Developing An Alternative To Shifting Cultivation In North-East India
January 14th, 2018 / 8:42 PM
The SALT approach will be adapted to offer hill tribes a sustainable and climate smart alternative to shifting cultivation.
Shifting cultivation (slash and burn jhum) is widely practiced by farmers in the hill regions of the North-Eastern states of India. Though implemented in a sustainable way for generations, this system of subsistence agriculture is now facing many challenges and there is an urgent need to identify suitable alternatives.
Challenges to shifting cultivation include unseasonal and erratic rainfall, reduction in duration of fallow period due to pressure on land, reduction in yields due to decline in soil fertility, lack of interest among the younger generation in practicing it among others.
The government and scientific establishment has long considered jhum to be destructive to the environment due to the removal and subsequent burning of vegetative cover from the selected jhum area. Increased air pollution, soil erosion and landslides have been attributed to jhum. The main alternatives put forth by the establishment have been conversion of jhum area to settled agriculture through terrace construction or establishing plantations and orchards. The success of these alternatives has been limited since they are cost intensive and dependent on external inputs and technology beyond the reach of the hill farmers.
The SALT approach (Sloping Agriculture Land Technology) when suitably adapted to the local conditions has the potential to offer the hill tribes with an alternative method of agriculture, which while being climate smart, will also provide the farmers with a means of sustainable livelihoods.
A pilot SALT project has been initiated in village Aben of Manipur state during the 2017 monsoon season. Goatery, fishery, duckery and apiculture will be incorporated into the model for added benefit. The project will adopt the Farmer Field School approach to develop the model and scale up to at least five surrounding villages by 2020. Over the longer term, there is great potential to adapt the model wherever shifting cultivation is being practiced in the north-east hill zone.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
The Objective of the Project is to adapt the SALT approach to the local conditions thereby providing the shifting cultivators with a viable and climate-smart alternative.
Shifting Cultivation in the North-East hill region is a cyclical system of agriculture over a compact area characterized by manual clearing of vegetation (mainly bamboo forests) on the selected area in January, allowing it dry in the sun till early March when it is set afire to clear the land for cultivation. The ash provides valuable nutrients. Seeds of hill rice, maize, millet, vegetables, tubers etc., are dibbled soon after to await the premonsoon showers in mid-March. Farmers perform at least two manual weeding to clear emerging bamboo shoots and other plants which compete with the crops. Harvest of vegetables begins in August followed by rice in September and tubers up to March. The land is then left fallow for a period of 8 – 10 years.
Burning of the Jhum – Aben, March 2017
Disadvantages / Challenges faced by traditional jhum in recent years:
- Burning contributes to increased CO2 emission and air pollution. In the age of global climate change, resource use and management practices that rely on the use of fire and thus emit carbon are coming under increased pressure. This is particularly the case with shifting cultivation.
- Removal of vegetation causes adversely affects bio-diversity as evident from the replacement of forest canopy with thick stands of bamboo in jhum areas.
- Stripping of protective vegetative canopy exposes to top soil to erosion due to water and wind.
- Reduction in duration of jhum cycle due to population pressure does not allow sufficient time for the land to recover resulting in decreasing yields and land degradation. Consequently, the community reports that yields have reduced by nearly 50 % in some areas. In recent years, rice production is sufficient to meet food needs for only 6 to 7 months in the year.
- Younger generation is not interested in jhum cultivation as it is extremely labor intensive and does not provide them with economic returns. Hence, the very fabric of the indigenous society is under threat since most of the young people leave the village in search of better prospects.
- Erratic weather has adversely affected jhum cultivation. In recent years, burning of the jhum in Aben has been delayed by up to 4 weeks due to cloudy weather and wet spells during summer months thereby affecting timely cultivation operations. Production is also being affected by excessive regrowth of bamboo due to incomplete combustion during wet summers.
- While most farmers do not use any external inputs for jhum cultivation, some farmers are experimenting with weedicides due to insufficient time and labor for weed control. This is harmful for the environment.
