Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 491–512

Socio-Ecological and Religious Perspective of Agrobiodiversity Conservation: Issues, Concern and Priority for Sustainable Agriculture, Central Himalaya


    • G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development
  • R. K. Maikhuri
    • G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development

DOI: 10.1007/s10806-012-9386-y

Cite this article as:
Negi, V.S. & Maikhuri, R.K. J Agric Environ Ethics (2013) 26: 491. doi:10.1007/s10806-012-9386-y


A large section of the population (70%) of Uttarakhand largely depends upon agricultural based activities for their livelihood. Rural community of the mountains has developed several indigenous and traditional methods of farming to conserve the crop diversity and rejoice agrodiversity with religious and cultural vehemence. Traditional food items are prepared during occasion, festivals, weddings, and other religious rituals from diversified agrodiversity are a mean to maintain agrodiversity in the agriculture system. Agrodiversity is an insurance against disease and extreme climatic fluctuations, as a coping mechanism in times of scarcity, as a means to enhance overall productivity of farms, as a source of critical nutrition and medicine in the Himalayan region. The different traditional system of agriculture and indigenous method of maintaining soil fertility, socio-cultural and religious rituals has saved many crops that are under threatened category. But all these system and practices are ignored nauseatingly in hill agriculture policy, where more emphasis was given for plain areas. Less emphasis is being put on local systems that rely on existing natural, human, and social assets such as biodiversity, traditional knowledge, and social capital underpinning collective action to ensure food security. Of late, development planners have realized the importance of appropriate technologies and therefore have stressed the need for on-site training, and capacity building of user groups in rural areas of the region. Rural technology demonstration and training center have been supposed as a means disseminating technologies enabling improvement in the yield potential of farms, income generation from off-farm activities, and conservation and efficient use of natural resources. There is a strong need to bring desirable changes in the agricultural policy, research, and development in reference to mountainous regions. The present paper describe present scenario of agriculture, traditional, and socio-cultural practices of retaining soil fertility and agrodiversity, policy dimensions, and strategies for management of the Himalayan agroecosystems.


AgrodiversitySocio-culturalIndigenous knowledgeReligiousPolicyRural technology


Agriculture and allied activities not only provide livelihood to large sections of Himalayan population but form a pivotal part of their way of living (Maikhuri et al. 1997, 2001; Negi et al. 2009). Environmental, biological, socio-cultural, and economic factors prevailing in the Central Himalayan region have resulted in the evolution of diverse agroecosystems along with crop diversity. Farming communities in Mountain region have been playing an important role in conserving agrodiversity. They are not only the custodians but also managers of the crop diversity and maintain the dynamic processes of crop evolution and adaptation, the key elements of sustainable agricultural productions. The Uttarakhand Himalaya is well known for about 34 crop species and numerous farmers spread in different regions have selected land races comprising of about 6 types of cereals, 5 types of pseudo cereals, 6 types of millets, 16 types of pulses, 4 types of oilseeds, 5 types of condiments, and 8 types of vegetable (Ashish 1979; Maikhuri et al. 1997, 2001; Sen et al. 2002; Farooquee and Maikhuri 2009). Farmers of Central Himalaya grow about 100 varieties of paddy, 170 varieties of kidney beans, eight varieties of wheat, four varieties of barley, and about a dozen varieties of pulses and oil seeds each year in the traditional mixed farming system (Misra et al. 2008). However during recent past a decline in interest of local farming communities towards traditional crop cultivation has been observed as a result of climatic, cultural, and socio-economic transforms. In fact, traditional multiple cropping system still provide as much as 20% of the world food supply (UNDP 1995). The consequences are disastrous because of genetic erosion and decline in intensity and net area under cultivation and production of crops in Central Himalaya (Maikhuri et al. 1996, 1997, 2001). Due to a variety of reasons the crops diversity is declining very fast in the region but undoubtedly many crop varieties are still conserved in the region because of their socio-cultural, medicinal, and religious values. Although agrobiodiversity has always formed the basis for human food production systems (Brush 2004), and has provided cultural, spiritual, religious, and aesthetic value for human societies (Nabhan 1989; Zimmerer 1991). Though, agriculture policies adopted during green revolutions, undoubtedly, have made a significant contribution to minimizing the problem of hunger in the wake of ever-increasing demand for food in the country. But at the same time, the traditional agriculture with diverse crops and cropping patterns are under great threat all over the country including Uttarakhand (Maikhuri et al. 2000). Mostly policy/planners always tried to transplant plain land philosophies in research, development, and policy planning to the hills that are neither ecologically suited nor economically viable for the subsistence farming systems practiced in the Mountain region. The huge diversity in Mountain region has been maintained through a variety of crop compositions, indigenous method of maintaining soil fertility, socio-cultural, and religious rituals. The Garhwal Himalayas has been a center of spiritual knowledge, religiosity, and pilgrimage from ancient times as mentioned in the Skanda Purana and various plants and their products are being used by human to worship and other religious purpose (Kumar et al. 2007). The people of Garhwal Himalaya have a rich tradition of nature conservation through socio-religious constraints on profligate use of common property resources (Anthwal et al. 2006). The role of socio-cultural values in biodiversity conservation is an integral part of the people living in Uttarakhand and still, there exist many rules and regulations set up by earlier generations for the conservation and management of the agrodiversity. The challenge is to understand the combined ecological and social functions of agrobiodiversity, determine its contribution to ecosystem goods and services and value for society at large, and evaluate options for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity across the agricultural landscape. The present paper describes the significance of agrodiversity in term of food, medicinal, socio-ecological, and religious perspective. Further it also highlighted the issues, decline in agrodiversity, technology interventions, concern, and priority for sustainable agriculture in the central Himalaya.

