State Pushing for Oil Palm Despite any Economic or Ecological Benefit

Text & Photos by Rishika Pardikar

Allowances for slash-and-burn methods of cultivation raise serious questions about conservation policies because jhum cultivation affects those animals that are considered critical to conservation - the rare species like hoolock gibbons and capped langurs that are endemic to the northeastern rainforests.

But many families, especially those belonging to indigenous populations of northeastern India, rely on jhum for livelihood purposes.

In an effort at moving farmers away from jhum, Mizoram’s government introduced the New Land Use Policy (NLUP) in 2011 with an aim to “put an end to wasteful shifting cultivation” that they considered as “destructive” and “unprofitable.”

So, has NLUP successfully weaned Mizo families away from jhum and towards a more sustainable and profitable way of life?

West Phaileng, Mizoram

“Anything other than jhum,” said Lalrammawia, 60, when describing what the government agreed to support as part of NLUP. Lalrammawia is the chairman of the Bethlehem Farmer Society and a farmer in West Phaileng who, like many in the region, earns his livelihood by growing areca, orange, banana, etc.

Under NLUP, the Mizoram government agreed to provide assistance - monetary or otherwise - for families that would engage in livelihood practices ranging from oil palm, banana and orange plantations to other activities like pig farming, tailoring, handloom work, electronics repair, etc.

“Jhum is not very rewarding when we consider the amount of labour it requires and the amount of time that is spent,” Dr David C. Vanlalfakawma, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Forestry, Mizoram University said. He explained that NLUP was implemented to provide an alternate source of livelihood that could, in addition to moving families away from jhum, also provide additional sources income since large sections of the Mizo community, especially including those that are not economically well-off, relies on jhum for livelihood purposes.