Jhum farmer dibbling seed – Aben, April 2017
SALT (Sloping Agriculture Land Technology or Small Agro–Livestock Land Technology) has been successfully demonstrated in south and south-east Asia as a sustainable method of cultivation for sloping lands in high rainfall areas. The approach involves creation of vegetative barriers (hedgerows) of nitrogen fixing plants (NFPs) along the contours to control soil loss and surface run-off of rain water while improving soil fertility through nitrogen-fixation. Hedgerows are pruned regularly and the clippings are applied to the inter-row strips as mulch. Field crops, vegetables and tree crops are cultivated on the strips in between the hedgerows. Small livestock such as goats are incorporated into the system. Leguminous fodder species cultivated as fodder banks are periodically harvested to feed the animals. Animal dung is also composted and applied to the soil to maintain soil fertility. This system is less labor intensive, requires low external inputs, provides food for the family, marketable produce for income generation and is a sustainable and climate friendly form of settled agriculture.
1. Awareness Generation, Community Mobilization and Training: The indigenous Naga community has become habituated to practice shifting cultivation for the past many generations. It is integrated into their culture and their entire life revolves around the jhum cycles. It is difficult for them to think beyond jhum. The farmers have experimented with development of orchards (mandarin orange, litchi, arecanut) both on communal and individual basis but have met with limited success mainly due to their inability to manage the plantations on scientific basis and meet requirements of input supply. Government extension services have not reached the area and very limited external support is forthcoming. Hence the community has lost the initiative to try alternatives and is resigned to jhum.
Awareness generation in the form of farmer meetings, seminars, video presentations on SALT, Apiculture, Goatery etc., was undertaken in village Aben between October 2016 – March’17 to make the community aware about the challenges faced by practicing jhum and to discuss the various alternatives which could be tried.
A pilot water resource development project was undertaken in winter of 2016 to mobilize the entire community for sustainable natural resource management. Subsequently a training on Apiculture was conducted in April 2017. Based on positive response from the community, it was decided to implement a pilot integrated SALT project in Aben.
2. SALT Demonstration: The project is designed to adapt the SALT model by means of demonstration on farmers fields. The demonstration site initiated in village Aben during the current 2017 monsoon season comprises a micro-catchment with an area of around 5 hectares. The land is cultivated by three households.
- Land development through soil and water conservation measures including contour barriers of bio-mass, surface stones and planted with NFPs (hedgerows of nitrogen fixing plants including sesbania, luceania, indigofera, gliricidia), gully plugs etc.
- Land preparation: Clearing of space between contour barriers manually (uprooting of bamboo stumps, weeds etc). No weedicides will be used.
- Soil fertility management through cultivation of NFPs, crop rotation, mulching, application of animal manures and vermi-compost. No chemical fertilizers will be used.
- Disease and Pest control through use of bio-control measures like neem extract, pheromone traps, natural predators, light traps etc. No chemical inputs will be used.
- Cultivation of cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruit crops in the land between the contour barriers. Only local and improved varieties will be cultivated. Hybrids and Genetically modified varieties will not be used.
- Incorporation of goatery, integrated pisciculture (fish farming + duck rearing) and apiculture (bee-keeping) into the system. Organic inputs and herbal remedies will be used where ever possible.
- Establishment of fodder bank including leguminous plants and local vegetation for feeding the livestock.
Progress on the SALT Demonstration Unit during 2017 monsoon:
- Construction of bio-mass barriers has been completed and establishment of hedgerows of NFPs is underway during the current monsoon season. Crops under cultivation are hill rice, millet, turmeric and vegetables. Tree crops planted include parkia (tree bean), coconut, arecanut, drumstick, mandarin orange, lemon, banana, papaya and litchi.
- One fish pond has already been commissioned while construction of the second pond is underway. Local breed of duck will be used for integrating duck rearing with fish rearing. Duck droppings serve as a nutritious source of fish feed.
- One Goat unit is planned to be set-up by winter (November) when the fodder plants will be ready for harvest. Initially local breed will be used and subsequently the Black Bengal goat breed will be used for cross-breeding with a view for increased production of meat and milk.
- Bee-boxes will be introduced in winter which is the season for collecting new hives from the forest. Increase in yields up to 60 % are reported as a result of incorporating apiculture with agriculture and horticulture. Organic honey is sold at a high price in the towns on Manipur and neighboring Assam.
Marking out Contour Barriers using an A-Frame – SALT Demonstration Area – April 2017
Establishment of NFP Hedgerows in SALT Demonstration Area – May 2017
Paddy cultivated in between bio-physical barriers on SALT Demonstration Area – May 2017. NFP Hedgerows will be developed along the barriers.
Banana plantation in SALT Demonstration Area – May 2017, NFP Hedgerows will be developed along the contours.