Methodology and Study Area

The Himalayan mountain system, spread over eight Asian countries (viz. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan) and home to 150 million people, is one of the most fragile and complex ecosystems in the world. The Central Himalayan region of India is spread over an area of 53,483 sq. km and is home to around 8.5 million people. A difficult topography, high degree of inaccessibility, poor infrastructural facilities, and limited opportunities of income are responsible for poor economic conditions of the majority of local people. Uttarakhand (28°3′ and 31°28′N latitude and 77°49′ and 81°03′E longitude) is a hill state located in the central part of India and shares the international boundary with China in the north and with Nepal in the east. The state encompasses an area of 53,483 sq. km, which accounts for nearly 15.5% of the total geographical area of western Himalaya and 1.63% of the total land area of India (Negi et al. 2011). The region can be divided into three markedly different agro-climatic zones along the elevation gradient (vertical zonation) viz., lower altitude, 500–1000 m, middle altitude between 1000 and 1800 m, and higher altitude, above 1800 m. According to traditionally accepted criteria agricultural land in the region is identified either as the rainfed (locally known as Ukhar) or the irrigated (known as sera). Of the two, the former is predominant form of land use since only about 15% land falls in the latter category.

The present study was executed in remotely located 62 villages of different district of Uttarakhand viz., Uttarkashi, Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Rudarparyag, and Chamoli. An extensive cross sectional survey of all the selected villages was carried out to collect the baseline information. A door-to-door survey was conducted in selected households of each village to enumerate total landholding, crop composition, cropping pattern, crop rotation, and commonly cultivated crops. The information was collected through informal discussion with knowledgeable members of the families, particularly with women folk, as they are actively involved in all agricultural activities (Maikhuri et al. 1996, 2001; Negi et al. 2009). Each family was visited 3–4 times during the cropping season so as to collect authentic information. Information about the number of landraces cultivated in the past (1980) and at present (2010), shift in landrace diversity of crops was obtained by interviewing the head of each selected household (Maikhuri et al. 1997, 2001; Negi et al. 2009). Respondents, particularly the elder persons, were also questioned for the probable reasons for the decline or shift in crop diversity and cropping pattern over a period of time. To document ethno-medicinal, socio-cultural, and religious knowledge pertaining to crops, the farmers of different age groups (18–30, 31–60 and above 60) were interviewed and several village level meetings were organized for detailed information. Respondents were also asked to fill out a questionnaire to acquire information concerning cultural dishes and recipes prepared from traditional crops and their medicinal properties and uses in traditional healthcare system. Various socio-religious rituals and festivals organized for conserving agrodiversity in the region was also attended and documented. The traditional beliefs and reasons behind this festival were noted and thereafter the views of the local people were also questioned in relation to understanding the causes and consequences of traditional beliefs in agrobiodiversity conservation and management (Nautiyal et al. 2008). In addition, questionnaires were developed to elucidate indigenous nutrient management practices for maintaining soil fertility in the region. Meanwhile we have surveyed the literature where empirical evidences showed that agrobiodiversity conservation goal would be achieved efficiently with proper documentation and giving values to socio-cultural activities of the local people through which they have been maintaining and conserving the valuable germplasm in the Himalayan agroecosystems.

Results and Discussion

Agrodiversity Erosion: Threats to Agroecosystems and Food Security

A survey of the selected 62 villages located along an altitudinal gradient in different districts revealed decline (50–71%) in diversity of traditional landraces/crops during few decades in central Himalaya (Fig. 1). Similar kind of results highlighted in the study of Maikhuri et al. 1996, 1997, 2001, in which they survey 150 villages located along an altitudinal gradient in the Alaknanda catchment of the Garhwal hills and revealed shocking decline (72–95%) in diversity of traditional crops during a short period of two (1974–1994) decades. Similar information on genetic erosion is reported by Nautiyal and Kaechele 2007, in which the detailed inventorisation of the landraces at three points of time (1970–1980; 1980–90 and 1990 onwards) was done. Before 1970 farmers of the valley were cultivating a total of 65 landraces of different crops cultivated in the valley. The eight landraces disappeared during a short span of time form the valley, and between 1980 and 1990, 57 landraces remained under cultivation. After 1990 people are maintaining only thirty-nine landraces for cultivation. The area under cultivation of many landraces of different traditional crops has been reduced to 8–85% between 1980 and 1990. These crops have been mostly replaced by cash crops like potato, soyabean, kidney bean, pigeon pea, and mustard. Changes have occurred in food habits of traditional societies living in the Himalaya; locally grown pulses like Macrotyloma uniflorum and Vigna mungo have been replaced by kidney bean and potato while providing energy, the latter does not provide enough protein and micronutrients, leading to deficiency diseases and general lowering of the health of the population (Shiva and Vanaja 1993; SFIW 2004). The introduction of horticultural crops is a recent phenomenon and has penetrated the traditional farming systems. The land under cultivation of Fagopyrum esculentum,Fagopyrum tataricum, Hordeum himalayens,Echinochloa frumentacea, Eleusine coracana, Perilla frutescens, Setaria italica, Sesamum indicum, Macrotyloma uniflorum, Vigna mungo, Amaranthus spp. and Triticum aestivum has been reduced by 25–50% during the last three decades due to promotion of apple cultivation in Har-Ki-Doon valley of Uttarakhand (Negi 2009; Negi et al. 2009). The change from traditional subsistence agriculture to cash crop-based agriculture has been advancing all over the hill agriculture system in the last decade. One of the most dangerous facets has been the gradual erosion of crop diversity and loss of centuries-old traditional knowledge (Maikhuri et al. 1997; Maikhuri et al. 2001; Nautiyal and Kaechele 2007). The disappearance of landraces not only means local genetic erosion but also “local cultural erosion,” by which both biological and cultural evolution is hampered (Negri et al. 2009). Farmers thus conserve agrobiodiversity for both cultural and economic reasons in order to spread the risk of market-driven fluctuations and climatic variability (Lipper and Cooper 2009). Agrobiodiversity can thus be seen as a crucial asset to keep multiple options open, sustaining the ability to rapidly adapt and transform farming systems under unpredictable future conditions (Jackson et al. 2010).
Fig. 1

