Slash and burn farming destroying forest land in Nagaland — Report
Eastern Mirror Desk
Dimapur, Sep. 9: Nagaland is reaping the repercussions of the traditional practice of jhum cultivation with reports of land degradation increasing at an alarming rate in the state, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Space Applications Centre (SAC) atlas.
Jhum cultivation is a common practice in the state where the land is prepared for farming through slashing and burning of forest.
According to Merenwapang, the deputy project director of Nagaland GIS and Remote Sensing Centre, satellite pictures indicate that jhum cultivation has resulted in the loss of a large part of forest in Kohima in the last ten years. Reports also state that 64.43% of area in Kohima is under land degradation.
T Renben Lotha, the additional director of the department of Land Resources, informed that around 20,000 hectares of forest is cut down for jhum cultivation every year. The annual report for 2017-18 from the Soil and Water Conservation department further stated that on an average, 30.62 tonnes of soil area per hectare is lost annually due to extensive jhum cultivation practices.
It also stated that jhum practices destroy prime agricultural and forestlands through erosion. According to the report, the practice of shifting cultivation involved 61% households, covering about one million hectare in the entire state. Consequently, this exposes about 5.65% of the total geographical area of the state (16,579 sq km) to soil erosion hazards, it said.
Chibeni Murry, a farmer from Wokha, said that the soil fertility has gone down and she has to shift to new locations every year. Experts said that this cycle not only put the burden on farmers but on the soil quality as well.
Lotha mentioned that the changing land-use practices, population pressure and erratic climate have caused major changes. He further added that “Ten years ago a jhum cycle took 15-20 years. Now, farmers go back to the same patch in five to six years, which is not enough for the land to regain fertility.”
“Besides, vanishing vegetation cover has intensified soil erosion in the state, where 91% of the area is undulating with altitudes varying between 200 to 3,840 metres. Heavy rains bring mudflows down the mountain slope, flooding the farmlands,” Lotha said.
Furthermore, experts also believe that rainwater is responsible for eroding the top layer of fertile soil carrying away with it valuable plant nutrients. The state receives an annual rainfall from 1,500 to 2,200 millimetre and this makes the soil less productive forcing farmers to frequently shift to another location for better yield.
“The department of Land Resources is organising trainings to guide people to shift to cocoa, rubber and many other cash crops to increase their income. This is bringing results and has potential to change the scenario,” Lotha informed.
(With inputs from Down To Earth magazine)