Fish Pond in SALT demonstration Area – May 2017. Aquatic plants will be planted and Ducks introduced as well.
Contour Barriers being developed on Sloping Land – Aben 2017.
3. Farmer Field School: The project will follow the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach for developing and refining the model and scaling-up in surrounding villages,. One FFS group would be formed for each village comprising women and men farmers. Optimum size of each group would be between 15 – 25 members. The FFS groups would monitor and assess the positive and negative effects and take corrective action for implementation during the next year.
4. Scaling-up: It is planned to replicate the model in Aben and 5 nearby villages by 2020.
Five demonstrations of the model will be implemented during 2018 (one in each of five surrounding villages). An approximate area of 200 hectares will be brought under SALT by 2020. The longer term objective is to work with the VDCs and communities of Aben and surrounding villages to switch from traditional shifting cultivation to alternatives including SALT by 2025.
Models which meet the objectives will be shared with a wider target group comprising farmers, government, research organizations and NGOs through field visits and seminars organized at village, district and state level.
5. Training in Apiculture: The community of Aben has been made aware about the benefits from Apiculture in the form of supplementary income generation from sale of organic honey, pollination leading to increased production and as a health food. A two day training was conducted during April 2017 which covered construction of bee-boxes using local material, collection of bee colonies (Apis cerana) from the surrounding forest area and colony management. By July 2017, 25 households have taken up apiculture. It is planned to incorporate Apiculture into the SALT model for which training will be conducted in all project villages.
Farmers examine a Bee Box during the Apiculture Training
6. Development of Forest Canopy for Carbon Sequestration: During the fallow periods jhumareas develop a dense growth of bamboo along with a few young trees of forest species. There is hardly any undergrowth. As such bio-diversity is low. At the end of the fallow period, all the vegetation is cut and burned.
Large areas of jhum lands will be freed as a result of shifting from shifting to settled forms of agriculture such as integrated SALT. These areas will be allowed to develop full natural bio-diversity and multi-layered canopy of vegetation through careful management of bamboo stands, thatch and other dominant species.
Who will take these actions?
The key actors for the proposed project are:
Village Development Committees (VDC): Aben and surrounding villages have informally elected bodies known as VDCs which are responsible for overseeing the various development activities such as water supply, agriculture, education etc. There is a sub-committee for each sector. The VDC works in close consultation with the Village Authority which is the body formally recognized by the government for availing benefits from government programs. The VDC will be the primary agency at village level responsible for the project with the agriculture sub-committee responsible organizing the FFS and implementing the Demonstrations and Replications. The VDC works on a voluntary basis.
VDC Meeting in Progress at village Aben.
Peoples Endeavor for Social Change (PESCH): PESCH is a registered grass-roots NGO working in Tamenglong, Imphal East and Jiribam districts of Manipur. PESCH has over 10 years experience in implementing projects related to natural resource management, sustainable livelihoods, micro-enterprise development, women’s development, local governance issues among others. PESCH will support the VDC with project implementation, monitoring, reporting, liaison and financial management. The Chief Functionary of PESCH is Mr. G. Solomon Rongmei.
Mrida: Mrida Group www.mridagroup.com is a social business venture that focuses on sustainable, scalable models for ‘holistic rural development’. VDC Aben is looking to partner with Mrida for developing viable business models for production and marketing of organic produce including millet, turmeric and honey. Mr. Arun Nagpal, Co-founder of Mrida has provided seed money for establishing the initial SALT demonstration at Aben during 2017.
Rongmei Naga Baptist Association (www.rnba.in): Development & Relief Department is the social wing of RNBA working with partner NGOs for capacity building, fund raising and mainstreaming development in north-eastern states of India. RNBA is working with 13 partners NGOs in thematic issues like sustainable natural resources management and livelihood, food security, women empowerment, engagement with youth, renewable energy and education. The project will partner with RNBA for scaling-up of successful models in the north-east of India.
Lead: The project will be lead by Mr. David Gandhi who is a development practitioner with over 30 years of experience. Since 2016, Mr. Gandhi has been based in village Aben as a Volunteer to assist the VDC and community of Aben and surrounding villages with managing their natural resources including jhum improvement and developing alternatives to jhum. Mr. Gandhi receives institutional backing from the NGO PESCH.
Where will these actions be taken?
