Shi-Yomi: Mechukha Valley in the newly formed Shi-Yomi district, west Arunachal Pradesh is over 200 km from Pasighat. The constituency comprising 20 villages with mostly Memba and Adi tribes. The village has changed over the years in terms of livelihood. The once farm-based society now banks on tourism, business and other petty jobs to eke out a living.
The main reason for agriculture being shunned is its infertile soil. Khandu Philley, who runs a home stay in Mechukha town, says that the rocky terrain is unsuitable for most crops. “Earlier, people grew millets and a few vegetables in the town. But it involved hard work as we had to spend a lot of time digging the fields and manuring them,” he said.
Philley is originally from Yorko village but has shifted to the town to venture into tourism business.
Tenzing Sharjo, who is in his sixties, runs a restaurant in the town. His land in Chorling village lies unattended. “My children refuse to farm as they say it is too much of hard work. So they have either taken up government jobs or are into business. When I was young, I helped my family in farming. Now the land is there but no farming is done,” he said.
Home stay is a popular business option for many in Mechukha. With the valley becoming popular among travelers, earning is consistent. Tasa Chenna and his wife, Tsering Lhomu Chenna, are running Bazashree Homestay for over two decades now. According to Tasa, agriculture was once the main source of livelihood for his family. “My father was also a farmer. Even I did it for some time but shifted to the town for better earnings,” he adds.
The Chennas also have tourist transport business and their Sumos run from Mechukha to Aalo. Even their sons and daughter are reluctant about taking up farming.
Millet is the main food crop in the mountainous Mechukha. Besides being used as food, millet is also used to make popular local brews like chhang and ara.
Most of the vegetables in the local market and other essential food like rice and lentils come from Assam. “This definitely increases the cost of living but there is no other option,” says Tasa.
Tashi Sona, who works in the office of the additional deputy commissioner in Mechukha, has never done farming. Sona, whoa is in his thirties, says he never considered farming as a lucrative option. He is among several youth in the valley who have shifted to the new way of life.
Besides tourism, government job is a popular choice. Many educated youth are shifting to the town or even outside Mechukha for a secured livelihood.
“People here are hard-working and get easily hired by the army as porters. It is a temporary job but they earn substantially to get food and clothes. This is a better option than laborious farming,” says Philley.
Some home stay owners like Philley maintain kitchen gardens for daily consumption. They grow tomatoes, leafy vegetables and chillies, among other things, to feed guests and families. “The small garden in my backyard takes care of our daily need. For bulk buying, I have to depend on the market,” Philley adds.
Many villagers, both men and women, are also taking up work under MGNREGS. They are employed to build roads and earn Rs 500-250 a day depending on the volume of work and the project.
Agriculture is a problem due to changing climatic conditions. The untimely rain often destroy crops after months of hard work. “It is raining in winter, which is usually not the time. It sometimes rain during harvest time. Climate change has, in many ways, affected farming. Also, maintaining livestock becomes a problem as there is nothing to feed the animals in winter,” says Sona.
Another mode of earning livelihood is the handicrafts. The state government’s handicrafts emporium promotes local weaving and knitting. Local carpets, bedsheets, cushion covers and gali (skirts) are sold at the emporium outlet. Trainer Drema Naksang says she has four workers under her in the knitting section. The carpet weaving section has five workers. The wool used for the handicrafts comes from Ludhiana.
“All these workers come from the villages. They work from Monday to Friday and go back to the villages in the weekends,” says Naksang, who got training in knitting in Ziro and has a government job for the last 25 years.
The emporium also promotes carpentry and wood work. Women take up knitting and weaving, men go for carpentry. The handicrafts are sold outside Mechukha and fetch good price.
“Farming is no more an option when so many livelihood opportunities are available in today’s world. Our children can earn better and have a better future if they go for government or private job or start-up. True that we have to buy food from outside at a higher rate but this is the way of life now,” says Sharjo, sitting comfortably near the hearth inside his restaurant.