Jhum Cultivation is one of the oldest cultivation system practiced throughout the tropics and subtropics (zones of high rainfall, moderate temperature, and steep slopes) since the time of Neolithic period (1300-3000 BC). According to the findings of the Central Forestry Commission of India in 1984, 6.7 million ha land of cultivable neighborhood was affected by jhum in the country. The people of north-east India practice jhum cultivation on hill slopes. Jhum cultivation contributes 85% of the total cultivation in north-east India. Population explosion and emergence of new generation of youth cultivators encouraged increasing demand for cultivable land which resulted reduction of the cycle of cultivation from 25-30 years to 2-3 years due to the abandoning and re-occupying of fallow land frequently. Fallow cycle of 20-30 year prevalent during earlier period, helps the land to return to its natural condition after the anthropogenic disturbances. But due to reduction of cycle to 2-3 years, the resilience of ecosystem is interrupted and the quality of the land is get worsening day by day.
What is Jhum Cultivation?
For jhum cultivation farmers generally select a forest patch and clear fell the vegetation normally in between the month of December and January. After that they burn the vegetation as per their requirement. During this practice, small cut-trunks portion and roots of the vegetation are normally not removed. The herbs, shrubs and twigs and branches (slashed vegetation) are burnt in between the month of February and March. Seeds are sowed during the month of April and May. Farmers will continue the jhum cultivation for a few years and leave the cultivated area and carry on search to shift to a second forest sites. After leaving the second site they will return to the previous site, and once again practice jhum cultivation on it. From the viewpoint of erosion, the second year of jhumming cycle is more hazardous than the first year.
Jhum Cultivationin TRIPURA
As a part of their tradition, majority of the tribes in Tripura practice shifting or jhum cultivation as the primary source of their livelihood and were popularly known as jhumias.
According to the Tripura Human Development Report 2007, significant populations in Tripura are mainly dependent on forests and jhum cultivation as their main source of livelihood.
According to J.B. Ganguly (1969), by the year 1961, there were about 25,000 families who practiced jhum cultivation in the state. By 1978, this number had increased to 46,854 families, of which about 23,292 families were primarily dependent on jhum for their livelihood. By 1987 the estimate was revised to 49,800 families that were more or less dependent on jhum cultivation for their livelihood. According to the report of Department of Tribal Welfare Govt. of Tripura in 1999, 51,265 families were dependent on jhum cultivation. Number of jhumia families was found to be highest in Dhalai and South District. The Department of Forest, Govt. of Tripura, in their first-ever Census on hardcore shifting cultivators in the sate in 2007, found 27,278 families (or 1, 36,000 persons) dependent on jhum cultivation.
Jhumia settlement initiatives in Tripura
Although there is a clear decline in the number of jhumia families in the Tripura state, still a good number of family continuing the jhum cultivation in the state. Almost 10 percent forests area is under jhum or shifting cultivation in the State. The first attempt of settlement of jhumias in Tripura was started in 1930-31, when Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya set aside an area of 28,490 ha in Khowai Sub-division, called Kalyanpur Reserve, for the settlement of jhumia families. In 1943, the area was increased to 505,053 ha and the Immigration and Reclamation Department was opened newly to develop the vast tracts of wild land to populate those areas. Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya also developed a general policy to investigate the urge of jhumias to bring them to settled plough cultivation and Tenancy Act (Tenant and Landlord Act, 1886) of the state supported the jhumias with a special incentive for continuing plough cultivation. But these efforts were proved to be unfruitful to solve the problem of jhumia settlement in the state.
Systematic efforts to control jhum cultivation and settle the jhumias in the state started in 1953, with adoption of a two-dimensional (short-term and long-term) strategy to address the issues pertained to the ecological balance and economic growth of the state affected by jhooming. The short-term approach included measures to improve yields from jhooming and relief measures pending their resettlement, while the long-term measures were designed to wean the jhumias away from jhooming and resettle them through alternate occupations in the specially setup colonies. Both these settlement and colonization schemes were part of the overall strategy of the “shifting cultivation control scheme” initiated in the first plan period. Under the settlement scheme, each jhumia family was given cultivable land suitable for settled agriculture and a cash grant (Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled caste and tribes, 1955-56). Government has established colony for the jhumias and allotted a dwelling house to each family under the colonial scheme with the facilities required for their health, education, poultry farming and marketing. Till the period of implementation of Ninth Five Year Plan, above 49000 families rehabilitated with the aid of settled agriculture in the state.
Main reasons behind continuing Jhum Cultivation in Tripura
Adjustment problem with non-tribes in the settled area: Since tribal are very much fond of God hence they faced difficulty for building worship place of a particular religion when there is mixed population. The tribal of Tripura are either Hidus, Christians or Buddhists and there are also other religious group where they live. Socio-economic conditions of the tribal also differ from the other neighboring non-tribes.
Lack of sufficient attraction towards their colonial home:
a. Colonies are not set according to the religion and culture of the tribes.
b. Rehabilitation of the tribal family is far away from their original habitat
c. Lack of social environment and freedom in the rehabilitation area.
d. Lack of special training for plan land cultivation.
Financial problem: Government schemes are not enough to make them financially reliable to stay in the new colony for initial years. According to the rehabilitation schemes in the year 1953-54, each family was allotted 5 acres of arable land over and above a grant of Rs. 500/- for purchasing the essential requirements to support cultivation. Out of this cultivation later on rubber plantation was one of the significant cultivation which was provided to them. But it took at least 7-8 years to turn into a mature productive plant to provide the earning. But they were neither economically strong nor skilled enough to go for an alternative source of earning during that period.
Lack of Proper Education: Available data on dropouts of students in the state revealed existence of educational wastage both at the State and national level. Dropout rate at the primary stage was estimated to be significantly higher in schedule tribes than the general category of pupils and scheduled caste. Same trends were also observed in the middle and secondary stages. This proves the unsteady as well as pathetic conditions of the tribal communities in India.
It is apparent that jhum cultivation has its adverse affect on the species diversity of a region as this unscientific form of agricultural practice continuously degrading the quantity and quality of the natural habitats of various floras and faunas. Destruction of the natural habitats of the living organisms that brings ecological imbalance in the ecosystem is also forbidden by the forest laws and acts. But still good numbers of new class of shifting cultivators are practicing the shifting cultivation throughout the northeastern states unaware of those facts. This is the time to bring our hand together to help the people to be educationally sound enough to understand the existing ecological hazards as well as to create a strong awareness about the deleterious effects of shifting cultivation among all the tribes and non-tribes of the North East region to restore the ecosystem of this potential hot spot region.