Project Area: The project villages are located in Tousem sub-division of Tamenglong district of Manipur state The area forms part of the Patkai hill range situated along India’s north-eastern border with Myanmar. The settlements are scattered along the ridge with the village lands sloping away towards the Makru river in the east and the Jiri river in the west. The terrain is rugged and steeply sloping with elevation ranging from 1000 meters (above sea level) at the highest ridge to 100 meters at the river bed. The hill slopes are covered with dense vegetation, mainly secondary forest and thick stands of bamboo. The area receives heavy rainfall from May to September and light rains during the other months as well. The village is remote and the condition of the road linking Aben to Jiribam town 65 km away is very poor.
The people belong to the indigenous Zeliangrong Naga tribal community. They are dependent on subsistence agriculture and forest resources for their livelihood. Activities under the current project have been initiated in Aben village which is a settlement of 75 households and an area of around 3000 hectares. There are 5 villages in the vicinity with a gross population of around 350 households and a gross area of around 12000 hectares.
Google Earth Map showing the Project Villages
Area under Shifting Cultivation: Given the large area available, the communities follow a 10 year jhum cycle. For example, the area brought under jhum in 2017 was previously cultivated in 2007. Each year in Aben village a contiguous area of around 250 hectares is brought under jhum. Hence, the total (gross) area under jhum cultivation in Aben would amount to around 2500 hectares over the 10 year cycle. The gross area under jhum in all the 6 villages would be around 10000 hectares. (note: Area estimation is based on Participatory Resource Appraisal at Aben and Google Earth satellite imagery)
Google Earth Map showing Jhum Areas in Aben village
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
Reduction in Area being Deforested: Over a 10 year cycle, the area being deforested and set afire for jhum in the project area is around 10000 ha. Currently, the average area / household under jhum cultivation over a 10 year cycle is around 30 hectares. By 2025, the project anticipates that at least 200 households would have shifted from jhum to SALT / alternative models thereby reducing the area being deforested by 600 hectares each year and 6000 hectares over a 10 year jhum cycle..
Carbon Sequestration and Reduction in CO2 Emissions: A study from Thailand by IKAP estimates that for rotational agriculture (fallow fields left to recover for 1-10 years) covering an area of 236 ha, the net carbon storage from this kind of farming system accounts for 17,348 tons, while carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of rotation fields are 480 tons.
Using the IKAP estimates, CO2 emissions from jhum in the project area over a 10 year cycle (10000 hectares) are around 20330 tons. The project has the potential to reduce the emissions by 12203 tons (60 % reduction) by the year 2025 in as a result of conversion of jhum area to SALT models.
The area saved from deforestation as a result of switching to alternatives for settled agriculture in Aben would be over 600 hectares annually and over 6000 hectares (60 sq,km) for the 10 year jhum cycle. This area would be allowed to develop multi-layered canopy and bio-diverse forest which would act as an effective sink for carbon sequestration.
What are other key benefits?
Increase in Production from Forest Areas: The Naga community are dependent to a large extent on forest produce (mushrooms, leaves, tubers and fruit along with wildlife) to supplement food production from jhum areas and also for collection and sale of forest products which are an important source of income. Availability of such produce has dwindled alarmingly as natural forests have been replaced by dense stands of bamboo. Availability of forest produce for consumption and sale is expected to increase significantly due to freeing up of jhum areas for forest development as a result of conversion to settled forms of agriculture.
Impact on Community: The project sees SALT adaptation models as viable and contemporary models of agricultural production which will interest the younger generation of Naga community to remain in their villages and earn a livelihood.
Organic Agriculture through Integrated SALT: The model under development is a form of organic agriculture. An FAO study ‘Organic Agriculture, Environment and Food Security’ describes the link between Organic Agriculture and Climate Change. Some of the highlights are
- CO2 emissions/hectare of organic agriculture systems are 48-66 % lower than conventional systems.
- Organic agriculture enables ecosystems to better adjust to effects of climate change and offers potential to reduce emissions of agricultural greenhouse gases.
- Organically-managed soils have high potential to counter soil degradation.
- Well managed organic agriculture leads to more favorable conditions at all environmental levels.
Climate change Adaptation Benefits of SALT: The major perceived threats from increasing climate variability to ecologically fragile mountainous regions are loss of crop production affecting the primary means of livelihood, increased loss of soil fertility and increased erosion which is expected to reduce the already restricted availability of arable land, the increasing incompatibility of traditional cropping cycle with shift in the onset of seasons and the spread of pests to hitherto non-affected regions.
