Zizira explorers regularly set out on field trips to visit villages which are off the beaten track – in remote areas - as there is a good chance of meeting farmers struggling to find a market for their produce.
That fits into Zizira's motto of 'reaching opportunities where they are needed the most'.
How do we decide where to go? One of the two things – a team member will suggest a place, or we will pick a place which looks interesting. We believe in making each trip a fun filled team outing and make it productive. This time we were headed to Lawbah, a beautiful village in East Khasi Hills.
A team of 8, we packed ourselves into two cars and headed out to Lawbah on a Sunday in October 2019. We had no idea what to expect. The purpose of the visit was clear though – to have a joyful outing and to identify produce that Zizira can source, thus opening markets for the farmers. Also to see if we could point the farmers to growing high-value produce.
After a 40 Km ride (remember most stretches are winding, as our land is such - undulating, green and beautiful) we reached a village called Tyrsad. We stopped to eat a meal. We had 'doh thad' which is smoked meat, in our case it was smoked beef, pork curry, a plate of rice with 'tungrymbai', which is a fermented beans dish loved by most of the Khasi people. Salivating? We also ate local chicken curry which is tastier and richer compared to the broiler chicken we get in Shillong.
Enroute to Lawah is Mawsynram, the world’s wettest place. It holds the records for the highest annual rainfall in a year (11,872 mm of rainfall during monsoons). Luckily it was a dry and pleasant day when we drove through Mawsynram.
We reached Lawbah after having spent 2 hours on the road.
It was no different from other villages we have been to. In fact, many of us still have roots in villages like this. The place was so beautiful and serene.
We picked two streets in the village to walk around in and explore - Hatmawdon and Nongtrai. Being locals who speak the language, it was easy for us to merge and chat with the people. In any case, almost everyone we meet on our field trips is always happy to chat and is open with information. The people of this village were mostly Khasis, Hajongs and Garos. Our friend and guide turned out to be Bah Trebor Rngikseh, a farmer from this village we happened to meet.
It was a little disturbing to hear that agricultural growth has been on the decline over the past few years. And that the people of the village were moving away from Agriculture. The main produce grown here is Black Pepper and Bay Leaf. Black pepper is harvested during the winter seasons, from December to January.
We lucked out meeting a friendly farmer Kong Rita Kharwanmih. By now you will know that ‘Kong’ is a respectful way to address women in Khasi, the major language spoken in Meghalaya. Kong Rita said that agricultural income is decreasing as farmers find it difficult to find the right market to sell their produce in. If they did find a market, the price they got was not enough to make a decent margin.
We heard that black pepper is now selling at is 60% of the price it commanded last year. We can also see many betel nut trees grown aground here. The people of this village also sell betel nuts in the local market.
Kong Rita said that Black Pepper is processed by drying the harvest under the sun. The dried peppercorns are then laid out on the ground and covered with a layer of jute cloth and trampled on, to separate the peppercorns from the stem. The farmers cover their feet with a clean cloth before they trample. In any case, the trampling happens on top of the jute cloth with the peppercorns below the jute cloth.
Kong Rita said the production of Black Pepper has decreased over the last decade. She could harvest up to 80 Kgs annually ten years back, which has now decreased to under 30 Kgs.
Guess what she is doing? Do you think she is sitting back and worrying about it?
No! She is scaling up and has planted 200 new saplings in a 3-acres stretch of land! That is entrepreneurship, is it not? Sometimes she comes up to Shillong to sell her produce. Imagine what could become possible for her if she had an assured market for her black pepper!
Bay Leaf, known as Sla Tyrpad in the local language, is the other major produce of this village.