Jhum Cultivation is one of the oldest cultivation system practiced throughout the tropics and subtropics (zones of high rainfall, moderate temperature, and steep slopes) since the time of Neolithic period (1300-3000 BC). According to the findings of the Central Forestry Commission of India in 1984, 6.7 million ha land of cultivable neighborhood was affected by jhum in the country. The people of north-east India practice jhum cultivation on hill slopes. Jhum cultivation contributes 85% of the total cultivation in north-east India. Population explosion and emergence of new generation of youth cultivators encouraged increasing demand for cultivable land which resulted reduction of the cycle of cultivation from 25-30 years to 2-3 years due to the abandoning and re-occupying of fallow land frequently. Fallow cycle of 20-30 year prevalent during earlier period, helps the land to return to its natural condition after the anthropogenic disturbances. But due to reduction of cycle to 2-3 years, the resilience of ecosystem is interrupted and the quality of the land is get worsening day by day.
What is Jhum Cultivation?
For jhum cultivation farmers generally select a forest patch and clear fell the vegetation normally in between the month of December and January. After that they burn the vegetation as per their requirement. During this practice, small cut-trunks portion and roots of the vegetation are normally not removed. The herbs, shrubs and twigs and branches (slashed vegetation) are burnt in between the month of February and March. Seeds are sowed during the month of April and May. Farmers will continue the jhum cultivation for a few years and leave the cultivated area and carry on search to shift to a second forest sites. After leaving the second site they will return to the previous site, and once again practice jhum cultivation on it. From the viewpoint of erosion, the second year of jhumming cycle is more hazardous than the first year.
Jhum Cultivationin TRIPURA
As a part of their tradition, majority of the tribes in Tripura practice shifting or jhum cultivation as the primary source of their livelihood and were popularly known as jhumias.
According to the Tripura Human Development Report 2007, significant populations in Tripura are mainly dependent on forests and jhum cultivation as their main source of livelihood.
According to J.B. Ganguly (1969), by the year 1961, there were about 25,000 families who practiced jhum cultivation in the state. By 1978, this number had increased to 46,854 families, of which about 23,292 families were primarily dependent on jhum for their livelihood. By 1987 the estimate was revised to 49,800 families that were more or less dependent on jhum cultivation for their livelihood. According to the report of Department of Tribal Welfare Govt. of Tripura in 1999, 51,265 families were dependent on jhum cultivation. Number of jhumia families was found to be highest in Dhalai and South District. The Department of Forest, Govt. of Tripura, in their first-ever Census on hardcore shifting cultivators in the sate in 2007, found 27,278 families (or 1, 36,000 persons) dependent on jhum cultivation.
Jhumia settlement initiatives in Tripura
Although there is a clear decline in the number of jhumia families in the Tripura state, still a good number of family continuing the jhum cultivation in the state. Almost 10 percent forests area is under jhum or shifting cultivation in the State. The first attempt of settlement of jhumias in Tripura was started in 1930-31, when Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya set aside an area of 28,490 ha in Khowai Sub-division, called Kalyanpur Reserve, for the settlement of jhumia families. In 1943, the area was increased to 505,053 ha and the Immigration and Reclamation Department was opened newly to develop the vast tracts of wild land to populate those areas. Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya also developed a general policy to investigate the urge of jhumias to bring them to settled plough cultivation and Tenancy Act (Tenant and Landlord Act, 1886) of the state supported the jhumias with a special incentive for continuing plough cultivation. But these efforts were proved to be unfruitful to solve the problem of jhumia settlement in the state.