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NITI Aayog for clear policy on ‘jhum’ cultivation

Proposes that land for shifting cultivation be recognised as agricultural land under agro-forestry

A recent NITI Aayog publication on shifting cultivation which is particularly practised in the northeastern States, has recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture should take up a “mission on shifting cultivation” to ensure inter-ministerial convergence.

“Central as well as State government departments of forests and environment, agriculture and allied departments often have divergent approaches towards shifting cultivation. This creates confusion among grass-roots level workers and jhum farmers,” said the report titled, “Mission on shifting cultivation: towards a transformational approach”. The document that calls for policy coherence, said land for shifting cultivation should be recognised as “agricultural land” where farmers practise agro-forestry for the production of food rather than as forestland.

Falling area

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.

The publication notes that between 2000 and 2010, the land under shifting cultivation dropped by 70 %. The report quotes data of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education published in Statistical Year Book-2014 by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, which points out that from 35,142 sq km in 2000, the area under jhum cultivation dropped to 10,306 sq km in 2010.

“The Wastelands Atlas Map shows a reduction in shifting cultivation in north-eastern States from 16,435.18 sq km to 8,771.62 sq km in two years,” the report says, calling for better data collection and veracity of these figures.

One of the authors of the publication, R.M. Pant, director of the northeast centre of the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj said the drop in shifting cultivation could be for variety of reasons.

Food security

“There is an increase of aspirations among the communities practising shifting cultivation. While the practice ensures food security it does not provide adequate cash for the families and thus they are shifting to regular agriculture, particularly to horticulture. The MGNREGA has also had an impact on reducing dependency of people on shifting cultivation,” Mr. Pant told The Hindu.

The publication also addresses the issue of food and nutritional security of communities involved in jhum cultivation during transition and transformation by broadening the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure widespread access to cereals and other basic food items.

“This can be done by enlisting well-established and well-performing SHG cluster federations already established in several of the NE States,” the reports states.

Mr. Pant said one of the issues jhum cultivation was that people were returning to fallows, land left after shifting cultivation in a shorter span than was earlier practice.

“Earlier the cultivators returned to fallows after 10-12 years, now they are returning in three to five years. This has impact on the quality of the soil,” he said.

The publication also suggested that shifting cultivation fallows must be legally perceived and categorised as ‘regenerating fallows’ and that credit facilities be extended to those who practise shifting cultivation.

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