TODAY -

Conversion of abandoned Jhum fields for sedentary agri
Ways and means

Jamkhogin Lhungdim *



Jhum cultivation is known by different names in different part of the world as 'shifting cultivation', 'slash and bum' agriculture and 'bush fallow' agriculture. It is practiced in Indonesia, Philippines, Central America and Mexico, Vietnam, Venezuela, Brazil, Congo and Central Africa, Korea and South-west China.

In India, it is known as 'Thum' or 'Jhoom' cultivation in the hilly states of Northeast; as Podu, Dabi, Komar or Brings in Orissa; as Kumari in Western Ghats; as Watra in Southeast Rajasthan; as Penda, Bewar or Dahia and Deppa or Kumari in the Bastar district of Madhya Pradesh.

It is called shifting (Jhum/Jhoom) because farmers shift to the new location every year due to loss of the soil fertility in the first instance.

In this cultivation, the plants and the forest on the land covering is cleared burnt and seeds are sown directly by dibbling. In the past, the cycle of Jhum cultivation was very long from 25 to 35 years. But today, the cultivated land is revisited for cultivation 5 to 6 years due to the increased human population and limited land forest.

Evils and Merits of Jhum cultivation

Environmental degradation leading to global warming, top soil loss leading to land/mudslides, disturbance in biodiversity, loss of valuable flora and fauna, wild fire outbreak, besides comparatively low yield are major negative impacts of jhum cultivation. Safe foods (being organic in nature), diversified cropping system, low labour and input use (due to supplemental nutrients from ashes of burnt biomass), etc. are few merits in jhum cultivation.

Crop diversity By default, jhum farmers are adopting undefined multi cropping system incorporating crops of summer/kharif seasons, viz., upland rice, cucumber, pumplcin, lady's finger, Colo cas-sia, ginger, numeric, chilli, bitter gourd, sponge gourd, ash gourd, etc. Mixed cropping is prevalent in the cultivation sys-tem. These diversified crops have different purposes ranging from family consumption to family income generation.

Improving Jhum cultivation

Concerted efforts need to be addressed on the social and human aspects of the problem ofjhuming and offer alternatives acceptable to the farmers in consultation with the local farming communities are mandatory.

The concept of one-year cultivation on jhum fields and abandoning for new fields every year have to be changed to widen jhum cycle. Same spot cultivation for years (sedentary agriculture) have to adopted with soil fertility replacement through additional plant nutrients either by organic manures or soil enriching leguminous crops.

This would offer a wider period between two field shifts thereby reducing the environmental degradation, destruction of precious flora and fauna. The following measures may be taken up to convert the abandoned jhum fields into a productive sedentary agricultural system:

Seasonal cultivation

a) Harvesting rains for rabi crops: Jhum fields which are in higher elevation are devoid of rain water during rabi season. This has crippled the cultivation of crops as winter rains are very rare. Legumes which are low water requiring are suitable, viz., broad bean, peas, chickpea, lathyrus etc. These crops hardly survive if no winter rains are received.

Hence, farmers do not visit the abandoned jhum fields just after harvest of the rice crop. Water from the nearly streams can be utilized by either PVC pipes or traditional bamboo water carriers. Water harvesting ponds can be constructed at highest elevated point of the field to discharge.

b) Choosing rainfed crops for kharif season: Any leguminous/cereals crops of kharif seasons can be cultivated. Soybean, black gram/green gram can be cultivated between the semi perennial fruit crops like pineapple plants, maize can be intercropped with rice, bean, cowpea, arhar etc. The leguminous crops can be rotated with cereal crops without additional fertilizers.

The high remunerative crops alternated with such food crops like upland rice, maize or millets would have a far-reaching implication on the socio-economic development of the jhum farmers.

Planting Geometry

a) Planting along the slope is a traditional sowing/planting method in the hill slopes owing to easier weed management than planting across the slope. This however, favours land degradation, top soil loss accompanied by decreased soil fertility.

b) Planting across the slope stops the sliding stop soil and favours soil conservation. Farmers can be motivated to adopt this method. The crops act as a `live-bunds' to save top soil and nutrient from the field.

Land Configuration

Low dimension terraces across the gentle hill slopes of the field can be created to sow crops like peas, broad bean, chick-pea, etc in rabi season if irrigation from the nearby streams are available or water harvesting in ponds are constructed. In Kharif season with assured rainfall, all sorts of crops can be cultivated.

Groundnut can be cultivated in the terraces, arhar or soybean can be adjusted in the bunds. Terraces conserve soil, water and nutrients. Half-moon method of planting for fruit crops like citrus, mango, guava, plum, peach, pear etc. may be adopted in the abandoned field with highest elevation.

Conclusion

Jhum cultivation contributes a fair share to global warming, disturbs ecosystem and imposes a gib threat to ecological stability. However, the jhum farmers are left with no option due to inherited traditional system of the cultivation. They need to be motivated towards improved system of jhum cultivation gradually as an abrupt shift to the scientific cultivation may give a sense of food insecurity.

Land modification, crop changeover, improved cropping system, cropping pattern and seasonal adjustment at the era of climate change are need of the hour. Changing the crop and not the field every year would be a boon towards sustainable income generation to the jhumias besides achieving environmental serenity.


* Jamkhogin Lhungdim wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is from CAU, Imphal
This article was webcasted on August 06 2022 .



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