Bioresources are materials from nature which play an important role in the life of people for food, for rituals, for cultural life, for medicinal purpose etc. The present article is based on utilisation of biological resources for various purposes and is based on village life in and around Loktak lake of Manipur. Wetlands are among the world’s most productive environments. They are storehouse of bioresources and are cradles of biological diversity, providing an aquatic environment upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival (Singh, 1999). Wetlands constitute some of the most important and threatened ecosystems in the world. According to Ramsar Convention (1971), “Wetlands are area of marsh, fen, peat land or water whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary with water that is static or flowing fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tides do not exceed 6 meters”. Loktak Lake is one of the most important wetland and is located in the state of Manipur in North east India. Bioresources are not only needed for cultural and religious sustenance, but also provide livelihood to the people. They are especially important for the Ecosystem services they provide. At the population level, wetland dependent fish, shell fish, fur animals, water fowl and timber provide important and valuable harvests and millions of days of recreational fishing and hunting. At the ecosystem level wetland moderate the effects of floods, improve water quality and have aesthetic and heritage value.
Loktak Lake is located between 24°25′ to 24°42’N and from 93° 46′ and 93° 55′ E in the southern part of the Imphal valley of Manipur. The lake is oval in shape with maximum length and width of 35 Km and 13 Km respectively. The depth of the lake varies between 0.5 to 4.58 m with average depth recorded at 2.07 m. Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India. Because of its ecological status and its biodiversity values the lake has been designated as a “Wetland of International Importance” under the Ramsar Convention on 23rd March, 1990. Keibul Lamjao, the only floating national park in the world and the home of the endangered Manipur Brow Antlered Deer “Sangai”– Cervus eldi eldi is situated at the south-west part of the lake (Trisal and Manihar, 2004). Present study was taken up in five Loktak lakeshore villages (Nongmaikhong, Phoubakchao, Laphupat Tera, Karang and Ithing) with the aim to identify the dependency of the villagers on the lake for livelihood generation and to assess their awareness regarding the condition of the lake and its conservation status.
300 respondents (one respondent per household) were selected from the five villages for the survey using research schedule. During the study it was observed that literacy rate and income level of the people was low and they were highly dependent on the resources of the lake.The socio-economic values of the lake include hydropower generation, irrigation, fisheries, control of floods, supply of drinking water, production of aquatic organisms for food and of other commercial importance, the many uses of phumdi (mass of floating vegetation) and water transport (Singh and Singh, 1994). The Loktak lake is considered the lifeline for not only the people living in and around the lake but also for the people of Manipur because of its importance in their socio-economic and cultural life.
Bioresources available from Loktak lake
During the present study bioresources collected from the lake included 38 species of fishes, 1 species of prawn, 2 species of snail,1 species of mussel, 16 items of vegetables, 8 species of fodder, 6 species of fuelwood, 3 species of thatch grass, 12 species of medicinal plants, and 2 species of handicraft material. All these items provided livelihood to the people and are also useful for different rituals and cultural activities. As these resources provide livelihood to the people, conservation of these resources is essential for the wellbeing of the people. Species of fishes like Labeo rohita, Ctenopharyngodon idella, Chirhinus mrigala, Amblypharyngodon mola, etc., prawn like Macrobrachium dayanum, eel like Monopterus albus, vegetable items like Hedychium coronarium, Alpinia allughas, Rotala niveus, Ipomea aquatic, Oenanthe javanica, etc., fuelwoods like Phragmites karka, Saccharum munja and Quercus lamellosa, thatching material like Zizania latifolia, handicraft material like Cyperus brevifolius for making mats, medicinal plants like Lagenaria vulgaris and Melothria purpusilla and oyster like Unio marginalis were used by the people.
Villages were found to be socio-economically poor with high illiteracy, low income, poor sanitation, and lack of safe drinking water supply. Due to the various anthropogenic pressures, the lake was found to be affected from pollution and ecological degradation resulting in poor socio-economic condition of the people. According to the villagers at present, fishes like Osteobrama belangeri, Wallago attu, etc. vegetables like Trapa natans, Polygonum barbatum, etc. fuelwoods like Narenga prophyrocroma and Saccharum procerum, thatch grass like Imperata cylindrica, handicraft material like Scirpus lacustris were being lost from the lake. This has severely threatened their livelihood.
Different anthropogenic pressures affecting the lake are overexploitation of the resources, water pollution, siltation, unsustainable agricultural practices, construction of Ithai dam, encroachments in the lake by constructing fishponds, construction of roads and settlements. The construction of the Ithai barrage blocked the migration of fishes from the Chindwin-Irrawaddy river system affecting the life of the people due to decrease in the fish population. These pressures are threatening the resources of the lake and overall condition of the lake.
Conservation and management of the Loktak lake
The Government of Manipur constituted Loktak Development Authority (LDA) in 1986 for the overall improvement and management of the Lake. Phumdi management, water management, catchment conservation, biodiversity conservation, sustainable resource development and livelihood improvement, communication, education, participation and awareness, monitoring and evaluation, etc. are being taken up by this organization. Athaphum fishing is a traditional fishing method involving preparation of a fishing enclosure made up of phumdis. This method was widely practiced in the lake as large quantities of fishes were caught in single operation and the fishermen could earn more in short time. This has now been stopped by the LDA as a conservation measure as it leads to the proliferation of phumdis and deterioration of water quality. All the respondents felt that the natural resources of Loktak lake is declining mainly because of pollution of the lake water. Respondents have high level of awareness about the importance of the Loktak lake for their livelihood and income generation but the participation of the local community in various programmes of the government for the conservation of Loktak lake was found to be less.
Only few respondents have taken up removal of phumdi and removal of Azolla pinnata for the conservation and sustainable management of Loktak lake, though they are willing to work for conservation of the Loktak lake. The use of the plant and animal species for religious purpose by different communities is also one method of conservation of the resources. Luhongba is marriage ceremony of the Meitei community, Shraddha ceremony and Umang laiharaoba ie merry making of forest deity are some ceremonies of the Meiteis, for which different plant and animal resources need to be conserved. Idd festival and Hakikat or child naming ceremony of Muslims, Qurbani ceremony of Muslims are some important Muslim festivals for which conservation of resources is essential.
Encouraging documentation of the traditional ecological knowledge and revival of the traditional knowledge used by the local communities in conservation of plants and animals in a scientific way so as to conserve the surrounding environment and the Loktak lake for future generations is suggested. In this context involving more number of organizations, local communities, organizing more effective conservation related programme may help in the conservation and sustainable management of the Loktak lake and its surrounding environment.
Bioresources Number of species Most Abundantly/Commonly used species
1) Fishes 38 Monopterus albus, Labeo rohita, Puntius sophore
2) Prawns 1 Macrobrachium dayanum
3) Snails 2 Pila globossa, Lymnaea stagnalis
4) Oysters 1 Unio marginalis
5) Vegetable items 16 Oenanthe javanica, Alpinia nigra, Ipomoea aquatica
6) Fodders 8 Zizania latifolia, Echinochloa stagnina, Panicum notatum
7) Fuelwoods 6 Phragmites karka, Saccharum spontaneum, Saccharum narenga
8) Thatching materials 3 Zizania latifolia, Imperata cylindrica, Chrysopogon zizanioides
9) Medicinal plants 12 Stephania glabra, Mukia maderaspatana, Eclipta prostrata
10) Handicrafts materials 2 Schoenoplectus lacustris, Cyperus alternifolius
(The article is solely the opinion of the author. The views expressed here are solely personal and not in any way connected to any organisation or any political party ).