The study of the economic system of Manipur is one of the most intriguing among several research fields of Northeast India studies. The Manipur kingdom had its origin in the ancient age, but it bloomed into a monarchy in the medieval period and became a princely state under the British in 1891. Manipur, a small state surrounded by ranges of hills is one of the beauty spots on the earth, but it suffered in the hands of Burmese during 1819-26 and again in the hands of British in 1891.
Since 1891, the state had been under the control of the British government of India. With the change in the hands of the seat of administration, the economy of the state underwent drastic changes. It may be observed from the analysis of available data that otherwise self-sufficient food economy of the feudal (or pre-colonial) era was disrupted during the colonial period.
It is said that the colonial policy not only robbed the rice economy but also shunned the paths of industrialisation, thus averting the natural transition of an economy from agricultural to industrial. Despite such adverse effects, Manipur’s economy grew, and its trade expanded beyond its boundaries during the concerned period appreciably.
Agriculture was the main occupation and also the main contributor to the Manipur kingdom’s economy. The state of Manipur depends mainly on the agricultural sector for its economy. It is the most significant livelihood source for the rural people. In the early phases of its civilisation, the mode of cultivation was primitive, and production was mainly for local consumption only.
Tradition and myths, as recorded in several literary texts, indicate that the ancient Manipuri’s practised shifting cultivation. People in the hills practised slash and burn or Jhum cultivation whereas the peasant communities in the bare areas practised wet rice cultivation. We can get references in various texts which have mentioned the flourishing nature of agriculture in Manipur.
Loyumba Shilyen, the edicts of the King Loyumba (1074–1122 AD) mentions the adoption of the wet rice cultivation by the Meiteis (Manipuri people). Another ancient text Panthoibi Kongkhul refers to the plantation of varieties of crops and paddy by Nongpok Ningthou and Panthoibi (Manipuri pantheons). The Chronicles of Manipur (Cheitharol khumbaba) refers to several irrigation works by dredging the rivers and making drainage to drain the water from low-lying marshy areas.
King Taothingmang (264–364CE) is remembered for his skill and techniques for making the valley suitable for cultivation. By the fifth century, wet rice cultivation through irrigation systems of dams and canals known as the Ethei-Loukhong complexes were carried out.
We can witness the two fundamental forms of cultivation in Manipur: (i) Punghool, in which seeds were directly sown in the wet ploughed fields and (ii) Lingba in which transplantation of seedlings from the nurseries was extensively used in the valley areas of Manipur. The developed culture of crops farming, especially for rice led to the abundance of rice production in the valley and stability of the food economy.
From early period various varieties of paddy are cultivated in Manipur valley. Some of the sorts which are still produced are: Akhanphou, Heitup phou, Huikap phou, Iroya, Murshi, Noining, Phoudum, Phourel, Phourel phoudongba, Sang sangba, Tumai Angnbi. Chamhai phoujao, Kakcheng phou, Kumbi phou, Moirangphou, Moirangphou khongangbi-A, Moirangphou khongnanbi, Napiphou, Phoungang, Taothabi, Taothabi angouba, Wainuchara, Wainuchara Manbi, Yenthik, Chahao amubi, Champra phou, Chandrika, Changlei, Ganesh phou, Iroya-A, Japan phou, Laiphou, Langmanbi, Langphou, Maipak phou, Phougak, Phourel, Phourel akupi, Phourel amubi, Phourel phoujao, Phourel tujombi, Chahao Poireiton, Chahao Angouba, Chahao Sempak and Tumai angouba.
There are two kinds of wild paddy: Wainuchara and Mulsi Laiphou. In addition to paddy, vegetables such as chillies, pumpkins, ginger, millet, sweet potatoes, cucumber, onion, cabbage, onion, cauliflower, beans, pulses, and peas are also cultivated in Manipur valley from the early period.
While discussing the history of agriculture of the state, the land tenure system is the primary factor for increasing the production, the pattern of land distribution and its leasing system had a great bearing upon the determination of the number of resources which could be consolidated by the state and also the role of the farmers who were engaged thereon.
