Shillong MP Vincent H Pala has faced flak from the North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) for intending to raise the impacts of jhum cultivation when he attends the parliamentary meeting at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, next month.
Pala had told reporters on Wednesday that he will be raising the issue of jhum cultivation that is prevalent in the North East, which, he said, causes environmental destruction.
According to NESFAS, a publication entitled ‘Indigenous Peoples’ food systems: Insights on sustainability and resilience from the front line of climate change’, has a case study of the food system in Nongtraw village, East Khasi Hills, which is based on jhum/shifting cultivation. NESFAS said that the study found that, based on the methodology adopted for assessing resilience to climate change, the food system in Nongtraw was found to be resilient in 10 out of the 13 indicators.
“In other words, jhum-based food systems are highly resilient to climate change,” NESFAS executive director Pius Ranee stated.
Ranee informed that, recently, NESFAS conducted a ‘Household Food Insecurity Access Scale Survey’ (FHIAS) in 18 villages of Meghalaya and Nagaland whose food system is based on jhum.
“Moderate and severe food insecurity was found to be only 11 percent while the corresponding number for South Asia was 43 percent. This highlighted the resilience of the jhum-based food system against the shocks created by Covid-19 pandemic,” the NESFAS executive director added.
According to him, jhum-based food systems are resilient to both natural and human stress, making them crucial for food security and sustainability.
Bhogotram Mawroh, senior associate of research and knowledge management, said that the importance of jhum cultivation for food security and sustainability was in fact also mentioned in the 2018 NITI Aayog ‘Report of Working Group III Shifting Cultivation: Towards a Transformational Approach’.
The report categorised jhum “…as distinct land use, recognizing that it is both an agricultural and forest management practice conducted on the same plot of land but at sequentially separated times.”
NESFAS stated that replacement of shifting cultivation with settled agriculture leads to depletion of forest cover, ecosystems services and therefore, compromises national and global capabilities for carbon sequestration and mitigating climate change.
It also stated that replacement of shifting cultivation with settled agriculture also leads to insecurity of tenure and consequently, landlessness and this often becomes the underlying cause for social unrest and insurgencies (as seen in many parts of South and Southeast Asia, including Meghalaya).
NESFAS urged Pala to update his position and rethink his arguments calling for replacement of shifting cultivation since such a move will actually add to global warming rather than mitigate it.