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Bamboo Revolution: Transforming Khamasom from Poppy Cultivation to Sustainable Prosperity

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Bamboo Revolution: Transforming Khamasom from Poppy Cultivation to Sustainable Prosperity

By – Dr. Atom Sunil Singh
Khamasom’s people are known for their warmth and hospitality, a community where every visitor is treated like family. The local dialect, Khamasom Tui, is a melody that carries the stories and wisdom of generations. It is a language that has developed a sense of identity and belonging among the villagers, binding them together in their shared heritage and aspirations. Khamasom Village, Ukhrul District, is a place where the whispers of the past meet the promise of the future. Home to the Tangkhul Naga tribe, the village is a hub of rich traditions and strong, enduring spirits. The geographical canvas of Khamasom is as diverse as it is picturesque. It is a land where the earth reaches up to touch the sky, with rolling hills that are adorned with a quilt of greenery. The village is situated approximately 38 kilometres from the district headquarters of Ukhrul, partially connected by the National Highway 202, which winds its way through the rugged terrain.
Agriculture forms the backbone of Khamasom’s economy, with the villagers’ hands nurturing the soil to yield crops that sustain their families and communities. The fields and forests of Khamasom are not just sources of sustenance but also sanctuaries of biodiversity. The village boasts a vast forest that stretches up to the international boundary with Myanmar, rich in flora and fauna, and is arguably the only village in northeastern India to possess such a thick virgin forest in the Indo-Burma border stretch.
World War II Plane Crash Mystery about Virgin Forest
The Virgin Forest of Khamasom, a dense and unexplored expanse, is home to a wealth of cane (rattan), a resource that has remained largely untapped. The abundance of rattan and bamboo, with its high species diversity and vertical size structure, presents an opportunity for the village to harness this resource for economic gain without compromising the ecological integrity of the forest. In the dense and mysterious Virgin Forest of Khamasom in Manipur’s Ukhrul District, many secrets and stories have shaped the village’s history.
One of the most intriguing tales is about plane crashes during World War II. The thick forest, with its challenging terrain, kept the wreckage sites hidden and largely unexplored. A brave villager named Sorei, a jungle man who stayed whole his life in virgin forest. He discovered plane-like structures and personal items, including a ring and a watch. These items, seemingly ordinary, turned out to be very valuable and triggered a series of events filled with greed, fear, and tragedy. However, Sorei did not know the value of these items. Another villager from Khamasom Phungthar, K. Nelson, brought the ring and watch from Sorei by paying Rs. 800 for them. William, a person from Nagaland seen the ring and watch and after knowing the value, he paid Rs. 10,000 to K. Nelson. K. Nelson was thrilled with the money, thinking the items were cheap and worried that K. Nelson would ask for his money back once he realised the truth. William ran away, fearing Nelson would demand a refund.
On the other hand, William knew the true worth of the ring and watch. Afraid ifK. Nelson would discover their real value and ask for them back, William also disappeared. Both men vanished from the spot in a humorous twist, each thinking the other would come after them. William fled to Nagaland, where he sold the ring and watch for a huge sum, becoming a wealthy man. Years later, K. Nelson and William met again in their village. Grateful for the change in his life, William gave K. Nelson an additional Rs. 50,000, acknowledging how the ring and watch had transformed his fortune.
The villagers, filled with fear and superstition, believed the forest was cursed. They sought help from outside to solve the mystery. Many tried to find the place where the plane crashed during World War II. However, anyone who found the place would die shortly after.
The historical context of the plane crashes in Khamasom’s Virgin Forest is significant not only for its impact on the village’s past but also for its influence on the present. The stories of bravery, greed, loss, and redemption are intertwined with Khamasom’s identity. They serve as a reminder of the village’s resilience and the enduring spirit of its people. The virgin forest, once a source of fear, has now become a symbol of hope and transformation. As Khamasom embarks on its journey from poppy cultivation to sustainable bamboo and cane farming, the lessons from its history guide its path. The villagers’ commitment to change and development is evidence of their ability to overcome the shadows of the past and strive for a brighter, greener future.
In embracing bamboo as a sustainable alternative, Khamasom is not only securing its economic prosperity but also honouring the memory of those who were lost. The bamboo stands tall in the Virgin Forest, a living tribute to the village’s history and an inspiration of its aspirations. It represents the cycle of life and death, growth and decay, and the promise of renewal.
The Challenges of Poppy Cultivation
In the abundant hills of Manipur, the village of Khamasom has long been ensnared in the web of poppy cultivation—a practice that has brought with it a myriad of challenges. The prevalence of this crop, while a source of quick income for some, has cast a shadow over the community, leading to a cascade of adverse effects that have rippled through the social fabric and the environment alike.
