Phrang Roy, Biodiversity Activist, better known as Bah Phrang, was born and raised in Shillong. Now, he works to preserve the knowledge of indigenous communities to ensure that today’s children won’t lose the link to their identity.
As chairman of the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society, an organisation active in 41 villages in Meghalaya, he promotes indigenous forms of knowledge through food, agriculture and biodiversity.
On his association with indigenous communities, he says, ‘In 1975, I was working as an Indian Administrative Services officer in Maharashtra on a seed distribution campaign in Bandhara, which was very successful. When they transferred me to Thane, I tried to implement the same programme there. But the Warli community there refused our seeds, saying, “We have our own varieties, we do not need government seeds.” I realised then that they had knowledge we could not access and it got me thinking about biodiversity. I wanted to highlight this because it is not as if all of us are born activists for indigenous people or women’s rights. Circumstances have shaped us.’
Indigenous communities have information that is quite unique and important, especially today when we face the challenge of climate change. He shares an example, ‘I went to a village in Meghalaya where they showed me the markings for a particular river. There is an insect there and when that insect crosses a particular mark, it will be a year of flooding. And it always happens.’
He further adds, ‘Another such system is when the people see thousands of worms going towards the river. They know it will be a dry year and they change their cropping pattern. They grow more millet than rice. But when the worms start moving to higher ground, it means there will be rain and floods. So they grow paddy. Most communities have this sort of knowledge that we, in our systems, do not acknowledge. Our challenge is to see how we use that knowledge system and combine it with science.’