BY Debananda S Ningthoujam
In these turbulent times, it’s time to coolly reflect on the ecological integrity, the intimate ecological relationships, between the hills and plains of Manipur. Several views have been expressed regarding the territorial, the cultural, and the administrative integrity of this precious land. Here, I wish to highlight the ineluctable need for the ecological integrity between the hills and valley; between the forests in the hills and wetlands, fertile agricultural fields, and streams, rivers and lakes in the plateau-surrounded by the legendary nine ranges of hills-of Manipur.
The forest stores the storm water and feed the streams, rivers, and lakes. It also preserves soil fertility, generates life-giving oxygen, sequesters carbon & ameliorates climate change, and, thus, regulate the climate and emergence of diseases. The fertile plateau, in turn, acts as the hub of agricultural activity producing crops that feed both the hill and plains people and the centre for commercial & economic activity that underpins the economy of Manipur.
The hills and the plateau of Manipur form an intimately linked natural ecological unit that cannot be artificially dichotomized. If the forests are gone, the wetlands will dry out, soil erosion will occur, soil fertility will be compromised and agriculture will fail posing risks for the livelihood security of the people of Manipur. The wetlands and fertile lands in the valley cannot survive without healthy forests and woodlands in the hills.
If the ecological health of the forests and wetlands, and agricultural lands cannot be preserved, there will be no sustainable future for the people of Manipur-both in the hills and the valley.
This ancient land is very precious. Without it, we have no future. We need to awaken a new land ethic, compassion for this land and the biotic communities depending on it, which include not only preserving the relationships of individuals with one another but also our relations with the plants, the animals, and the rich biodiversity living on this land.
Let’s revisit this concept of ‘land ethic.’ What’s our collective moral responsibility towards this land, to the natural world associated with this land called Manipur? Without a healthy land ethic, there’s no future for the people living on this land. The land comes first, and the people next.
What is the land ethic?
The land ethic is a philosophy about how people should regard the land where they evolved and where they live. At the most basic level, it means caring about the land, about the people, and strengthening the relationships among them. At the extended level, it also means compassion and caring for the plants and the animals living on the land.
Who proposed the land ethic?
An early American conservationist, Aldo Leopold, first suggested the concept of land ethic in his book “A Sand County Almanac” which was published in 1949.
It forms one strand of the school of ecology called the deep ecology. It’s a philosophy about how to live in harmony with nature. It also incorporates certain set of values or guidelines about how to strengthen the relationships among the people, the people and the land, as well as the people and other living organisms that call the land their home.
Leopold also proposed a set of rules to help us judge which of our actions are right and which are wrong.
As an example, let’s see the following passage written by him.
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Here, the key words are integrity, stability, and beauty. Such an exquisitely beautiful land called Manipur evolved as an ecological entity -hills and plateau as an organic whole-with compassionate relations between the land, its people, and the biotic community in it over eons extending from the hoary past of our grand ancestors.
Any action that tries to break this integrity will amount to committing ecological sacrilege compromising with the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community in this ancient land called Manipur.
A casual stroke of a “powerful” pen must not disrupt the ecological integrity of Manipur at any cost. We must promote the ecological resilience of this land and not work against it.
Who was Aldo Leopold?
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was an incredible polymath: author, philosopher, forester, scientist, ecologist, wildlife biologist, conservationist, and environmentalist.
He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, US and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949) which has sold more than 2 million copies.
He was instrumental in the growth of modern environmental ethics and emergence of the movement for wilderness preservation. He emphasized the value of biodiversity and ecology and was the founder of the science of wildlife management.
Leopold believed that ecological knowledge must be intimately coupled with what he called “an ecological conscience.”
Land and its People
In land ethic philosophy, the land does not belong to us. We belong to the land. Land is not a commodity to serve our individual or group greed or profit. It’s something to which we all must belong and we must collectivity strive to preserve the ecological integrity of the biotic community that calls this land its/their home.
Here, 3 Es are important: Economics, Ethics, and Ecology.
Yes, without a healthy economy the people cannot live well. But the economy and economic activities mustn’t harm the ecological integrity and the principles of ecological economics must be upheld to help value the land’s biodiversity and ecosystem services (such as fertile soil, clean air, healthy forests, thriving lakes and pure water) which are usually not taken into account while calculating the GNP or the GDP.
In other words, long-term preservation of the health of forests, wetlands and agricultural lands are as important as short-term economic gains. And, short-term political or policy initiatives must not impinge upon the long-term ecological integrity of the land, its people, and the biotic community surviving in it.
In addition, while taking up any new cultural, political or economic policy, we must give top priority to the value of preserving the land ethic.
Leopold says “conservation is a state of harmony between man and land.” It’s our moral imperative to always preserve this harmony. The land ethic expands the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, animals, or collectively; the land.
In “Thinking Like a Mountain”, a chapter in A Sand County Almanac, Leopold even highlighted the serious impacts of killing a mere wolf on the rest of the ecosystem.
People in the Land
A healthy land ethic paradigm transforms the role of humans from the conqueror of the land-community to a humble member and citizen of the biotic community of the land. As the wise American Indians said “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it.”
The wetlands of this plateau-also called the Imphal Valley-is urging all of us, just as, the conservation pioneer, John Muir said:
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
We borrow it from our children
We urgently need to strive for promoting the ecological integrity of this land called Manipur. Without preserving the long-term health of our forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands, the people of Manipur-in the hills or in the plateau (just like majority of the Swiss people do)-have no future. This solemn responsibility we owe, not to ourselves, but to our posterity-our great-great-great grandchildren-who will, hopefully, continue to live together in the hills and plateau of Manipur, thousands of years after the present generation have perished.
Actually, both the hills and the plains-this land-isn’t ours. It belongs to our posterity. As another American Indian saying goes “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” The agonies & ecstasies, tales & stories, memories & footprints of both hills people and plains people are lying scattered throughout this land. We need to explore deeper into this shared heritage through our histories, myths, and legends.
The whispers of Mount Iso, the groans of Iril river, and the wails of Loktak lake are incessantly urging all of us-the people of Manipur-to reinforce the ecological integrity of this ancient, and precious land called Manipur.