Soil rejuvenation through plants-Cultivator’s Perspective

Dr Kreni Lokho and Lohrii Adai
Plants are natural components in tropical ecosystem. Plant provides a wide range of service to human from firewood and construction materials, to fruits, nuts, gums, resins, fodder and medicines. They also render services such as shade, wind shield, aesthetic and spiritual value. The present study is carried on the Mao-Naga-an ethnic community from Manipur. Fourteen respondents were selected through snowball sampling and interviewed with a semi-structured questionnaire. It is necessary to note here that the respondents are all cultivators in occupation with more than twenty years of experience in both terrace and swidden fields. Prior to the study, Prior Informed Consent is taken and in compliance with the Nagoya Protocol of Access and Benefit sharing for ethical research.
From the inception of the Forest Survey of India (FSI), the reports of FSI states that the forest cover in 1987 is 17,475 km2, after more than three decades (1987-2021), the forest cover in Manipur has recovered just 711.17 km2. Comparing the previous 2019 reports with 2021, the forest cover in Manipur loses 464 km2 in a span of three years which is slightly smaller than the entire district of Bishnupur district (496 km2). This calls for increasing forest covers by introducing fast growing plants and plants that can regenerate soil fertility in the shortest time. The article also aims to educate the general public to boost their crops in both the swidden and terrace farming (quality and quantity).
The study is undertaken based on the two farming practices (swidden and terrace field cultivation) in the Mao-Naga community. According to the respondents, the following are the plants known to increase top soil regeneration in the swidden cultivation.  
Alnus nepalensis: [Common Name (CN): Nepalese alder and Local Name (LN): eposii]: Majority of the respondents observed that the plant are fast growing and also known to increase soil biomass. Kreni, Pfokrehrii (Punanamei village), Athisii, Besii, Kaikho, Kapani, and Neli, (Kaibi village) suggested that the leaves of the plant degrade easily and the region where the plant grows, it can regenerate soil biomass in the span of 5-7 years. Even though the knowledge is known throughout the community, plantation of sapling in the swidden fields is still on the wane.
Ageratina adenophora: [CN: Crofton weed; LN: Japan pro]: The plant is native to Mexico and rated as class 4 noxious weed. The invasiveness of the plant species is manipulated by the Mao-Naga community for increasing the soil biomass. According to Ashuli and Puni (Shajouba village), plants are trimmed/cut during the last week of November and continue till January. The degraded biomass is used as fertilizer.
Saurauia napaulensis: Native to South Himalayan and China. The plant bears large broad leaves and also used as fodder for cattle. According to the Pfokrehrii (Punanamei), Adaso, Besii, Athili and Kapani (Kaibi) the plant provides huge biomass, results in increasing the soil fertility. They are also fast-growing plant. According to the author observation, plant population around the region is degrading due to the plant has no commercial value nor the edible fruits are commercialized in the local market.
Ficus semicordata: [CN: Drooping figs, LN: Chiidoshii] Native to south Asia. According to Athili and Lokho (Kaibi), the soil around the root region is blackish and fertile. (To be contd)