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Experts call for community participation to save dying ‘Yongchak’ trees in Manipur

The demand for Yongchak or tree bean is growing but its supply is short and the yield is decreasing because of the gradual disappearing of the locally grown tree in recent years. Hence, there is an urgent need for its conservation through community participation.

ByPhurailatpam Keny Devi

Updated 20 Mar 2022, 4:23 am

(Photo: Keny_IFP)
(Photo: Keny_IFP)

 

She came all the way from the hills of Kamjong, carrying sacks of tree beans (Parkia speciosa) or Yongchak as it is called in local language (Meitei) to showcase and sell her produce at an exhibition held in the capital city Imphal, which witnessed the participants of several women farmers. Beaming with pride and delight as she displayed the healthy bunches of yongchak at the exhibition venue, Worthemla, a local farmer from Kamjong, told the Imphal Free Press that Yongchak farming is a good source of income as it grows well in hilly Kamjong areas, but the production has decreased over the years, she said.

While the yield is decreasing and the supply is short because of the gradual disapperance of the plant, the demand for Yongchak is ever-growing, as it it is one of the most popular delicacies of Manipuri cuisine. The seeds or the bean as a whole is consumed in its raw form or cooked. While, they may be eaten raw, boiled, fried or pickled, the seeds are also dried and seasoned for later consumption. Different tribes and communities call it by different names such as Janglha, zawngta or kampai, and the preparations are diverse.

Owing to the high demand, yongchak growers could earn nearly Rs 80,000 to one lakh in one harvest, but the production is decreasing by the year, said Worthemla. She has been carrying out Yongchak farming for several years. During her long years of farming, the biggest threat she faced was in 2005 as most of the Yongchak trees grown in her farm dried up and died.

“But I successfully revived my Yongchak farm by sowing the seeds which I had collected. After farming patiently for 10-15 years, the cultivation of yongchak started to bring good income. But the production this year (2022) is lesser compared to last several years,” she said.

Experts at the tree bean exhibition, which was organised by ICAR Manipur in Imphal on March 16, said the trees are gradually disappearing and the state spends around Rs 370 crore annually in its import from neighbouring country, Myanmar to meet the growing demand.

“During the season of Yongchak that lasts for nearly four months in a year, around 300 vans are used to import Yongchak every day. Each van can carry a produce worth around Rs 1.5 lakh," Prof N Mohilal Meitei, Head of Department, Zoology, Manipur University said.

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In view of the gradual disappearing of the locally grown Yongchak, which is a plant of the genus Parkia in the family of Fabacea, over the years, there is an urgent need for its conservation in the state through community participation, he said.

One farmer from Maklang, Imphal West, Haobijam Tombi told the Imphal Free Press that the tree beans being displayed at the exhibition were cultivated from Khoken village, Saibong village, Beitum village and Borjang village. All these villages are near one of the tourist spots, Sangaithel Park.

Tombi said that she started to grow yongchak trees considering the continuous decline in its production in Manipur. In the effort to promote yongchak plantation, she collaborated with the villagers of Khoken, Saibong, Beitum and Borjang, she said.

“I bought matured seeds of Yongchak from Moreh and distributed them to villagers of Khoken, Saibong, Beitum and Borjang. The activity was taken up around five years ago. Now most of the plants are grown successfully. Since last year, the treebeans have started generating income to the tune of around Rs 1 lakh,” she said.

However, there are several reports of the locally grown yongchak trees drying up and dying in most hill districts of the state in recent years. Some of the farmers are driven to poppy cultivation as they look for alternative means of livelihood. As a result, poppy cultivation is fast emerging as an alternative to Yongchak cultivation in various hill areas of Manipur, Professor Meitei said.

Professor Meitei cited several reasons for the dying of the trees, such as insect and fungus attack, shortage of water source, change in ecosystem, reduction of plant pollinating animals like bats and absence of proper management, etc.

According to reports, some biologists and researchers believe the loss of yongchak is due to the verticillium wilt disease spread all over the valley of Manipur, the symptom is quite similar with the radiation caused by the mobile tower. It is also reported that the electromagnetic wave also distracts the flying foxes (bats) to reach its final destination for food, shelter and to pollinate. Flying foxes play a major role in the principal pollination pattern and seed dispersal of the tree bean. Climatic condition is also another factor.

The drying up of yongchak in the valley of Manipur may be due to the rise in temperature or precipitation as yongchak needs warm climatic condition. A detailed study, however, is needed to evaluate the status of yongchak in Manipur.

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In view of it, the professor said conservation of tree beans is necessary from the cultural and ecological aspects apart from economical viewpoint. There is an urgent need for scientific and biotechnological intervention for developing short term and long-term strategies for the propagation, protection and sustainable production of this highly important tree of the state.

According to VK Mishra, director, ICAR, Research Complex for NEH Region Umiam, the growing threat faced by the farmers with reduction in the production of locally grown tree bean can be addressed through two aspects - scientific and social approaches. When both these approaches are applied together, Yongchak can be conserved successfully, he said, urging people of the state to plant at least one Yongchak tree in their houses.

Yongchak is also known as petai or pete in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. It is very popular in the highland of Java and Sumatra, especially among Sudanese, Minangkabaue and other different culture of the Island.

Yongchak tree can grow to about 30 meters. It bears flowers in a light bulb shaped mass at the end of a long stalk. The flower secretes nectar that attracts bats and other pollinators. In Manipur, Yongchak has earned its nickname “Stink bean “because of its strong peculiar smell due to sulphur containing compound, also found in shiitake, treeffles and cabbage. According to biologists and researchers, the content of biochemical and nutritional values in the tender pods of the bean are:  42.50% Fe, 36.33% C, 20.00% protein, 15.38% Vitamin B2, 13.00% carbohydrates. Its calorific value is 124 Kcal/cup calories.

Locals believe, the consumption of yongchak is known to cure stomach infection, ease depression, PMS ( Premenstrual Syndrome), Anemia; blood pressure; constipation, hangover, heartburn, Morning sickness, mosquito bite, nerves overweight, ulcer, temperature control, smoking stress, strokes, warts, healthy eye, improve brain power and concentration and digestion.

While tree beans or yongchak is mostly consumed in Northeast states of Manipur and Nagaland, its has gained popularity among different communities, and the consumption of tree bean or yongchak today has spread to diverse groups of people in neighbouring states in the country, such as Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

 

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First published:19 Mar 2022, 8:05 am

Tags:

agriculturetree beanparkiayongchak conservationyongchak farming

Phurailatpam Keny Devi

Phurailatpam Keny Devi

IFP Reporter, IMPHAL, Manipur

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