The mighty Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region extending over 3500 km with an area of 43 lakh km2 abodes source springs of many perennial rivers like Brahmaputra, Ganga, Yamuna and the Indus; harbours biodiversity hotspots rich in endemic flora and fauna, many of which are listed in IUCN red list; is inhabited by several ethnic communities that haves strategic traditional knowledge systems (TKS) and is rich in mineral deposits (i.e. limestone, dolomite, lead, iron, copper, etc.). The Indian Himalayan region (IHR) cover 5 lakh km2 (11.6 per cent of total HKH region) which is around 16.2 per cent of the country’s total geographic area with its rich natural resources providing livelihoods to around 210.53 million people. Reportedly, 80 per cent of the HKH population is dependent on farming for its livelihood, and the traditional societies do observe festivals that mostly are related to agriculture (for example, Hornbill festival of Nagaland, ChapcharKut of Mizoram, Nongkrem Dance festival of Meghalaya, Harela festival of Uttarakhand, etc) which show the bondage of socio-cultural principles with agriculture and agro-ecosystems.
The IHR covers twelve Indian states, namely Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Sikkim and Meghalaya) along with the hilly parts of Assam and West Bengal. According to Census of India (2011), 13.73 per cent of India’s population lives in the IHR. Further it is reported that 14.58 per cent of India’s total rural population lives in the IHR states, which contribute to 8.7 per cent of the country’s total agricultural land and 15.68 per cent of total number of estimated agricultural households. The major crops of IHR states are rice, wheat, potato, maize, onion, coarse cereals, bajra, etc., and the average food grain yield of the IHR states is 1680.58 kg/ha, which is lower than the country’s average yield i.e. 2984 kg/ha. Nonetheless, IHR states cover 17.16 per cent of total country’s horticultural area and 18.56 per cent of the country’s total horticultural production that includes fruits, vegetables, flowers, aromatics, spices, plantations and honey. As far as milk, egg, wool and meat is concerned, the IHR states contribute 6.49 per cent, 9.14 per cent, 24.11 per cent and 15.75 per cent of the country’s total milk, egg, wool and meat production, respectively. Further, it is interesting to note that 20.38 per cent of India’s total fish production is from the IHR states. According to FIBL & IFOAM Year Book 2015, India ranks 15th in terms of World’s Organic Agricultural land as per 2013 data. For instance, Sikkim and Mizoram are declared to be fully organic along with many districts of Uttarakhand.
While the IHR has biological species richness, cultural diversity and topographical variations that manifest an array of climatic variabilities, it still provides ample opportunities for agricultural heritage. Nevertheless, the changing climate scenario impacts the Himalayan ecosystems with a rising trend with extreme warm events, falling trends in extreme cold events, increasing incidences of floods and cloudbursts, irregularity in rainfall patterns, changing flowering and fruiting season of different crops, etc. Eventually, agriculture becomes a vulnerable profession and faces a lot of challenges like small and fragmented land holdings, low productivity, greater human migration from hills, lack of irrigation facilities, off-farm employment opportunities vis-à-vis increased agriculture labour shortage and costs, lack of proper transport and market availability, extreme climatic events (i.e. Kedarnath disaster, 2013, Malpa landslide, 1998, etc.), shifting cultivation in the north-eastern states and most importantly utmost monsoon dependency.
For proper agricultural development in the IHR states, an inclusive approach of integrated mountain development is required that warrants jhum re-development, micro-watershed based farming systems, amelioration of acidic soils, micro rainwater harvesting structure, strengthening irrigation facilities, promoting organic agriculture, conservation agriculture, access to climate resilient crop varieties, profitable integrated farming system (IFS) models and also documentation and validation of the traditional knowledge system (TKS) of the local communities to enable and ensure climate resilient agriculture in the IHR.