Jhum Cultivation in Tripura
Jhum cultivation, also known as shifting cultivation, is an indigenous way of agriculture practice where the tribal farmers use the same land for a number of vegetation one after the other. This technique is mainly followed by the hilly tribes who don’t possess much of plain lands for extensive farming. They will use the land for four or more varieties of crops and the manures they use will be either animal manure or plant extracts. Jhum cultivation is one of the most common forms of agriculture in the hills of Tripura. Today the scientists view Jhum cultivation as environmentally destructive and a faulty land use practice having very low output-input ratio. Hence the tribes are being educated on the dark side of this old practice at Government level and also by different local NGOs.
Jhumias of Tripura
The tribals who practice shifting cultivation are known as “Jhumias”. Mostly the Reang tribe of Tripura practiced jhum cropping at large. In Tripura over 10,039 hectares of land are under Jhum cultivation. In 1955, it was estimated that there were 25,000 jhumias families in Tripura and the total land under jhoom cultivation was 16, 00,000 acres. After 1949, when Bengalis from Bangladesh migrated to plain lands of Tripura, the jhumias used to sell their jhum cultivation vegetables and rice to them at a very low price and this led to the exploitation of the poor tribes. Over the years the jhum cultivation has seen changes – land availability has been decreased; leading to shortening of jhum farming and this resulted in a fall of income. The Government has made many arrangements for the jhumias to shift to rubber plantations and other farming. In that case, now the economic background of these tribals is improved by rubber plantations mostly and to safeguard nature jhum cultivation is reduced to a minimal.
Process of Jhum Cultivation
This is more appropriately called as “Slash and Burn” cultivation. For this the hill tops are cleared of their vegetative cover which is set on fire, and several crops like paddy, cotton, chillies, maize, sesame and vegetables are sown. The crops mature at different times of the year and the jhum fields are abandoned after the harvest. The jhumias move to new jhum sites for cultivation.
A very long time ago, jhum cultivation was universally practiced in Tripura. After 2 to 3 years of cropping, the land loses its fertility. The vegetation in the fallow land regenerates during the fallow period. After some 15 years when the fallow land regains fertility, the farmer comes back again to it for jhum cropping. This cycle from farming till fallowing and back to farming the land is known as one complete jhum cycle.
Environmental Problems due to Jhum Cultivation
Due to slashing and burning of forest areas, the natural balance of
vegetation decreases. It changes the primary forest into secondary
woodland of shrub. This directly affects the wildlife and the
flora-fauna balance. Again when the lands are left barren for years, due
to heavy rains the minerals of the soil gets washed off causing very
bad soil erosion. This destroys the topography of the land.
Situation of Tribal People after Jhum Cultivation
To control the soil erosion and degradation of forests, Government has
put some measures to shift the jhumias to other agricultural practices
to attain their living. One of the most popular was the rubber
plantations started during 1963. The jhumias were educated and made
understood the ill effects of jhum farming. Then they were being
employed in the rubber corporation of Tripura and trained for rubber
plantations and latex processing. The Government has provided food and
clothings and monthly descent wedges to the jhumias so that they live a
better life and do not have to go back to slashing anymore. Apart from
rubber, orange, pineapple and cashew nut cultivations also were better
options for the jhumias to take leaving jhum cultivation. However, due
to many political and financial issues, when the rubber plantation
suffered a crisis due to sudden dip in market, the poor jhumias
struggled dismay. They didn’t have enough food for the year long since
they stopped jhum cropping, and they would not even get proper wedge for
rubber plantations. This caused lot of violence against the Government.
However, condition improved as time changed and now Government is
focusing towards a brighter future prospect of the jhumias.
Improved Jhum Cultivation
To make the lives of the jhumias more comfortable, Government also
introduced an improved jhum cropping technique. In this many better
chemical fertilizers are being used for the soil and so the barren field
can be reused for cultivation just after the first harvest. Thus the
Jhum cycle period is reduced and since the field will not be barren so
soil erosion and deforestation will not happen. If the jhumias can get
vegetation from the same plot of land again and again then they will not
slash any more forests. The cultivation of pineapples, oranges and
other fruits are also introduced for better economy. Better seeds are
provided to the jhumias to have a better harvest. Hence the traditional
jhum cultivation is not being lost and preserved with a better method
to conserve nature.