Decline in traditional landraces of various crops in different district of Himalayan region

Consequence of Traditional Agrodiversity

Agrobiodiversity, an important sub-set of biodiversity, is the major life support systems of the people living in the mountain agroecosystems in the developed and developing countries. Maintenance of genetic variation within agricultural crops provides a broad range of essential goods and services that support ecosystem functioning, resilience, and productivity (Tilman 2000), and for this reason it has become a core principle of sustainable agriculture and agro-ecology (Le Coeur et al. 2002). Traditional crop varieties and races, which evolved over time through trial and error, not only provide basic nutritional requirements, but also food security (Maikhuri et al. 2001; Louette et al. 1997). Toky and Ramakrishanan (1983), Altieri (1995), and Tilman (2000), has described in detail the role of biodiversity and its functions in agro-ecosystem’s resilience and stability. The future food supply of the world depends on the exploitation of genetic diversity (Reid and Miller 1989). At the same time, many of the world’s farmers depend directly on the harvests of genetic diversity they sow for food, fodder, and other economic, cultural and ecological activities (Mellas 2000). The use of locally adapted crop varieties may also serve to improve ecosystem health by their reduced needs for pesticides and fertilizers and their effect on improving soil structure (Chapin et al. 2000). It is an age old insurance policy of farming communities to hedge their risks and plant diverse crops or varieties. Moreover, the availability of locally adapted crop varieties to particular micro-niches may be one of the few resources available to resource-poor farmers to maintain or increase production on his or her field (Jarvis et al. 2000). Farmers in the margins must, however, continue to produce food for their local communities with or without the support of modern inputs as emphasized by the need for the Nepali government to maintain food depots in the hills for local populations (Koirala and Thapa 1997).

The traditional and underutilized crops are ignored and excluded in agricultural policies and programs in the central Himalaya, while these crops provide ranges of options to address the complex interface between food insecurity (Table 1) and natural resource degradation, allowing coping mechanism specific to the adverse climatic conditions (Maikhuri et al. 1997, 2001). Scientists have shown that diversity provides a natural insurance policy against major ecosystem changes, be it in the wild or in agriculture (Chapin et al. 2000, Diaz et al. 2006). It is now predicted that genetic diversity will be most crucial in highly variable environments and those under rapid human-induced climate change (Hajjar et al. 2008). The adaptability of traditional crops has in fact protected the hill farmers from absolute crop failure since millennia in central Himalaya (Maikhuri et al. 1997; 2001), Nepal (CBS 1996), Ethiopia (Amakele 2005), Mexico (Louette and Smale 2000), Ghana (Anane-Sakyi and Dittoh 2001). Moreover, the by-product yield of the traditional crops is always higher than the high yielding varieties. This becomes significant when the prevailing fodder crisis in the region particularly up to middle altitudinal areas is taken into account (Negi et al. 2010a) for maintaining crop-livestock-manure-soil nutrient cycle of farms in mountains of the Himalaya. Agrodiversity helps to minimize crop loss due to insect/pests, improves soil fertility by incorporating legumes in the crop mixture, minimizes losses from plant diseases and nematodes, inhibits or suppresses weed growth, increases productivity per unit area, produces a varied diet, possess huge medicinal properties (Farooquee and Maikhuri 2009) as compared to modern agriculture, which greatly relies on external inputs of energy resources and thus causes much environmental perturbation. In the study it was also found that farmers felt more secured with their traditional diversified agricultural practice as compared to monoropping. Agricultural intensification has many long-term consequences and creates nutrient imbalances, soil, and water erosion etc. (Maikhuri et al. 1997; Sen et al. 1997). Furthermore, it is estimated that 20% of current global production of food is met from traditional multi-cropping systems which also help in maintaining ecological equilibrium and sustaining crop gene pool admixtures, transgression, other micro-evolutionary process, etc. (Trupp 1996).
Table 1

Traditional crop diversity along with their socio-cultural, medicinal value and traditional recipes prepared from them in Central Himalaya

Crop species

Vernacular name

Traditional recipes prepared

Socio-cultural/religious value

Medicinal use

Amaranthus spp.


Chaulai ka bhat prepared from seeds and “kheer from seeds and milk.

Roasted seeds offered to lord Shiva

The husk of the grains is used to cure skin diseases.

Oryza sativa


Arsa” from rice flour,Tilkut” from rice, blackgram and sesame, “Chanchud” prepared from rice.

Traditional recipes offered to god in the form of oblation.

Rice mixed with pulses to prepare a traditional dish Khichdi, is taken during recovery of many diseases.

Triticum aestivum


Golthi” prepared from wheat, ghee and jagri, “Chhachhiya” from rice and curd, “Joula” from rice & black soyabean.

“Mungi” prepared from immature grain offered to god for better yield.

Paste of grain applied on burn.

Echinocloa frumentaceus


Kheer” is prepared from seeds and milk, “Bhat” from seeds.

