Other Initiatives

Wildlife and shifting cultivation

Forest, wildlife, jhum, and plantations in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram

Jhum, forest recovery, and wildlife

Jhum is a rotational system of organic farming involving the cutting and burning of forests for farming, followed by resting and regenerating the land for several years before another round of cultivation. In the mid-1990s, I studied the recovery of tropical forests, arboreal mammals, and bird communities following shifting agriculture in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram. A cross-section of sites, from recently rested fields through old secondary forests regenerating after jhum, was compared with mature tropical rainforests.

Here, I revisit and re-examine the effects of shifting agriculture (or jhum cultivation) on forest and wildlife conservation in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram, northeast India. Using field research data, I examine whether shifting agriculture is in fact a better form of land-use than monoculture plantations now being established as replacements for jhum in landscapes around wildlife protected areas.

The resurvey suggests a significant and persistent influence of bamboos in succession. Government land-use policies and horticulture schemes aimed at eradicating jhum have led to an increase in monoculture plantations such as teak and oil palm in the Dampa landscape. The present study indicates that oil palm plantations are substantially worse from a conservation perspective than the jhum landscape of fields, fallows, and forests. A more positive role for shifting agriculture in landscapes around wildlife protected areas is indicated.