Poppy cultivation in Khamasom Village has been a complex issue, deeply rooted in the socio-economic conditions of the region. For many villagers, the cultivation of poppy has been seen as a necessary evil—a means to eke out a living in the absence of viable alternatives. The illicit nature of poppy farming has tied the community to cycles of illegality and dependency, with the lure of immediate financial gain overshadowing the dire consequences.
The environmental impact of poppy cultivation has been profound. The slash-and-burn techniques often employed to clear land for poppy fields have led to deforestation, soil erosion, and a loss of biodiversity. The delicate ecological balance of Khamasom’s natural landscapes has been disrupted, threatening the very resources upon which the community depends for its survival.
Moreover, the social implications have been equally severe. Poppy cultivation has been linked to a rise in drug addiction within the community, tearing at the social structure and undermining the health and well-being of its members. The illegal trade associated with poppy farming has invited crime and violence, placing the villagers in a precarious position, both legally and morally.
Recognising the gravity of the situation, the Government of Manipur launched the “War on Drugs” campaign, a concerted effort to combat the scourge of drugs and poppy cultivation in the state. This campaign has been a multi-pronged approach, combining law enforcement actions with initiatives aimed at providing alternative livelihoods to poppy farmers. The “War on Drugs” has seen the government take aggressive measures to eradicate poppy fields, with security forces being deployed to destroy crops and dismantle the infrastructure supporting this illicit trade. These actions have sent a clear message that the government is serious about tackling the issue head-on.
However, the campaign has not been without its challenges. The targeting of poppy fields has sometimes led to tensions between the government and the local communities, who have felt the immediate economic impact of such actions. The need for a sensitive approach that addresses the underlying causes of poppy cultivation—such as poverty and lack of economic opportunities—has become increasingly apparent.
Cane and Bamboo as Sustainable Alternatives
Amidst the challenges posed by poppy cultivation, the village has found hope in the form of sustainable alternatives—cane and bamboo. These natural resources, deeply ingrained in the cultural and ecological framework of the region, offer a path to prosperity that aligns with the community’s values and the environment’s needs.
The Khamasom Phungdhar Village Committee, recognising the detrimental impact of poppy cultivation, made a bold declaration to adopt bamboo cultivation as part of their long-term strategy. This decision was not made lightly; it was the culmination of a collective vision to safeguard the village’s future while preserving its natural resources and cultural heritage. The committee understood that encouraging and aiding alternative forms of livelihoods was essential to deter poppy farming and foster a sustainable economy for Khamasom Phungdhar.
Bamboo, often referred to as “green gold,” has been a major source of livelihood for rural communities across Asia for centuries. In Khamasom, the potential of bamboo goes beyond its economic value; it symbolises a guiding light of environmental stewardship. Bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than other plants and sequesters 20% more carbon dioxide from the environment, making it a powerful ally in the fight against climate change. Its ability to control soil erosion and improve soil quality further underscores its role as a guardian of the planet.
Environmental, Economic, and Social Benefits of Bamboo
Bamboo, seen as a representation of resilience and adaptability, has become a shining example of environmental sustainability, especially in the narrative of Khamasom’s transition from cultivating poppies to cultivating bamboo. This remarkable plant offers a plethora of benefits that extend far beyond its economic value, playing a crucial role in improving soil health, preventing erosion, supporting biodiversity, enhancing air quality, and mitigating climate change.
Environmental Benefits
Bamboo’s environmental benefits are significant. Its rapid growth and ability to sequester carbon make it a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. Bamboo also helps prevent soil erosion, improve soil health, and support biodiversity. These benefits are particularly important for the hilly terrain of Khamasom, where soil erosion is a major concern .
Economic Benefits
Economically, bamboo presents numerous opportunities. It can be used to produce a wide range of products, from traditional handicrafts to modern construction materials. This diversification allows Khamasom’s residents to tap into new markets and create value-added products. The economic potential of bamboo can help build a resilient and sustainable local economy, reducing dependency on unsustainable agricultural practices .
Social Benefits
Socially, the transition from poppy to bamboo cultivation has far-reaching benefits. Poppy farming is often associated with crime and social issues, whereas bamboo cultivation promotes a healthier and more cohesive community. The shift also fosters a sense of pride and ownership among the villagers, as they work together to build a sustainable future .
Local Perspectives
In the heart of Khamasom, a village in the Ukhrul District of Manipur, the transition from poppy cultivation to bamboo is not just an agricultural shift but a profound transformation of the community’s way of life. Augustine A.S and Awungshi Philip Soso, local residents of Khamasom, have been at the forefront of this change, offering unique insights into the journey towards sustainable cultivation.
