In this last part of the two-part interview, Mr. Shashidhar Sastry, a retired officer of the Indian Forest Service talks about community forest management and jhum cultivation practices in Nagaland.
3. Could you talk about the community forest management in Nagaland?
Given the background of land ownership in the state, with 88% of the forest area under community or individual ownership, coupled with the traditional practice of jhum cultivation, there was pressure on the resources. However, some isolated efforts to conserve certain areas which are ecologically important were taken up by communities. Some of the tribes have adopted jhum practices which included protection of areas such as watershed and ecologically fragile. However, with the increase in population and also extensive jhum cultivation and need to derive economic benefits from these forests resulted in quantitative and qualitative degradation of these areas. With only a small area under Protected Areas in the state, it was imperative to create awareness about conservation and long term benefits among the communities with a more systematic and sustainable approach and at the same time economically viable for the communities. One such programme was to declare certain areas which are relatively undisturbed as conservation areas. Though small patches, the objective was to have a network of these conservation areas in the long run. However, as the areas are under the ownership of communities, awareness on this aspect needed to be created to ensure long term benefits. To enable this, the communities who own the area have to come forward to declare these conservation areas. Intimal apprehension was that if these areas were declared as reserves, the Government may take over their land. Series of meetings were held with the concerned villagers and land owners to clear the apprehension and also the need for such reserves and potential to earn livelihood in the long run from these reserves.
Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Section 36 C and 36 D provide an opportunity to declare voluntarily, areas belonging to the community or individual to protect flora and fauna and also to conserve the cultural values outside the purview of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries or conservation areas.
Notification will be issued under the section and sub section, and no changes in the land use pattern are generally allowed within the Community Reserve (CR). Changes can only be made with a resolution passed by the management committee and further approval by the State Government.
Further, under Section 36D, a Community Reserve Management committee will be formed. This committee will oversee the conservation, maintenance and management of the CR. The committee will comprise of five representatives nominated by village panchayat and one representative from the forest department under whose jurisdiction the CR falls. The committee shall prepare, implement and monitor the management plan for the CR and ensure that protection of wildlife and its habitat. Committee Chairman will be Honorary Wildlife Warden.
With this background, few of the areas set aside by the communities voluntarily in the state for the purpose of conservation and protection of flora and fauna were considered. This voluntary initiative coupled with the provisions of the WL (P) Act, an effort was made in the year 2009 to declare and notify three such areas in the districts of Kohima, Phek and Mokukchung with help of funding from MoEF, GOI. These areas are known for well-conserved flora and fauna in that area. This initiative was the first of its kind in the state and probably in the country too to involve the community and their land for conservation purposes.
The extent of these areas ranged from 6-15 sq. km. Management committees were formed and management plans were drawn up for each of these focusing on specific conservation issues and the need for augmenting the resources. With the success story of these CR’s several communities have come forward to set aside the area for conservation purposes. The management plan deals with augmenting the resources, water and soil conservation programmes if any, construction of resting sheds and watch towers. Enabling activities related to eco-tourism. These activities and maintenance and monitoring will be taken care of by the management committees.
What started as three such CR’s in 2009, has increased their number to 117 (as on 2020) with a total area of 871 sq. km compared to Government‘s PA of 241 sq. km. The areas ranged from 0.5 sq. km to 50 sq. km. In the long run, these CRs are not only able to offer livelihood to the communities but also ensure restoration and sustainability of the forest resources. There is a need for continuous funding for such activities in the state.
Challenges in the form of not to change the land use pattern of the area and to retain it as it is and also unity among the villagers were important considerations for success of the CR’s. As the area is set aside for conservation, the alternative livelihood issue assumes importance. Monitoring the conservation process without the villagers violating the laid down rules is often difficult, despite the fact that the penalties clause for violation being there.
4. What is the concept behind jhum cultivation (shifting cultivation), what are its advantages and the disadvantages?
Jhum cultivation is a traditional practice among Nagas and is more a way of life and cultivation is closely related to the various socio-cultural practices. . Many major festivals and cultural activities are linked and associated with jhum, whether it is the sowing or harvesting or protecting the crops. Jhum cultivation is a livelihood practice for the farmers considering that most of the terrain being hilly, land available for permanent cultivation such as terrace cultivation is very limited. The practice of jhum offers the farmers both tangible and intangible benefits from the point of view of ecological, economical and socio-cultural.
Jhummed area with regrowth
As per Nagaland Jhumland Act of 1970, ‘jhumland’ means such land which any member or members of a village or a community have a customary right to cultivate by means of shifting cultivation or to utilise by clearing jungle or for grazing livestock and includes any beds of rivers provided that such village or community is in a permanent location.
The process of jhum cultivation involves growing agricultural crops on the hill slopes by clearing whatever vegetation is there and then burning it. Poles and some good sized timber are taken away for firewood and other purposes. The dried debris is burnt and the ash will supplement nutrition to the soil. The practice is land extensive and labour intensive. Though a traditional practice, over a period of time if continuously cultivated for a few years, it renders the area devoid of fertile topsoil and eventually they become permanent fallow.