Traditional dish “Kheer” offered during religious ceremonies.

Roasted seeds are provided to the patient suffering of low blood pressure and Jaundice.

Hordeum vulgare


Jau ki roti” from seed flour.

Seeds are used in Havan along with ghee. Seedling used to germinate to offer god during many religious celebration.

Improve digestion system.

Fagopyrum esculentum


Halwa” from seed flour.

It is believed to be cultural crop of the high altitude region.

The grains are used to cure fever and all kinds of abdominal ailments.

Fagopyrum tataricum


Halwa” from seed flour.

It is believed to be cultural crop of the high altitude region.

Leaves are used in the treatment of fever, and headache.

Elusine coracana

Finger millet

Lesuwa roti” from finger millet and wheat flour, “Madua ki badi” from fingermillet flour and jagri.

Chapati” is symbol of traditional culture.

Chapati (bread) is eaten to improve digestion and avert cold.

Setaria elatica

Foxtail millet

Kauni ka bhat & roti” from seeds.

Traditional dish (Kheer) of grain is symbol of traditional culture.

Traditional dish (Kheer) of grain provides relief to patients suffering from typhoid and pneumonia.

Sesamum indicum


Til ka pin” and “Til ka chutney” from seeds.

Generally seeds are used in religious rituals like Havan with barley and ghee.

Oil of the seed used to cure muscular pain and applied on the body of the patient suffering from measles.

Perilla frutescens


Bhangjeera ki chautney” from seeds.

Traditionally the seed oil is used by local women of the region for massaging new born infants.

The leaves are used in the treatment of colds, vomiting, abdominal pain etc.

Vigna mungo


Chaisa” from seed flour.

Traditional dish “Pakodi” prepared during many cultural celebration. “Khichra” is offered to forest god against evil spirit.

Paste of seeds used to plaster on fractured part of body.

Glycine max


Pakode” from seeds with blackgram.

Traditional “Chapatti” prepared with Elusine coracana.

Seeds are used to cure common cold.

Macrotyloma uniflorum


Gahat ke dubke” and “Gahat ki faani” from seeds.

It is known to be a good and nutritious pulse.

Useful to cure kidney stone.

Zea Maize


Makka ki Chhabua” from green seeds, “Khumani” from seed and milk.

Offered to god during religious festival.

Improve digestive system.

Vigna unguiculata


Patoda” from seeds.

Traditional dish “Patoda” is prepared during cultural celebration.

Boiled soup with salt used to cure chickenpox.

Glycine soja

Kala bhatt

Bhatt ke dubke” and “Chutkani” from seeds, “Ginjadu” from seeds with rice.

Traditional dish “Bhattwani” is prepared during cultural celebration.

During winters roasted seed is consumed to maintain body temperature and cure common cold.

Brassica campestris 


Oil from seeds of B. campestris is used For preparation of various traditional recipes.

Oil of B. campestris is considered as pure for lighting lamp during worship. The yellow flowers of B. campestris are offered to god during a flower festival Ghoga/Fuldhei.

Edible oil is preferred for good health.

Traditional Practices of Maintaining Soil Fertility and Agrodiversity

Crop Rotations

The cropping patterns, up to 2000 m are built around two major cropping seasons’ viz. kharif (April–October) and Rabi (October–April). Paddy, finger millet, barnyard millet, foxtail millet, maize, and pulses are the main crops of kharif season while Rabi season includes crops like wheat, barley, mustard, lentils, and peas of Rabi. Rain-fed and irrigated land use systems are important in this region in which the former is the predominant form and covers almost 89% of the total agricultural land of the area. From the rainfed agriculture generally three crops are obtained in every 2 years while from irrigated land two crops are taken each year. In this way every crop repeats itself in the same land after one and half year. The advantage of mixed cropping is that it will ensure some income even if one of the crops fails due to pests, diseases, drought, or any other natural calamity. Importance of pulses (legumes) as a “Soil Fertility Maintainer” cannot be ignored, which is an important part of this crop rotation. This crop rotation is an important feature of the system and helps to maintain the diversity of species grown, and in management of soil fertility (Maikhuri et al. 2001).

Traditional System of Building Soil Fertility

Livestock manure (FYM) is a critical component of hill farming and it is an excellent resource for organic crop production and supplies nutrients and organic matter, stimulating the biological processes in the soil that help to build soil fertility. Farm-yard manure (FYM) is one of the most useful and significant indigenous methods practiced almost all the villages of the region. In this region, bedding materials, (crop residues, leaf litter, etc.) are spread in the animal shed and are mixed with dung and urine, which after decomposition is finally converted into FYM. In situ manuring is an important form of soil fertility management in the region. In this practice, during winter season animals are kept in fallow land and dung produced by them directly used in the field. Mixed cropping of millet and pseudomillet with grain legumes is a common and very important practice in traditional Himalayan cropping systems for enhancing biological yields and to improve food security (Maikhuri et al. 2001). The practice of raising multiple crops helps in retaining the balance of nutrient contents in soil, which deplete at a fast rate in monoculture, hence requires heavy doses of fertilizers, which keep on increasing with subsequent crops. Thus, this unique pattern of crop rotation is an effective instrument of conserving soil and maintaining agrodiversity. It further ensures food security and some income even if one of the crops fails due to pests, diseases, drought, or any other natural calamity (Zardhari 2000; Maikhuri et al. 2001; Chapin et al. 2000; Cavatassi et al. 2011). Higher plant diversity in the form of trees and the crops would mean more efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to organic form, thus reducing the chances of global warming and climate change (Misra et al. 2008; Nair et al. 2009; Maikhuri and Negi 2011).