The land tax was by far the most critical source of state revenue which in turn was related to the land tenure system. The land system in the valley can be broadly classified into Ingkhol (homestead land) and Lou (paddy fields). All the land in the kingdom theoretically belonged to the king earlier.
However, one-third of the total land was under his direct control, and another one third (or more than that) owned the members of the ruling family, the Brahmins and the sepoys. The kings used to grant land to the priests, temple, officials and other favourites either permanently or for a specific period. The king required large labour to cultivate the huge land under their direct control. They extracted labour mainly through the Lallup system (compulsory service to the king). For common people, they had to pay taxes if they want to use the land.
Due to the development of agricultural land in the valley of Manipur, the department of revenue called Lourungpurel was developed in the valley. This department prepared records of land rights. The maker of the land records was known as the Loukok eba (recorder of the fired plots).
After the coming of the British in Manipur, the various types of land began to be taxed. The Tax payable land (lou) are
(i) Touna lou (land brought under fresh cultivation)
(ii) Sarkari lou (government land)
(iii) Pham lou (courtier’ land) and others.
The tax-free lou are:
(i) Sepoy lou (King’s army’s land)
(ii) Mana lou (state awardees’ land)
(iii) Brahmin lou (priest’s/clergies’ land)
(iv) Temple lou (forest deities’ land)
(v) Royal family lou or Sana lou (Members of the royal family were also granted lands and these were probably handed down from father to son)
(vi) Maharani lou (queen’s land)
(vii) Pang lou (person of distinguished service in war).
The method and technology of rice production were fairly developed as compared to those of the neighbouring communities. E.W. Dun in his book Gazetteer of Manipur (1992) refers to striking similarities between the agricultural practices of Manipur and those of East Bengal. The tools and implementation of cultivation were also not qualitatively different from those in East Bengal. Animal power, particularly bullocks and buffalos, were commonly used in drawing plough and carts.
Langol (iron-tipped single hoe plough), Kangpot (sledge), Cheirong (paddy thresher) and others were the critical implementations of cultivations. Yot (spade), Thangjou (large multi-purpose dao) and Sinjang (a solid iron hand axe) were also commonly used, though the use of wheel cart was not widespread during the 19th century. Interestingly, the valley people had also developed through the centuries their system of water management.
Through the indigenous methods of Thingel (dam/ dikes), Khong (canal), Tutengba (dredging of rivers) and other ways, the people of Manipur valley succeeded in harnessing annual average monsoon rain to their advantage and made the place one of the most fertile rice-producing areas in the entire region.
Traditional agricultural tools used by the Manipuris (From left to Right:1 1. Choktchü (Large Spade), Lirhon Choktchü (Medium Spade), Choktchü (Small Spade), 2. Kheya (Bamboo and Wooden), 3. Naga Dao-Lepok (Small, Medium, Large), 4. Vekhüro (Sickle).
Rice has been the staple food for Manipur since time immemorial. Its production primarily depends on acceptable agronomic practices. Good agronomic practices include the adequate fertilisation, water and weed management, lower plant densities and sustainability of the farmers.
In the countries where rice is the dominant crop and staple food, the livelihood of the people depends on the crop’s availability, quality and sustainability. Consequently, the sustainability of this crop has become one of the crucial issues in the world now.
The impact of wet paddy cultivation upon the hill society of Manipur is massive; however, their contribution and their occupation are not harnessed. Their empowerment is essential to unlocking their true potential and build more vital collaboration for food security. Their balanced coexistence with the environment and their sustainable land management practices is worthy of revisiting and integrating with the modern techniques. It is essential to redevelop the cultivation method more scientifically so that their positive activities are harnessed in combating the world hunger and food security.
The global climate change dreadfully affects the local ecology, environment, and biodiversity. At the current situation in the rural development, the most important intervention for food security would be the exchange of knowledge and information with or among the farmers, shareholders and Government departmental resources, and accessibility to research and finance institutes, so that double cropping and integrated farming would become the new normal of rice cultivation in Manipur.
This implementation will improve the food crops productions and income in concomitant with the sustainable use of natural resources. This has also become the mantra of development goals and food security; based on conservation and sustainable use of natural resources which can be utilised upon inter-generations.