Jhum cycle is the period in which after cultivating the area for a year or two, returning again for the same area for cultivation. To begin with cultivation is done for a year and in some cases for the next two years some vegetables are grown. Returning to the same place or jhum cycle used to be 10 years or more in earlier times. In some areas the jhum cycle used to be 25 years to begin with. With increased population and limited land availability, at times the jhum cycle has been reduced to 4-5 years. This shortened jhum cycle renders the slopes of hills eventually barren hillocks due to loss of fertile top soils and also inadequate time available for regeneration of vegetation.
Alder plantation in jhum area
The practice of jhum cultivation in community or individual land is for rice or paddy cultivation. Most of the terrain in the state has gentle to moderate slope; hence upland paddy cultivation has to be done through jhum. Though wet cultivation of paddy is in practice in lowlands and valleys but, area available is limited. These jhum areas comprise land belonging to communities, individuals and clans in the village. The area for jhum cultivation will be selected by the village Council or the ‘Gaon Bura’ (Head of the village). The cultivation of land of a clan is usually taken by that clan itself. The period of cultivation is for one year and is known as ‘Lodi’ In Ao tribe dialect. After that the area is left behind and a new area is selected. The leftover jhum cultivation from the previous years will be used to cultivate vegetables for 2- 3 years and also for crops like maize and millets. The jhum cycle used to vary from 10 to 25 years depending on the area and differs from village to village and the land availability and the household size. At some point of time the jhum cycle increased with migration of people from villages to urban areas seeking employment and better living. Some of the features of jhum cultivation are, (though varies from tribe to tribe) some tribes do not cut or fell trees along the streams or any water bodies inside the jhum area. Further, valuable timber species and fruit bearing trees are retained. Only the branches of these trees are pruned. Whereas, some tribes practice clearing of the entire area. As paddy is grown for only one season, these trees will rejuvenate in the following season. On an average five families can cultivate about 25 acres.
Alder with area for crops
While the jhum practice offers food security to the people, it may not provide additional economic backup for their increased aspirations over a period of time. Many of them have moved to horticulture (growing pineapples, orange) and growing other tree plantations such as Rubber and Teak. Jhum cultivation over a period of time has become cumbersome due to decreased family size and migration to towns. It also resulted in people looking for alternative means of livelihood. Indirectly this has brought down the extent of jhum cultivation.
5. What is the work done by the government, forest department and forest communities towards conservation in Nagaland?
With the major portion of the land ownership lying with the community and individuals, it is imperative to involve communities in all activities of conservation and development. To begin with there were few programmes to wean the people away from jhum cultivation and were met with limited success. Programmes like ‘Rehabilitation of Jhum Areas’ where the jhum fellows were focused for rehabilitation. Then there were programmes of identifying ecologically fragile areas and areas which need soil and water conservation. Plantation was taken up in these with the help of the community. All these or most of these areas were in community and individual jhum areas. Considering that jhum practice has been a way of life among Nagas, efforts were on to merge this traditional practice with plantation programmes to ensure sustainability. Thus integrating jhum cultivation and growing of tree crops was adopted through various models.
Joint Forest Management with the Forest Department and the landowners was already in practice even before it took a formal shape in the year 1997 as a part of National Forest Policy. This is due to the land ownership pattern in the state. The objectives of JFM and the focused areas consisted of community lands available for plantation, primary forests and other available areas for JFM activities. Formation of village level committees known as Community Forest Committees involving the villagers and land owners and officials of the Department has helped in better implementation, monitoring and fund flow for the programmes. Revised operational guidelines issued in 2009 for the National Afforestation Programme further ensured fund flow to the village level institutions such as Joint Forest Management committees and Eco development committees.
It was also increasingly felt integrating jhum with tree crops is a better way as the farmers tend their agricultural crops, and simultaneously attend to tree crops.
As the economy of the people depend on forest resources, “Tree Felling Regulation, 2017” enables the villagers to sell their plantation timber and the department facilitates the process. In line with the Hon Supreme Court Order, 1996, the High Power Committee monitors the status of saw and veneer mills and also movement of timber, veneers and plywood outside the state.
Setting up Forest Development Agencies and Village Forest Committees, has gone a long way in effectively implementing various schemes and channelize funds in the state under one umbrella. These programmes are intending to use the jhum land effectively and also provide firewood and small timber to the people and at the same time ensure ecological safety to the area. It also ensures employment avenues to the people.
Wildlife conservation has been a challenging and a concerning issue in the state. The state has one NP and two WLS. With the setting up of Nagaland Zoological Park in 2008 and also with a sizable Intanki National Park and declaring Singhpan Wildlife Sanctuary a momentum has been given to wildlife conservation. Awareness campaigns and conducting raids in markets has gone a long way in creating awareness about conservation. With setting up Community Conservation Areas in the community Forest and managing these through the Management committees a sense of belongingness and a sustainable approach involving livelihood through ecotourism and employment opportunities have been provided.
With the assistance from Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), The Government of Nagaland has launched a mega project in 2017 which goes up to 2027. The main objective is to emphasise conservation of forest resources and provide sustainable livelihood to the community through strengthening the institutions and building capacity. The main project component involves forest Interventions and Biodiversity Conservation through Community Participation and Livelihood Improvement and Community Development.
With the Forest department and other allied departments identifying the focus area for the rehabilitation of jhum areas, it has been a continuous effort to restore vegetation in these areas with the involvement of communities. It is hoped that with these activities, the greening of the jhum fallows will be achieved.
Read Part 1 here.