Meghalaya’s marginal farmers, living on the fringes of society and of the economy, seem to have help at hand in a scientific mind that believes that the goodness of nature’s bounties spread around the wild hills should benefit them. That is what Zizira gathered from Dr Ashiho Asosii Mao, a Senior Scientist of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) in Shillong.
The BSI was established in 1890 with the aim of exploring the flora of India and to identify the diverse species. The prime objective of BSI was to document and collect detailed information on plants throughout the country.
To ease the task, the BSI, Eastern Circle was established at Shillong on the April 1, 1956.BSI Shillong, under the BSI Shillong, under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has discovered 91 new flora species and protects 3 biosphere reserves, 12 National Parks and 36 wildlife sanctuaries.
The center has published around 300 research papers and continues its expedition to explore and protect the different plant species of Northeast India. We bring you extracts from a one-on-one interview with a senior scientist of BSI Shillong.
An Expert Who Loves AdventureDr Ashiho Asosii Mao, the BSI’s senior scientist, believes that we need to build a strong relation with farmers. With a Ph.D. in Plant Tissue culture, Dr Mao has been with the BSI since 1990 and has around 95 research papers to his name.
Team Zizira met Dr Mao at his office in Laitumkhrah, Shillong, on December 16, 2015. Dr Mao spoke to Zizira about his personal experiences and shared his expertise in the field of Botany. His in-depth knowledge and approach, which came out while sharing his experiences, is worth praising.
His genial nature was evident from the ready smile he had and the way he shared his experiences with a touch of humor. He emphasized on the importance of entrepreneurship in Meghalaya which can help the farmers and Northeast as a whole, in maintaining a sustainable livelihood.
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Interest in Research
"When I think of why I ended up doing a Ph. D, there were two reasons. First, I was a good student, but grew up in a small village and was less privileged than others. This meant that pursuing a Ph.D was better for me than other career options, as I could not afford them," said Dr Mao. "Second, I was myself interested in research, having drawn inspiration from great scientists like Thomas Edison and Brooker T. Washington.
Armed with a scholarship from UGC NET I went on to do research and I have been continuing since then. While pursuing my Ph.D. in England, I noticed that the educational system there was totally different from ours and the people out there were skilled and open minded. Northeast has the similar potential for such growth. All we need is support," he added.
Then, there was the call of nature itself. "Field work in BSI fulfills my love for adventure," he says. "BSI is very interesting for people who love adventure. We are continuously on the lookout for remote locations and since I am very fond of adventure and trekking, the field life through BSI interests me a lot. I like travelling to remote areas, exploring new and unique flora."
Herbs with Medicinal BenefitsDr. A.A. Mao shared with us interesting stories about two herbs – one that can help with sleep and another that can relieve pain.
"I have a friend who faced severe sleep issues and used to sleep for only a couple of hours a day. I suggested he try Valeriana jatamansi, or Indian Valerian, a local herb found abundantly in the Northeast and I asked him to crush the root and eat it. Much to his joy this remedy indeed helped him. The only side effect it could have was a decrease in blood pressure and so, I advised him to be careful with the dosage.For the Zizira explorers these were exciting pieces of information. Further follow up – to know more about these herbs – is on their 'To Do' list.
There is another commonly known herb, wintergreen, which grows abundantly in Meghalaya. It has a strong fragrance when crushed and can be used to relieve pain, either by itself or as an additive in a balm. We can even extract essential oil from it and the oil quality from Meghalaya is much better in comparison to others," said Dr Mao.
Highlights of Dr A.A. Mao's Personal Experiences
- Dr Mao shared with us some of his personal experiences. In Mahabaleshwar, a small town, honey collection boxes are placed in the forest and are labelled with their taste and nutritional content.
- He shared the importance of pineapple skin and suggested that we consider ways of utilizing the peel as it is said to be rich in beneficial enzymes.
- Dr Mao has provided training on orchid cultivation and dried flower making to several NGOs in Nagaland and Meghalaya.
Northeast, Richest in Natural ResourceDr Mao makes this clear when he says: "There is a need to change the equation (the present scenario of one-sided benefits) and help Northeast grow." Dr Mao highlighted that the Northeast consist of two bio-diversity hotspots, the Eastern Himalaya region and the Indo-Myanmar region, this makes Northeast one of the richest in bio-diversity resources in India. According to Dr Mao, the rich bio resources are not being utilized to benefit the locals.
"Exporters take resources from us and make a fortune after processing it. This is a loss for us. The local resource should help us benefit from it and to attain such benefits we need the support of young entrepreneurs and organizations like Zizira. We need to take practical steps in helping the farmers and create a synergy with local farmers."
His wish was very clear – he wanted the Northeast farmers to benefit.
Any Message to the Youth of Northeast?Says Dr Mao: "The youth of Meghalaya and the Northeast have a lot of potential and their creativity needs exposure. We need to build their confidence and do everything the right way." His opinion on how Zizira can help the farmers Dr. A.A. Mao had some advice for Zizira: "Procure directly from the farmers and create a sustainable market for them. To succeed in doing this, build trust with the farmers and prove to them what your motives are – that you want to help them. This will build a strong relationship" It is so humbling to meet scientists like Dr Mao – sincere, passionate and hard working with years of work experience, who want the best for Northeast and its farmers, is it not?
It is so humbling to meet scientists like Dr Mao – sincere, passionate and hard working with years of work experience, who want the best for Northeast and its farmers, is it not? Such people are ready to share their rich experience and knowledge to support a genuine attempt to make a difference to this region.
We at Zizira renew our pledge to do our best to trigger such a transformation.Hope this article was useful to you. Do you have any stories about the farmers of Northeast that you would like to share? Or do you know of people doing good work in the area of Northeast agriculture that you would like us to write about? You can add them as comments below and we promise to follow up.
Hope this article was useful to you. Do you have any stories about the farmers of Northeast that you would like to share? Or do you know of people doing good work in the area of Northeast agriculture that you would like us to write about? You can add them as comments below and we promise to follow up.