Awungshi Philip Soso, a seasoned farmer, has seen firsthandthe detrimental effects of poppy cultivation on the land and the people. “Poppy farming was like a quick fix for our financial woes, but it was never a solution,” he reflects. The immediate economic benefits were overshadowed by long-term environmental damage and social issues. Philip’s perspective changed when he learned about bamboo’s potential. “Bamboo is not just a plant; it’s a lifeline. It offers us a chance to heal our land and build a future for our children,” he says with hope.
Augustine A. S. shares this sentiment. He has been instrumental in advocating for the switch to bamboo. “We needed a crop that would protect our hills from erosion and provide us with a stable income. Bamboo was the answer,” Augustine explains. He emphasises the importance of community involvement in this transition. “It’s not just about planting bamboo. It’s about changing our mindset and working together for the betterment of Khamasom.”
The insights from Augustine and Philip highlight the multifaceted benefits of bamboo cultivation. Bamboo’s rapid growth rate and minimal need for fertilizers make it an environmentally friendly alternative to poppy. Its extensive root system helps prevent soil erosion, a significant concern in the hilly terrain of Khamasom. Moreover, bamboo supports a wide range of biodiversity, providing habitats for various species and contributing to the ecological balance of the region. Augustine further stated that the health benefits of bamboo are also noteworthy. Unlike poppy, which is associated with the production of narcotics, bamboo offers a safe and healthy option for cultivation. It does not attract the same level of crime and social issues that poppy farming does, leading to a more peaceful and cohesive community.
Philip further said that economically, bamboo presents numerous opportunities for Khamasom’s residents. It can be used to make a variety of products, from traditional handicrafts to modern construction materials, offering avenues for entrepreneurship and job creation. “Bamboo has the potential to revolutionise our economy,” says Philip. “It’s not just about selling raw bamboo. We can create value-added products and tap into markets we never thought possible.”
The transition to bamboo cultivation aligns with the global movement towards sustainable practices. It contributes to climate change mitigation by sequestering carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen at a higher rate than most trees. This shift not only benefits Khamasom but also sets an example for other communities facing similar challenges.
The journey of Khamasom from poppy to bamboo is a story of resilience and hope. It showcases the power of local perspectives in driving sustainable development. Augustine A.S and Philip A Soso, along with the rest of the Khamasom community, are not just cultivating a crop; they are cultivating a new future—one that is green, prosperous, and sustainable. Their journey is a reminder that even the smallest change at the grassroots level can have a profound impact on the environment, society, and the economy.
Training Programme and Community Engagement
The “Three Days Training Programme on Bamboo Nursery Raising and the Commercial Plantation” to be held from 6thJune 2024 at Khamasom Phungdhar is a transformative event for the community of Khamasom, marking a significant stride towards sustainable development. This programme is a collaborative effort that brings together the expertise and resources of the North East Cane and Bamboo Development Council (NECBDC),Guwahti and Athia Integrated Rural Development Organisation (AIRDO)and supported by the under the North Eastern Council (NEC), Government of India, Shillong.
The training programme is meticulously designed to cover all aspects of bamboo nursery raising and commercial plantation. It aims to equip the participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to establish and manage bamboo nurseries, understand the nuances of bamboo cultivation, and explore the commercial potential of this versatile plant. The curriculum is expected to include topics such as bamboo propagation, nursery management, species selection, harvesting techniques, and intercropping models.
Conclusion
The journey of Khamasom is a narrative of resilience, a testament to the indomitable spirit of its people who have decided to turn away from the ephemeral allure of poppy fields to the enduring promise of bamboo groves. This shift is not merely a change in agricultural practice but a profound reimagining of Khamasom’s relationship with its land, its economy, and its future.
The “Three Days Training Programme on Bamboo Nursery Raising and the Commercial Plantation” is a clarion call to action. It is an invitation to learn, to grow, and to lead. The collaboration between AIRDO, NECBDC, and the NEC is a model of partnership, a demonstration of what can be achieved when organizations come together with a common vision.
The story of Khamasom’s journey from poppy to bamboo is a narrative of transformation, a chronicle of a community’s determination to chart a new course towards sustainability. It is a story that deserves to be told and retold, a story that should inspire all of us to take action for a better, greener, and more prosperous future. Let us all answer the call to action, for Khamasom, for ourselves, and for the world.
(The author is Registrar, Khongnangthaba University, Imphal, Manipur and Faculty, Department of Geography, Pravabati College, Mayang Imphal, Manipur. Email: [email protected], Contact no. 7011990801)

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