Synchronizing Biodiversity Conservation with Culture

Humanity’s collective knowledge of biodiversity and its use and management rests in cultural diversity; conversely, conserving biodiversity often helps in strengthening cultural integrity and values. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises were also carried out in many villages of Uttarakhand. The findings of the study revealed that although in the recent years the crop diversity of the survey region has declined to an alarming proportion but every farmer of survey villages still cultivating all traditional crops for cultural and ritual purposes otherwise they may be disappear from the region. There exists a symbiotic relationship between biological diversity and cultural diversity, in between habitat and cultures, and as well in between ecosystems and cultural diversity (Nautiyal et al. 2008; Negri et al. 2009). These inter-relationships constitute a determining factor in ensuring sustainable human development (Negi et al. 2002). There are local agriculture customs that before consuming and selling the produce, every cultivator offers the produce to the god and goddess of the village. The indigenous flora utilized by the communities has substantial influences on their culture, customs, craftsmanship, ethos, religious rites, socio-cultural beliefs, food habits, settlement patterns, and various other resource-based practices (Gairola and Biswas 2008). There are various plants and plant parts used in religious observances, traditional healthcare practices, and food purpose. The list of some important crops is provided in Table 1 along with socio-cultural and medicinal value. The elected body of village representative collects a specific quantity of recently harvested crops from every household and offers it to the god and goddess. Harelafestival is celebrated to invoke gods to send rain; offerings are made for better crop production, conservation, and prosperity. A mixture of five to seven traditional crops/landraces is sown in a small basket before 10 days of celebrating the Harela festival. Seeds of Maize (Zea maize), Sarson (Brassica spp.), Gahat (Macrotyloma uniflorum) (legume), Jau (Hordeum vulgare), Wheat (Triticum aestivum), Traditional land races of Paddy (Oryza sativa), Mass (Vigna sp.), and Bhatt (Glycine sp) are used for sowing. At the day of Harela all plants harvested from the basket are offered to the deities and thereafter are taken as a blessing by all the family members. The overall width and length of each plant is taken as a symbol of prosperity (Nautiyal et al. 2008). Second testing is done just before sowing of spring crops (Rabi crops) of wheat, barley, and oilseeds. The third testing is done in the month of mid March to first week of April during spring celebration of festival. The germination is observed on the nine or ten day, the sampling are harvested and offered to the deity of the village. Hariyali festival is celebrated in the Kedarnath valley, in which the seedlings of Jau (Hordeum vulgare) tested before the god and the seedling offers to each family of the village having the wish of agrodiversity prosperity. With better growth of Harela crops it can be presumed/predicted that all the crops would give better production and fulfil the demand of the local people. Many plants like Sasamum indica, Brassica spp, Hordeum vulgare, Amaranthus spp. are used in all the religious celebrations, which ensure their regular cultivation and conservation. Offerings are made for better crop production, conservation, and prosperity. In the Kumaon region of the Central Himalaya, Harela is an integral part of cultural activity and is celebrated with religious fervor and gaiety; it is considered a symbol of greenery and prosperity all around (Nautiyal et al. 2008).

There are many such festivals organized every year to conserve the agrodiversity in central Himalaya. Some of the festivals organized are of national and international repute, one of such festivals is Nada Devi Raj Jat, celebrated at an interval of 12 years in the Chamoli district, which is a great occasion to witness the bio and cultural diversities of this Himalayan state. Recently UNSECO has recognized the mask dance (Mukota Nirtya) festival as a world heritage. These festivals in the hill village also share experiences of cultivation practices, promoting the traditional system of agriculture to manage the agrobiodiversity of the region. Traditional food items are prepared during the occasion of festivals, worship, weddings, and other religious rituals. The food habit and preparation of various dishes depends upon the availability of crops and surrounding vegetables. These items not procured from the market but traditionally prepared from existing agrodiversity. Traditional farming system, diversification of food items, and value addition in local recipes are of paramount importance to secure the food availability. Consequently the local communities cultivate a large number of crop species and their varieties in the region, playing a major role in maintaining crop diversity in the region. There are many crops viz. Sasamum indica, Hordeum vulgare, Vigna mungo, whose existence is depending on the socio-cultural celebration in the area. But due to policy failure and lack of incentives, through which these people may be encouraged, the traditional rules and regulations of old Himalayan people are now being questioned by the younger generation. If no attention is paid to such cultural practices of biodiversity conservation then the cultural diversity-based traditional knowledge, which is strongly linked with the Himalayan agrobiodiversity, will vanish from the region. In this endeavor empirical evidence (Maikhuri et al. 1996, 2001; Palni et al. 1998; Nautiyal et al. 2005; Bisht et al. 2006) supports the claim that the diversity of traditional livestock based farming system in fragile Himalayan landscape would be difficult to conserve without conserving the socio-cultural values of the people living in the region along with proper documentation of traditional ecological knowledge pertaining to local available biological resources.

