Jhum cultivation losing its sheen in hills


IMPHAL, May 27 : Considering the high cost, labour and energy input involved in jhum cultivation, the practice has considerably declined in the hill districts of Manipur now.
“Majority of the farmers in the hills have started growing vegetables and fruits which are more profitable. Production cost of shifting cultivation is very high now,” said Asing Shimray, president of Federation of All Tribal Youth Clubs, Manipur (FATYCM).
Cultivation and production of yongchak, the all time favourite of Manipuris, and brinjal, pumpkin, cabbage and cauliflower has been widely adopted by farmers for higher returns, he said.
But the hill farmers need to follow technological interventions in order to increase productivity. “There is scope to further increase productivity,” an official said.
Ashing, hailing from Ukhrul district, stated that the economy of the hills still needs to be improved. He claimed that the Manipur Government has been doing little for the development of the hill people.
“The hill wages have changed over the past three-four years. The farmers here have chosen piggery, poultry and vegetable and other horticultural crops cultivation. They’re no longer interested in the traditional farming system,” said Ngachonmi, a social worker from Ukhrul.
He said introduction of MGNREGS has also played a vital role in the overall economy of the hill people.
Ngachonmi said vegetable and fruit plantation is now economically viable in the hills where the practice of shifting cultivation is no more sustainable owing to high cost of inputs.
Rice is an important crop of Manipur with low productivity. The State has about 10 percent area under cultivation in the valley and hills. Jhum cultivation which is practised traditionally by the tribal people causes soil erosion which is a problem on sloping lands.
Overall size of forest area has gradually declined in Manipur over the years. As per an official record, the share of forest cover in the total geographical area of the State has declined to about 76 percent in 2013 with the specific reason being the practice of shifting cultivation and biotic pressure in major parts of the State.
“We also need charcoal fuel almost throughout the year. The people have to cut down trees to fulfil this need,” Ngachonmi added. He said sufficient supply of domestic LPG and electricity in the hills can solve the problem of deforestation which is detrimental to the environment.
“Towards this end, NGOs and environmentalists are playing a major role in spreading awareness among the hill people to stop them from indulging in such practices. I think the endeavour will produce better outcomes in future if the Government is sincere enough,” Ngachonmi said.
Ramkung Pamei, editor of The Cham, a Tamenglong-based daily, said the outlook of the hill people has changed nowadays. “Few people want jhum cultivation now in the hills.
“As it happens, we cannot stop this practice totally. If there are bandhs, strikes and natural calamities, I think shortage of food will occur. But the practice has significantly declined.”
He said growing u-morok (chilli) and other vegetables can make bring in more profit. Ramkung said families from remote areas of Tamenglong district are continuously migrating to the town area to earn wages for their living.
“Parents are sending their wards to schools in the town. They can easily make a living by their wage. A person can earn, on average, Rs 200-300 a day.”
The senior journalist, however, said there are still deep issues confronting the hills.


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