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Niti Aayog on Shifting/Jhum Cultivation

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    20th Sep, 2018
  • NitiAayog’s report titled “Mission on Shifting Cultivation: towards a transformational approach” suggest shifting cultivation should be recognised as “agriculture land” where farmers practise agro-f

Issue

  • Niti Aayog’s report titled “Mission on Shifting Cultivation: towards a transformational approach” suggest shifting cultivation should be recognised as “agriculture land” where farmers practise agro-forestry for the production of food rather than as forestland.
  • Managing transformations in shifting cultivation areas is fundamental to agricultural development in the uplands of northeast (NE) India and an important element of the Act East Policy. Transformation of shifting cultivation is therefore key to the thrust for agricultural transformation in the region

Background

  • Locally referred to as jhum cultivation, this practice is considered as an important mainstay of food production for a considerable population in northeast India in States like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur
  • While different programmes designed to address the management of shifting cultivation have claimed drastic reductions, both in terms of area under cultivation as well as number of households involved, the Forest Survey of India’s reports over the years continue to attribute large scale deforestation and loss of forest cover in NE India to shifting cultivation (FSI, 2015).
  • This suggests a lack of updated and authentic data on the area under shifting cultivation as well as the total number of households practicing shifting cultivation. About 8,500 sq. km of area in northeast India is shown under shifting cultivation (MoSPI, 2014), but there is inconsistency in the data of various agencies.

Analysis

Divergent opinions regarding viability of shifting cultivation in Northeast:

  • A section of researchers believe that persistence of shifting cultivation with necessary and effective reform can do little damage to soil as high humidity and fairly long duration of rainfall in the region do not permit the soil to remain uncovered for long. This view holds that:
    a. In shifting cultivation there is no ploughing, hoeing and pulverization of soil during agricultural operations and so the soil remains compact.
    b. Jhum lands are generally located on hill slopes where sedentary cultivation cannot be developed easily.
    c. Jhum as a way of life, evolved as a reflex to the physiographical character of land under special ecosystems. It is practiced for livelihoods and not without knowledge of its adverse effects.
  • Another section of experts hold the view that jhum cultivation is primitive and unscientific land use that depletes forest, water and soil resources. This view holds that:
    a. That felling of trees and clearing of bushes accelerates soil erosion and accentuates variability of rainfall, which may lead to droughts or floods. The overall impact is the decline in soil fertility.
    b. The agro ecosystems lose their resilience characteristics as a result of which village households dependent on shifting cultivation face shortage of food, fuel wood and fodder. Consequently, food availability and nutritional status of the households declines.
    c.These processes culminate in poverty and ecological imbalance.
  • However, new global research has challenged the later view and recent publication of Food and Agriculture Organization suggest the need for re-examination of such perceptions.
    a. Recent analyses of the issue have shown that traditional shifting cultivation (long cycle >10 years), generally prevalent in places where population densities are low and in remote places, appears to be good as it provides food security and livelihood without causing any significant degradation of land.
    b. Distorted shifting cultivation (short cycle < 5 years), a consequence of increasing land use pressure, is not good land use and therefore requires to be transformed.
  • Reasons for decline in shifting agriculture:

  • Shifting cultivation as primitive , unviable method for planners:
    a. Most development planners and policy makers perceive the practice of shifting cultivation as subsistence, economically unviable and environmentally destructive, and hence a major hurdle to agricultural development in states where shifting cultivation is practised.
    b. Governments therefore have consistently tried to replace the practice with settled agriculture, allocating substantial financial outlays to support agricultural transformation.
  • Jhum cultivation ensures food security but does not provide financial stability.
    a. Jhum farmers need cash for the education of their children, increasing assets and enhancing their purchasing power.
    b. Success of jhum rehabilitation in Tripura through promotion of rubber plantation is a shining example of this happening in real life. Jhum practice was given up for rubber cultivation by the cultivators to generate more cash for their livelihood.
  • Returning to fallows,in a shorter span than was earlier practice:
    a.
    Most jhum rehabilitation schemes emphasised afforestation, raising of plantation crops and converting jhum lands to settled agriculture. Such conversion of shifting cultivation lands to other land uses reduced the net area available for shifting cultivation and thus contributed to the reduction of fallow periods
    bShifting towards regular agriculture like horticulture:
  • The departments of agriculture, horticulture and rural development generally promoted conversion of jhum to settled agriculture, along with the use of fertilizers, high yielding varieties, irrigation and introduction of a variety of models which were not suited to the available skills and man power, topography, food preferences and land tenure system.

  • Impact of MNREGA on reducing dependency of shifting cultivation:
    a. It is said that in places where the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been implemented, dependence on jhum has declined to some extent.
  • Shrinking of forest land suitable for jhum cultivation:
    a. 
    Most jhum rehabilitation schemes emphasised afforestation, raising of plantation crops and converting jhum lands to settled agriculture.
    b. Such conversion of shifting cultivation lands to other land uses reduced the net area available for shifting cultivation and thus contributed to the reduction of fallow periods
  • Growing aspirations of the traditional jhum cultivation communities:
    a. With increasing exposure to the outside world, and rising aspirations within the communities, shifting cultivators too desire change as much as the governments do and desperately seek options that would help them transform the practice and move towards attaining their aspiration of assimilation into the mainstream economy.
  • Integrated approach for transformative shifting cultivation:

  • Recognising land for shifting cultivation as agriculture land rather than as forestland.
    a. Shifting cultivation lands fall under the purview of agriculture during the cultivation phase, but come under Forests during the fallow phase – the same piece of land under two subjects at different time periods.
    b. This causes such land to be subjected to different laws, regulations and management, many of which often become self-contradictory and negatively affect the upland farmers, restricting their control, decisions and investments on such plots.
    c. This ambiguity needs to be addressed and shifting cultivation lands with long fellow cycle should be categorized as a distinct land use, thus removing their categorization as ‘abandoned land’, ‘wastelands’ and ‘Unclassed State Forests’.
  • Extending credit facilities to those practising jhum cultivation:
    a. Access to credit for shifting cultivators is denied because they are unable to offer shifting cultivation land as collateral for loans in the absence of land titles. Credit guidelines should be amended to allow group guarantee (from village/clan authorities) for loans instead of land title deeds in these areas.
  • Legalising shifting cultivation follows as regenerative follows:
    a. Shifting cultivation fallows must be legally perceived and categorized as ‘regenerating fallows’, which may, if given sufficient time, regenerate into secondary forests.
  • Extending public distribution system to Jhum cultivator to ensure food and nutritional security.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Decline in shifting cultivation in Northeast region is more due to increasing economic and financial aspirations of jhum cultivators than by the environmental concerns associated with the practice. Analyse.

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