Indigenous Knowledge System

The traditional values, faith, and indigenous knowledge of the healthcare system of the traditional crops are important for their conservation in the region. The traditional crop varieties are not only good source of food and nutrition, but also are used in the treatment of various diseases in Himalayan region (Table 1). In addition to this all the crops have strong socio-cultural/religious value and used in worship during many ceremonies and festivals. Farmers of the region possess enough knowledge about various crop resources and wild edibles for their subsistence need and other uses (Bisht et al. 2006; Negi et al. 2010b). Traditional herbal remedies have always played a key role in the healthcare systems, all over the world (Kala 2003). Thus it is important to document and revitalize the indigenous knowledge system. There is need to protect rights not only to traditional knowledge itself, but to all the inter-linked components of traditional knowledge systems, including bio-genetic resources, cultural and spiritual values, and customary laws. Knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities that are collectively held and inextricably linked to traditional resources and the diversity of genes, varieties, species, and ecosystems, and the cultural and spiritual values within the socio-ecological context of communities need to protected (Kala 2003; Phondani et al. 2010). The need for preservation, protection, and promotion of traditional knowledge has become inevitable for self-sustenance, economic prosperity of knowledge holders, and competitive business advantage. Since there is no systematic documentation of ethno-medicinal uses of traditional landraces and the traditional underutilized crops, the younger generation is unaware about the distinctive properties of the landrace diversity. Lack of this knowledge often leads to discontinuation of cultivation of some of these landraces, which are of high nutritional value to them (Nautiyal et al. 2008). Under marginal production conditions in low-intensity agro-ecosystems, local breeds, and crop varieties tend to be adapted to a range of environments through a process of human selection based on farmers’ preferences and traditional knowledge (Ceccarelli et al. 2007; Cavatassi et al. 2011). This kind of knowledge is, however, very essential for value addition to local landrace diversity and sustaining the agriculture system.

Agricultural Diversification and Appropriate Technological Interventions

The term agricultural diversification in this study has been used to imply the process of change in the agricultural production scenario, including allied activities, with a view to attain specified household and economy wide short-run and long-run objectives. The firm specific goals of agricultural diversification are: increase in household income, improvement in living standard of the family, and in some cases, reduction in production and income risks. In recent years, sustainable resource management has been recognized as one of the most important issues in marginal up-land and hill agriculture of Uttarakhand, central Himalaya. Experiences gained by International Centre for Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and other organizations during the past decades show that even in mountain areas, agriculture can be developed in a sustainable way with appropriate policy reforms and enabling institutional support (Nangju 2003). Collaboration between scientist and farmer appears the most effective means, since neither is expert in both technologies (Rawat et al. 2010). To be effective, collaborative research between farmers and professional scientists will have to draw as much as possible on the intellectual resources of both parties. This requires not only an appreciation of the way farmers perceive their agriculture and the functioning of their agro-ecosystem but also a readiness to build upon their intellectual capacities. Cross-site visits for farmers in Morocco (Nassif 2000) and Nepal (Rana et al. 2000) were found to be critical for understanding who is involved in what stage of different decision-making processes, as farmers were able to compare their varieties and management methods with farmers from other regions.

In the Himalayan region, many governmental and non-governmental agencies are providing training to the local people regarding the science and technology aspects of agriculture. The G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development (GBPIHED), an autonomous institute of Ministry of Environment and Forests with its units in all major Indian Himalayan states is also demonstrating and disseminating the cost effective hill specific technologies to mitigate or lessen the impact of climate change and maintain agrodiversity in the region. The Garhwal unit, of GBPIHED has developed four rural technology demonstration and training centers at a wide altitudinal location (560 to 2200 masl) in-housed with about 12 location specific bioresources based suitable technologies (Table 2). Learning lessons from the past experiences, mountain specificities, such as diversity in livelihood strategies, economic marginalization, isolation, difficult topography, cultural diversity, and ecological fragility, were taken into account in identifying appropriate technologies (Rawat et al. 2010). About 35 on site trainings were organized since 2004 onwards at all four centers in which about a total of 2916 participants were trained whereas 2431 participants visited these demonstration centers to acquire knowledge and exposure (Table 3). The participants were provided on site demonstration, training, and technical know-how about various technologies, which enable better understanding of problems faced by the farmers as well as to adopt these as an option of an alternate livelihood. Participatory learning and sharing of knowledge was the method adopted during the present field-based program (Negi et al. 2011).
Table 2

Brief description of simple rural technologies in housed at different rural technology demonstration and training centers with their application

Name of technologies


(A) Protected cultivation


It is used for enhancing the production of quality vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants etc. and also provides protection to crops from severe effect of frost, cold and diseases. It is very useful in high altitude areas. The temperature and moisture inside the polyhouse is greater as compared to outside environment, which enhances the rate of photosynthesis and helps in better and uniform growth of plants.


Off seasonal vegetables cultivation and nursery raising of medicinal plants provide better yield under net house. It saves the plants from extreme summer temperature and help in maintaining required air and soil moisture.


It is equally beneficial as polyhouse. It helps in the buffering of temperature inside resulting into increased CO2 fertilization effect, and also minimizes the water requirement

(B) Organic compost


The compost prepared through this technique is richer in nutrients and take less time (30-45 days) in compost preparation whereas in traditional methods it takes 8-10 months.


Continuous use of vermicompost replenishes soil fertility quickly by improving physico-chemical and biological properties of the less fertile soils. In this process the earthworms are bred in a mixture of cow dung, soil and agricultural residues.


Vermiwash is a liquiform biocompost, which is applied on vegetables and horticultural crops through sprinkling. It helps in enhancing the number of macro–micro organisms and essential elements in soil for plant growth and acts as pesticides.

(C) Off-farm technologies

 Mushroom cultivation

It is a good source of employment for landless farmers and unemployed people. Its production can be started in a room at low cost and is considered as the best food for diabetic and heart patients

 Honeybee rearing

Honey is used as a medicine and bees are known to be a good pollinator, improve the agricultural production and provide better income with minimum labor inputs.

 Bioprospecting of Wild/Semi-Domesticated Fruits

Wild edible bioresources after value addition are known to play a significant role in livelihood improvement and nutritional security of local communities.

