Look West: future of land use in Myanmar Naga areas

Look West: future of land use in Myanmar Naga areas

Women in Layshi Township are innovative farmers and entrepreneurs (Photo Courtesy: RRtIP)

Children will still cultivate jhum to maintain their traditions, but will not be dependent on it

Morung Express News
Dimapur | March 2

As with Naga people in India, Naga people in Myanmar are slowly turning from traditional agriculture to cultivating crops and methods that attract cash income, albeit without giving up the former.

While jhum is still maintained for its traditional and sustainable value, for farmers in the disconnected Naga areas of Myanmar, market priority often means looking west to sell their produce.

“Conversations with women farmers are full of discussion of new crops and new markets. An improved road to India and a planned trade centre, visible from Somra looking west to the border, are expected to increase the opportunities to sell crops,” stated a report titled ‘Land and Forest Governance in the Naga Village Republic’ by the Resource Rights for the Indigenous Peoples (RRtIP), released recently in Yangon.

Flexible customary land use systems
Customary land use systems are flexible and allow agricultural adaptation and innovation, observed the report.

“Traditional agricultural practices are not static or primitive, and farmers continually test, improve, and adapt to new economic, political, and social changes,” it stated, also quoting a journal paper that concluded that “Shifting cultivators have been modifying their customary systems to integrate new cash crops and markets, respond(ing) to adverse government policies, and adapt to demographic, social, and cultural change.”

In response to an increasing foothold of government policies in the Naga lands of Myanmar, as well as the influence of the market economy, households have been planting orchards of oranges, avocadoes and plums, and experimenting with other crops.

“Households in Layshi are increasingly producing and selling plum wine to other towns, and surrounding villages are planting plums to sell to Layshi in order to meet increasing demand. Women in Dengkleyway and Layshi have started growing ginseng that was brought by a trader a few years ago, hoping to start selling it across the border,” informed the RRtIP’s report.

Changes taking shape
In Somra over the last few years, a trend has emerged. Households are spending their time working on new government construction projects and not on cultivating jhum.

“While these jobs are available, they are a source of cash income, and when the projects finish, land will still be available for renewed cultivation if needed,” explained the RRtIP’s report.

In Dengkelyway, women told the RRtIP team that the most significant change within their lifetimes has been the access to formal schooling.

“Layshi is known for having a high education rate and the presence of schools has attracted people from nearby villages to move to the area for their children’s education. They point to Layshi as a potential future in which families still maintain traditional agricultural practices, but have other sources of income,” noted the report.

In the future, it stated, these women expect that their children will still cultivate jhum to maintain their traditions, but will not be dependent on it.
“Regardless of other jobs and agricultural opportunities that may emerge, maintaining some jhum fields is important for passing cultural and religious traditions to future generations,” concluded the RRtIP report.

The Resource Rights for the Indigenous Peoples (RRtIP) was formed in 2012 as a “fulfillment of the longing and desire of the indigenous Naga peoples who are threatened with the violation and abuse of their rights to natural resources, culture, and identity.”

RRtIP has more than 100 members across the Naga inhabited areas with backgrounds in indigenous affairs, anthropology, community development, environment, and research.