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| Last Updated:: 29/08/2023

Bari system of farming










In Assam, the practice of agro-forestry has been in existence from time immemorial in the form of traditional homestead farming practices. It is common both in the plains and hills of the State, among all the indigenous communities, though they have a different name in different language and dialect. Like, it  is called ‘bari’ in Assamese, ‘intathingre’ in Singpho, ‘gimrouck’ in Tangsa, ‘nolai-haphai’ in Dimasa, ‘kilou’ in Zeme, ‘kho’ in Kuki, ‘khou’ in Hmar, ‘shong’ in Jayantia, etc.




The Thengal-Kacharis are one of the many small ethnic communities belonging to the Indo-Mongoloid race with mythical ancestry. They are a clan of the Bodo-Kachari ethnic group. Thengal-Kacharis are one of the ancient inhabitants of Assam and have rich cultural history.




Being one of the oldest inhabitants of this region, the Thengal-Kacharis have evolved various practices in conserving and sustaining the bioresources. Women of this community have played a key role in sustainable use of bioresources through various practices and knowledge systems that have been transmitted through generations.





The bari system of farming has evolved over the years in the Northeast India and has had great significance from the point of conservation, consumption and management of biodiversity. Bari’s connote an operational unit in which a number of crops including trees are grown with livestock, poultry and/ fish production for the purposes of meeting the basic requirements of the rural household. These are ubiquitous landscape components in a Thengal-Kachari’s home. The bari in such household lies alongside to the main household. A batchor or gate leads to the main house through a long footpath. A typical homestead comprises of extended family houses, vegetable and horticultural gardens, trees, bamboo shrubs, threshing grounds, livestock/poultry sheds, and ponds.





Years of observation and experimentations have allowed the women of this community to develop a general bari structure with considerable diversity and flexibility that facilitates production of the major livelihood necessities. They have managed to select crops that are co-adapted and that give aggregated benefits. The baris have been designed to allow optimal harvest of solar energy through the strategy of fitting phenological classes and life forms together in space and time, and through niche diversification techniques. Multiple crops are present in a multi-tier canopy configuration. The leaf canopies of the components are arranged in such a way that they occupy different vertical layers with the tallest components having foliage tolerant to strong light and high evaporation demand and the shorter components having foliage requiring or tolerating shade and high humidity. Although the baris exhibit a general pattern, each garden is unique in its spatial and temporal structure, crop mix and arrangement, and overall design. Some crops are always planted in regular patterns, while others are planted wherever space is available.





Crop diversity is highest near homes and reduces with increased distance from the house exhibiting only few species at the extreme end of the garden. There is a small area encircling the main house that shows the maximum crop diversity usually represented by only one or two individuals thus allowing the maintenance of many species within a small space. Fragrance plants, spices, medicinal plants, vegetables, and others are observed in this zone. This part of the bari is easily accessed for instant use as fresh vegetables, herbs and condiments and as such under the direct domain of women, who take responsibility for the propagation, management, harvesting and post harvest operations of the produce. Banana, plantains, citrus were commonly present in the second zone while the third zones mostly exhibited arecanut, jackfruit and other tree species. Bamboos were ubiquitous in the baris. Pisciculture is the common practice in these households. Fishes are generally reared in dugout ponds behind the main homestead. Traditional homestead gardens have been major sources of household requirements.





Role of women in maintaining Bari farming




Women were the principal managers of bari and hold deep knowledge on growth habit and utility of each plant, and they devise to allocate plants to make full use of limited space adjusting such plant’s tolerance as against water logging, shade, direct sunshine, and drought.




The plants are used for various purposes such as food, medicinal, sericulture, fuel, timber and cash crops. Although the men perform heavy tasks like hoeing and bed establishment, fence building, pond digging and tree harvesting, the women managed the day-to-day maintenance tasks like weeding, providing scaffold to climbers and creepers, pest and disease management and harvesting of produce like vegetables, spices and picking leafy vegetables, medicinal plants including processing, seed selection and storing. About 90% of the post-harvest operations of the bari produce is performed by women. They are also the primary caretaker of the livestock and poultry.




Knowledge & practices in sustainable management of Bari-bioresources




The Thengal-Kacharis have an intimate relationship with nature and have evolved various rituals and taboos in harvesting and consumptions of produce from the baris. These have implications in sustainable use of resources. Bamboos are never felled on Tuesday and Saturday as well as on every new moon day. Rattan is also not harvested on these days. The reason behind this practice is to promote judicious utilization of these important resources. Banana inflorescence is a popular vegetable in this part of the region. However, it is also not harvested on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Many of the vegetables belonging to the cucurbit families and green leafy vegetables are not harvested during the forenoon.




Many of the plants are worshiped or have been given religious importance. Sijou Goch (Ephorbia nerifolia) is considered as to be a holy tree by the Thengal-Kacharis. Similarly, other trees like Musa balbisiana (banana), Ficus religiosa (peepul), Ficus bengalensis (banyan), Mangifera indica (mango), Ocimum sanctum (sacred basil), Cynodon dactylon  (Bermuda  or  durva  grass),  Aegle  marmalos  (wood apple) are also associated with many religious rituals.




Fish is not consumed during the monsoon months as it is the fish breeding season and the practice ensures the survival of egg laying fishes.




Women of this community have played a key role in sustainable use of bari bioresources through various practices and knowledge systems that have been passed from generation to generation.





Over the last decade, this traditional practice has considerably declined as tea plantations and agro-forestry that fetches higher remunerative have taken over. As a result the diversity of plants grown in homesteads has declined substantially, with negative effects on both people and the environment.