New study says Jhum cultivation not adverse to ecology

New study says Jhum cultivation not adverse to ecology

A SASRD-NU project on jhum impact assessment asserts shifting cultivation is most sustainable agricultural practice for Nagaland


Imti Longchar
Dimapur | April 22


A new study undertaken by the Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding, SASRD, NU is debunking the claim that the practice of jhum or shifting cultivation is the main cause of degradation of soil fertility and the ecosystem.


The project titled- “Impact assessment of jhumming on plant and soil microbiota and restoration of sustainable jhum agro-ecosystem in North East India,” maintain that jhum method of cultivation is the most sustainable form of agriculture and best suited for specific topography of a state like Nagaland.

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Jhum have long been blamed for the deleterious effect on the local environment creating ecological imbalance, rapid drying up of small water sources, and loss of productivity of land causing reduction in family income and enhancement of poverty in absence of any subsidiary income.


The Nagaland State government has also been trying to encourage farmers to take up other alternatives instead of jhum cultivation while advocating for methods like integrated farming system.


The comprehensive study, while attempting to prove the popular hypothesis on the adverse effects of jhum as erroneous, also reveal that Naga method of jhum cultivation is inarguably the most elaborate and more innovative farming system when compared to other jhum practices around the world.


“Within a hectare of jhum land, a Naga farmer grows more than 40 crops annually. Within this incredible space economy, the farmers employs a variety of cropping practices like stratified, canopy, sequential, mixed cropping etc.


This is the most sustainable and innovative mode of farming which involves community effort,” Professor Sapu Changkija, Department of Genetics & Plant Breeding, who heads the study on the jhum impact assessment told The Morung Express in an interview.


According to the study findings, the jhum system of cultivation in Nagaland is divided into seven (7) category based on cropping pattern, depending on different areas or community practices.


For instance, in Eastern Nagaland, the harvest pattern of crops in a jhum field begins with beans and tapioca among other plantations in the month of January and February, millet in May, June, maize in July and August, common vegetables in September and October followed by rice paddy and colocasia during November and December.


“Unknowingly or knowingly, we get more harvest or income when compared to settled cultivation,” Prof Changkija contented.


The study also claim that, contrary to arguments of soil infertility, the practice of jhum, which include the process of burning, does not compromise the soil at all but stimulate rapid regeneration of vegetation.


During the burning of a jhum field, only 10-15 cm of top soil are burnt which stimulates the microbiota (bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses) and plays an important role in scarification effort, Prof Changkija pointed out. Scarification means weakening, opening, or otherwise altering the coat of a seed to encourage germination.


Prof Changkija however stressed on the importance of maintaining a cycle of at least eight (8) years and above on practice of jhum on a particular land, while for alder based farming system, a four-year cycle or more would be appropriate.


This finding indicates that the earlier 15–20 year cycle of shifting cultivation on a particular land practiced by the ancestors displayed ingenuity of possessing economic and environmental rationality for ecological sustainability.


Also rebutting the claim that jhum cultivation had drastic effect on the decrease of forest area, Prof Changkija said the main disturbance of forest has been due to rampant logging practices for one and the state government’s failure to control the practice of un-demarcated cycle of jhum cultivation.


“If we look at our tradition, we did not disturb the whole forest, we had village community forest, sacred forest, village reserve forest, clan reserve forest and individual forest… jhum cultivation was practiced only in a demarcated area,” he maintained.


Of late, deforestation due to wasteful form of land use with too many jhum cultivations is witnessed in areas falling under Mon, Longleng, Kiphire and Tuensang districts, Prof Changkija however admitted. But, there are no cycle disturbances by jhum in districts like Mokokchung so far, he added.


Discarding jhum may dislodge value of Naga community effort
At a time when a number of farming villages has been trying to depart from jhum cultivation and embrace integrated method of farming, Prof Changkija fears that this may emerge into a cultural burden and dislocate community effort, which has been the kindling of the Naga ways of farming.


“Jhum has all been about a democratic and traditional mode of farming for the Nagas. If we discard this, it may disrupt our culture…,” Prof Changkija observed while pointing out that even though integrated farming may be more lucrative, our topography and culture does not allow it to be a sustaining form of farming.


In days to come, under the integrated method of farming, not all families would have suitable plot to farm like that in a jhum practice and this will disrupt the very foundation of Naga culture.


“It is not without basis that the whole tradition and calendar year of the Nagas are based on jhum farming system,” he pointed out.