communities. The unique tubers are made into curries or many other local delicacies. Along with other crops, it is even formally grown in the shifting fields of the hilly terrain for local consumption. In recent years, its demand has increased manifold, hence cultivated as a cash crop, and is regularly available in the local markets at a higher price because of its higher nutritional and medicinal value, especially for its high phosphorus and proteins and its traditional use as an anthelmintic.
Sohphlang is generally propagated vegetatively through its small tubers which are sown in March and harvested in October. After harvest, the healthy tubers are carefully selected as seed
for next sowing and stored underground. Sohphlang is planted in virgin soil for one year, but
after that the place is either left fallow or cultivated for other crops for next five or more years
before replanting. Although potatoes were grown in the hills along with other tubers and served as a source of easy carbohydrate, the demand for Sohphlang has not been decimated. But it is relished locally in various forms and widely appreciated for its flavor, nutrients, and medicinal properties. The fact turns out to be crucial today when talked over in light of a diverse and nutritious diet with local available resources. Importantly, it is also a matter of taste that drives our food culture.
Image: By LEMS1010 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29509515
Collector – Avik Ray
Poda Thurpu cattle
Shared history of agro-pastoral communities, their tended crops or livestock, and inhabited landscape often provided unique rewards in terms of biological cultural diversity, be it an indigenous landrace of crops or distinct breed of animals. There are many such examples of shared history of communities and their unique bio-cultural resource. For example, pastoralist communities from various parts of the Indian subcontinent like Banjaras, Gaolis, Gujjars, Lingayats, and Maldharis, are famous for rearing cows, or other animals like buffalo, camels or sheep. Some of their breeds are nicely adapted to the tough living conditions of the
agro-pastoral systems as their herders. The mosaic skinned cattle of Amrabad district or Poda Thurpu is one such cattle that received the status of indigenous breed of Telangana by the ICAR’s sister body, National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR). That takes it to the podium of a small band of thirteen indigenous cattle breeds recognised by NBAGR. These animals, short and hardy with brown mosaic on body, found only in a few locations in Amrabad Tiger Reserve of Nagarkurnool district. That is the part of its official recognition of being a distinguished animal; but acceptance and reverence on the part of the local agro-pastoral communities has long been entrenched. That is reflected in the preference of the farmers as animals with high endurance both in black and wet soils. They have capacity to survive in the drought-prone areas of south-eastern India near the Nallamala forest where high temperature, low rainfall and overall arid atmosphere prevails, their potential as an apt draft power in the dry environments was also realised.
But the history of Poda Thurpu is also full of crests and troughs. It brings in the fresh memory of the long tussle between the erstwhile forest department and the rights of indigenous communities. The primary foraging place for the cattle is the Nallamala Forest which is also the common resource for the local pastoralists. The villages are located within the Amrabad Tiger Reserve buffer zone. And, they have been customarily using the grazing land located inside the forest for generations, say the community members. However, things turned fatal in 1983 after the establishment of the tiger reserve that grabbed an area of several thousand square kilometres of area in the Nallamala Forest ranges. It denied pastoralists and their livestock access to customary grazing lands and that in turn has cascading effects starting from fodder shortages. It snowballed into forcing many pastoralists abandoning cattle rearing and thereby a decline in their population. While the heat of the tussle is still being felt from both the sides; the recent recognition comes as a ray of hope and an encouragement to the communities compelling them not to give up to save and rear this rare beast.
Image: Nemani Chandrasekhar, RRA Network (https://rranetwork.wordpress.com)
Collector – Avik Ray