(D) Other supporting technologies

 Zero energy cool chamber

It is cost-effective, simple, eco-friendly and easily adoptable technique which works on the principle of evaporative cooling, i.e., cooling effect due to evaporation of water. It is used to preserve agro-products and vegetables for longer duration as well as domestic food item like milk, curd, ghee, water etc. except cooked food in fresh.

 Water harvesting tank Technology

It is easy and cost-effective and retains water for longer period in water deficient areas for minor irrigation and thus helps to save time and minimize drudgery. A pond was constructed at the foot hills to harvest the water. The farm pond also used for fish production.

Source: Rawat et al. (2010)

Table 3

Capacity building/skill development of the farmers/stakeholders in the field of rural technologies at rural technology demonstration and training centers

Category of participants

Tehri district

Rudraprayag district

Chamoli district


885 (398)

79 (102)

122 (89)


166 (87)

35 (36)

12 (23)

Students (from secondary to Ph.d)

689 (564)

23 (25)

11 (19)

Students (junior level)

456 (486)

201 (156)

56 (149)

Ex-army personnel

47 (89)

7 (15)

9 (16)

Official of Govt. line depts.

49 (75)

11 (16)

7 (11)

Academicians/officials from institutions

37 (49)

9 (19)

5 (7)


2329 (1748)

365 (369)

222 (314)

Values in parenthesis for exposure visit

Ignorance of Hill Agriculture in Policy and Planning

The contribution of agriculture was recognized when the green revolution movement brought about change in the national economy, which helped establish the scientific basis of agriculture worldwide. Prior to the green revolution, the life support system was dependent basically on traditional bioresources, suggesting that local knowledge and techniques are relevant and are justified as scientific knowledge. Since late 1960 s, the agricultural policy focus on Green Revolution Technologies (GRTs), which mainly included seeds of high yielding variety (HYV), irrigation, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanization in India (Maikhuri et al. 2009). Countries like India, China, Pakistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh where a considerable portion of area under hills and mountains pursued the single-pronged green revolution technologies. Furthermore, as a direct result of growing commercialization and industrialization of farming systems (e.g., via the “Green Revolution”), agro-ecosystems are increasingly characterized by high levels of intensification with low levels of agrobiodiversity (Trupp 1996; Jackson et al. 2007). Since genetic diversity tends to reduce when local varieties are replaced by improved cultivars, it is necessary to draw increased attention to the conservation of neglected and underutilized crop species (Gruere et al. 2009). One key problem is that the private and social values of agrobiodiversity differ and the markets and policies do not align such values properly (Pascual and Perrings 2007). In central Nepal, seed-loan aiming for “farmer-led on-farm conservation” was established in 2003 to fight genetic erosion blamed on high technological intervention, green revolution, and frequent natural disasters (Thijssen et al. 2008). Examples also exist in Zimbabwe (Jarvis et al. 2003), Indonesia, the Philippines, and Cambodia (Almekinders and de Boef 2000). Public policy in support of agrobiodiversity is also important, and only recently has this on-farm conservation of genetic resources been recognized by central government agencies in Nepal (Sthapit et al. 2003).

Although such policies and programs have been successful in enhancing agricultural productivity in the lowland, where agriculture has a business motive, but hill region of Uttarakhand, Central Himalaya where agriculture is a way of life for enhancing diversified livelihood options mostly aimed at domestic consumption, gained little from these policy implementation. Due to these policies, the traditional agriculture with diverse crops and cropping patterns are under great threat all over the country including Uttarakhand (Palni et al. 1998; Maikhuri et al. 2000). Similarly the National Agricultural Policy (NAP) adopted by the Planning Commission has also ignored agriculture sector in the whole Himalayan states of the country (Maikhuri et al. 2009). Now it is a key challenge being faced by the policy-makers is to improve the quality of life of hill people as well as to conserve fragile resource base. The suffering of the mountain communities is gradually increasing and their standard of living is declining because they have been neglected at both policy and practice levels by the government. Therefore, existing plans and policies need to be amended and new laws and acts be enacted, if necessary, to protect Uttarakhand agriculture in general and hill agriculture in particular.

Strategy for Sustainable Management of Agrobiodiveristy

Solutions to the ecological and economic problems in the central Himalaya are to be sought within the permissibility of mountain specificities and adaptability of people, which is governed by socio-cultural principles. Strategies for sustainable development must be based on reliable and comprehensive data on natural, socio-cultural, and socio-economic resources, as well as on the environmental set-up. These strategies should incorporate traditional knowledge and established production systems after they have been carefully evaluated. The aim of sustainable development should be to maximize human wellbeing or quality of life without jeopardizing the life support environment. Local people adapt diverse approaches, processes, and networks through which livelihood options are strengthened through sharing best practices (Rijal et al. 2000). Experience has shown that environmental, biological, cultural, and socioeconomic factors influence a farmer’s decision of whether to select or maintain a particular cultivar at any given time (Jarvis and Hodgkin 2000). In fact, livelihoods of mountain farmers are dependent on traditional systems and associated knowledge, practices and processes developed locally. Some of the traditional grains of this region, for their being a bio-product has attracted Multinational Corporations. The Japanese multinational company Yoshifoomi Kihata producing baby food has purchased finger millet in bulk from the Uttarakhand hill region. A number of the bio-products of the state are now available on the retail outlets in metro cities of India. However, much more efforts are still needed at Government level in the direction of patenting these rare crops and popularizing these traditional crops by conserving their organic specialities and integrating them with the market, as demand for these products is on the increase. However, owing to the preference for cash income and changing food habits, farmers have been cultivating high yielding varieties of cash crops. Unfortunately, increasing atmospheric temperature coupled with the unreliable monsoon conditions do not suit these introduced varieties, as they tend to fail at the slightest alteration of the weather. Farmers are therefore shifting back to traditional varieties that withstand climatic fluctuations better and provide subsistence yields and so food security. Several technologies and institutional innovations (Table 2) for hill agriculture and also as an option of alternate livelihood were developed by various well recognized institutions. These alternative options of livelihood need to be demonstrated and disseminated among the farmers to lessen the adoption of high yielding variety in the form of cash crops through organizing regular training programs at the state and national level.