SALT, as a technology option is expected to address the issues related to soil and water conservation, enhanced soil fertility and consequent crop productivity and crop diversification. With increasingly erratic rainfall patterns threatening to exacerbate the rate of soil erosion in areas subjected to intensive cultivation, improper contouring and loss of vegetation cover, SALT is a relevant technological tool that can be adapted to the conditions prevailing.
Downstream Benefits: Localized efforts for improved management of natural resources in the hill areas are also expected to have downstream impacts as well, in terms of reduced sediment load in the rivers and increased flow during the dry months.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
The start-up costs (excluding household labor) for an integrated SALT unit with an area of around 1-3 hectares are estimated to be around USD 500/. The cost is kept low since most of the materials can be sourced locally; wooden poles, bamboo and thatch for shed construction, local varieties of trees and other planting material, local species of livestock etc. Each household would be free to adapt the model to its specific needs and situation. Start-up would extend over a period of 1-3 years depending on the fund availability and also time and labor availability for establishing the various components. Costs for new integrated SALT units are expected to reduce further in a few years as plant material of improved varieties and goat kids of the improved breed would become available locally.
The estimated Income is sufficient to meet the livelihood needs of the household including food, education of children and health care.
It is proposed to set up a revolving fund to extend credit to households who are interested in setting up integrated SALT units. The fund would be managed by an umbrella body of Village Development Committees of the project villages and overseen by the NGO PESCH. The loan would be repaid to the fund over a predetermined time frame to enable extension of credit to other households as per their need.
Climate Change Mitigation: The project will have significant impact on mitigation of negative impacts of climate change by means of reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases and also carbon sequestration in regenerated forests on jhum lands.
Short Term Impacts (1 – 15 years): The impacts during this phase would be mainly experienced in the six project villages. An approximate area of 6000 hectares would be freed from shifting cultivation and brought under perennial forest cover by 2025. Based on literature available (Ecoprint Vol 15, 2008 – Table 2), carbon stock for tropical forests is estimated at 285 t ha-1 with an annual increment in carbon stock of biomass of 2.30 t ha-1 yr-1. Carbon stock for central Himalayan forests is estimated at 250-300 t ha-1 with an annual increment in carbon stock of biomass of 6-8 t ha-1 yr-1. Keeping in mind that the project area lies in the Himalayan foothills and that forests would be at an immature state of growth, we can assume a carbon stock of 200 t ha-1. Hence, the total carbon stock for the 6000 hectares would be 1200000 t.
The reduction in area under jhum is estimated at 6000 hectares over the 10 year jhum cycle. The IKAP study from Thailand estimates CO2 emission @ 2 tons / hectare. Thus total reduction in emissions as a result in reduction in area under jhum is estimated to be around 12000 tons
Medium to Long Term Impacts: Assuming that there are no changes in the legal framework for land ownership of indigenous tribes of the north-eastern states of India, we can estimate a total of 50000 hectares (500 sq.km) of jhum areas in Tamenglong district of Manipur and neighboring districts of Nagaland to be brought under forest canopy by the year 2080. Assuming a carbon stock of 250 t ha-1, the total carbon stock would amount to 12500000.
About the author(s)
Mr. David Gandhi has a Masters degree in Agriculture and 30+ years of experience as a rural development practitioner. He is keenly interested in natural resource management and sustainable agriculture in fragile ecosystems. He has gathered valuable experience through his work in South and South-east Asia, Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Since October 2016, David and his wife Usha have been working as Volunteers in village Aben of Manipur state in North-East India.
A pilot project to improve water security was initiated by David in the winter of 2016. The community reported that a spring which was used to meet domestic water needs has been going dry soon after the monsoon in recent years. A plan was worked out with the VDC to rejuvenate the water source which included soil and water conservation measures in the catchment area, construction of a new masonry check-dam to store run-off and repairs to the existing reservoir near the spring. The plan was successfully implemented with the entire community participating actively. The community contributed around 50 % of the cost of the project by means of labor and locally available material, 40 % was met from the government Employment Guarantee Scheme while 10 % was through private donation for purchase of cement and steel rods for the masonry check-dam. Encouraged by this success, David was able to encourage the VDC to experiment with alternatives to jhum. An integrated SALT model has emerged as one of the most promising options and forms the basis of this project.
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**Department of Botany, Siddhanath Science Campus, Mahendranagar (T. U.), Nepal
**Email: [email protected]
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