Saturday, 3 October 2015

Who moved my greenhouse plastic?!

This post is a thin slice from the times spent in Upper Siang, Arunachal. For my research on forest recovery following shifting cultivation, I introduced seedlings of different types of tree species in different-aged fallows formed following cultivation. To cut the jargon out, I was trying to understand how a plant that is usually found in a forest fares in a recently cleared and abandoned site and vice-versa. So I planted seedlings of such trees in fallows and in forest and monitored them for almost two years. I was also testing if preventing mammals from eating the seedlings, clearing existing vegetation and introducing artificial shade makes a difference to the survival of the seedlings I introduced.

To do this I needed only a few things: hundreds of seedlings collected from sites along streams and roads where they would not survive anyway, greenhouse plastic, metal exclosures and loads of patience. While the last of these I had mastered in the village where several fortnights are spent waiting for the rains or the festivals to stop with no electricity or phone network, the equipment needed to be bought from Guwahati town, 500 km away and the logistics of bringing them back to the village is the stuff for another story.

Anyways, it was all set, seedlings had been planted in different sites in different plots. Now I just had to wait two years for my data, with fortnightly visits to the sites which involved hours of trekking in the forests surrounding the village, whether its raining, sunny or cold. That's when the action began.
The plot with different treatments

Within the first few months, some of the metal exclosures and the greenhouse plastic started disappearing. It was clear to me why the metal exclosures were disappearing; they make excellent fences for kitchen gardens in the village but why greenhouse plastic, I wondered. Anyways, I needed to sort out the exclosures issue first, they were expensive and irreplaceable considering they were brought from far far away.

A meeting was summoned at the head-gaam's (village-head) home and all the gaamburas (village elders) gathered. First things first, the village-head asked me if I had got them a little something; luckily I had bought some rum from Yingkiong town and offered it to them. Upon being offered a bottle, the village-head mentioned clearly that one bottle was not enough to discuss the disappearance of the exclosures; so, I got another bottle. Anyway, then the folks took up the issue seriously and decided that they will fine any person stealing the metal mesh a staggering amount of 50,000 rupees! I thought that went well. As it happens, some boys in the village were summoned and they went about in different directions shouting the message that 'whoever steals karthik's fence will have to pay a fine of 50,000 if caught', perhaps the only time ever my name was announced to a whole village! The catch was in the line 'if caught', no one was ever, but still I was happy, it was some progress. The exclosures stopped disappearing. Now, about the greenhouse plastic...

Turns out folks were collecting the greenhouse for uses I had not imagined! They were used to sun their rice, to sit on and chat, and to make a temporary shelter from the sun and rain in the forest and fields! While I appreciated their out-of-the-box thinking regarding the uses of my greenhouse sheets, my study was taking a toll! Anyways, after the announcement that I had experiment plots in the forest, the plastic and the exclosures stayed on for the next few months. I also started using the extra greenhouse sheets I had in my camp; to clean the camp, to wash vessels, to store stuff by bundling up the sheets and rarely even as a fire-starter. We also used it as a net to play local Sepak Takraw and then on a long night a friend slept on the sheets and even used them as a blanket in the winter!





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