On-farm conservation is considered to be “the sustainable management of genetic diversity of locally developed traditional crop varieties with associated wild and weedy species or forms by farmers within traditional agriculture systems.” The key feature of on-farm conservation is the traditional knowledge and practical skills of the farmers; thus it is sometimes referred to as on-farm management (Engels and Wood 1999). Brush and Meng (1998) conclude that the goal of in situ conservation is not to preserve a given number of alleles or genotypes but to maintain an agricultural system that generates crop diversity in a similar way to traditional systems. Cox and Wood (1999) consider that farmers’ decisions, influenced by economic, social, cultural, and natural factors, are the principal determinants of crop diversity. A great deal of work is going on in Nepal in terms of management of agro-biodiversity and sustainable livelihood. In fact, agro-biodiversity is now being integrated into the national biodiversity actions plan there, and there are many projects on-going in agro-biodiversity conservation with a long list of best practices (Rijal et al. 2000). In Mudzi and Mutoko, Zimbabwe, local agricultural extension agents now actively encourage farmers to maintain on-farm crop biodiversity and farmers say this has significantly influenced their agrodiversity (Cromwell and van Oosterhout 2000). In Mexico, in situ conservation of maize, bean, squash, and chilli is influenced by a combination of social, cultural, and economic factors that affect diversity management by the farming community (Louette and Smale 2000). Emphasizing the social and cultural set up and other socio-cultural activities of the Himalayan people along with other conservative incentives would be helpful for long-term conservation of traditional agrobiodiversity, which is in danger of extinction due to the so-called “modernization” taking place in society (Nautiyal et al. 2008).

Conclusion and Recommendations

Traditional crop diversity needs institutional and policy support for their conservation and sustainable land use development throughout the world, particularly in the Himalayan region. Despite the fact that Uttarakhand is a predominantly mountainous state, it has no mountain agriculture specific development policies. Therefore, appropriate policy incentives are needed to enhance livelihood options through utilization of agro-biodiversity resources for the benefit of marginal farmers. On-farm conservation through indigenous knowledge system is considered to be the sustainable management of genetic diversity of locally developed traditional agricultural. Agrobiodiversity based livelihood options can be added through the inclusion of various bioresources based technologies. This requires specific policies to support implementation of appropriate technologies that consider the needs of the people in different agro-climatic zones. Emphasizing the social and cultural set up and other socio-cultural activities of the Himalayan people along with other conservative incentives would be helpful to ensure safe and effective conservation of genetic heritage through on farm practices. Cultural activities that support conservation of agrodiversity need to be popularized at the regional, national, and global level and need to be supported through government developmental programs. There are many studies that tell us the future of hill agriculture of Uttarakhand is bright, but there is a need to follow the right policies, implement strong institutional initiatives, research, and to incorporate some positive options as follows:
  • In the pursuit of designing appropriate policy and institutions to promote sustainable agriculture development, it is necessary to examine the existing policies, rules, regulations, and general institutional environment that are playing significant role in hindering sustainable agricultural development.

  • In the Himalayan region, indigenous knowledge, traditional cropping system, socio-cultural rituals, belief and practices of soil fertility as mention in this paper has enormous potential to facilitate agrodiversity conservation need to be promoted while formulating the policy implementation.

  • In the formulation of policy ‘as such’ “the main stakeholders” were never involved or even consulted about the policy formulation and planning process. Women as the dominant farmers have traditionally been the managers of germplasm and its agrodiversity. Himalayan women have the necessary skill, indigenous knowledge and sharpness to utilize this opportunities, the only necessity is to evolve a community based institutional mechanism to utilize these wisdoms in policy making.

  • Through market facilitation locally popular food recipes with high consumers’ demand can be developed as one of the strong livelihood options for farmers. Experience has shown that farmers’ conserve agro-biodiversity on the basis of relative advantages. Local crop diversity thus likely to get conserved provided that is competitive to local conditions. With improved consumers’ access to information and options help strengthen market thereby enhanced peoples’ livelihoods.

  • Women indicated that special incentives and ecological compensation are necessary to promote profitable conservation of local and traditional crop varieties because traditional crops or local crops are hardier with an ability of coping with the adverse climatic condition. Inclusion of these crops into the cropping system will therefore produce the required food security, particularly to those communities who live in fragile ecosystem like central Himalaya.

  • To transfer skills associated with new interventions specific training programs needs to be organized. Bioresources based simple technologies and institutional innovations developed by various well recognised institutions of national and international level need to incorporate in hill agriculture management plan by policy maker for better livelihood options.


The authors are thankful to the Director of the G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora for the facilities to undertake the study. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this paper for their helpful comments.

Supplementary material

10806_2012_9386_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (335 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (JPEG 334 kb)
10806_2012_9386_MOESM2_ESM.jpg (150 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (JPEG 150 kb)
10806_2012_9386_MOESM3_ESM.jpg (240 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (JPEG 239 kb)
10806_2012_9386_MOESM4_ESM.jpg (151 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (JPEG 150 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012