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Agro-forestry in shifting cultivation control programmes in India

E.S. Thangam

About 7000 B.C., according to the archaeological evidence (Childe 1956) mankind began to change its mode of life from food gathering to food cultivation, by adopting shifting cultivation which is, historically, a transitional stage towards more permanent agriculture. As the years passed, the peoples living in river valleys advanced rapidly and brought about a number of institutional and technological changes; but meanwhile some of the people living in remote areas continued in the blind alley of shifting cultivation and failed to take part in the progress towards culture and civilization. However, in the development of a country all sections of society need to be involved, including the backward shifting cultivators, all are equally entitled to the benefits of civilization and development. For these reasons programmes for the control of shifting cultivation have become important, particularly in tropical countries, and agro-forestry has played a pivotal role in these programmes.

About India

India extends over an area of 3,287,790 kmē between latitude 6°47' and 37°6' N. and longitude 68°7' and 97°5' E. The land-use pattern is as follows (in 1,000 kmē): agriculture (cultivated), 1,526; forests, 750; other uncultivated land, 422; land under non-agriculture use, 162; barren and uncultivable land, 427.

Out of a total population of 684 million about 3 million people (0.44 per cent) practice shifting cultivation over 5 million hectares (1.52 per cent of the total land area) of hilly land in the country. It is practiced primarily by the people in the hills of the north-eastern states, but also, on a smaller scale, elsewhere. Appendix 1 gives details.

Shifting Cultivation Practice

In general, hill people who live in tropical regions practice shifting cultivation. After a piece of land is selected, trees or bushes are cut down partially or fully, left to dry and then burnt in situ. In the cleared land seeds of crops are dibbled into holes or broadcast, without using ploughs or animal power. When the crop yields begin to decrease after some years the cultivator moves to a new patch of forests to repeat the process, and allows the abandoned land to recuperate. After a period varying from two to twenty years, he returns to the same land for cultivation. This practice is also known as shag. "slash and burn agriculture", swidden, jhum, etc.

The system aims at self sufficiency and does not lead to any capital formation or growth. Human labour and land, in its widest sense, are the chief factors of production. It is both a labour-intensive and land-extensive system, based on low technology.

There are two divergent views about shifting cultivation one condemning it and another, a liberal one, upholding it as a humane practice. The first one, often termed an "outsider's view", states that it dries up the springs of the hills, causes soil erosion, destroys valuable forests and adversely affects rainfall and deprives people of benefits of forest produce. The second one, often called an "insider's view", considers it as "an organic response of the people engaged in it to certain specific ecological conditions, rather than to a particular ecotechno system . . . It is crude but it is interlaced with the way of life of people who possess a crude technology and very little capital" (Bhowmik 1976). The opinion of M. D. Chaturvedi, former Inspector General of Forests (Chaturvedi and Uppal 1953), may be taken as a representative statement:

The notion widely held that shifting cultivation is responsible in the main for large-scale soil erosion needs to be effectively dispelled. The correct approach . . . lies in accepting it not as a necessary evil, but recognizing it as a way of life; not condemning as an evil practice, but regarding it as an agricultural practice evolved as a reflex to the physiographical character of land.

Shifting cultivation is mainly confined to medium to high rainfall zones, between 100 metres and 2,000 metres above sea level. It is practiced in three types of vegetation, forests, bush and grasslands.

The density of population in the area under shifting cultivation varies from three persons per kmē in Arunachal Pradesh to over 300 persons in Tripura or Drissa, but people mainly depend on shifting cultivation when the population is below thirty persons per kmē. The study of the land/man ratio is important in working out shifting cultivation control programmes, as at a high land/man ratio, shifting cultivation does not become a problem.

The lengths of the period under cultivation and of the following fallow period vary considerably from place to place and according to the community involved and depend on population density and local environmental factors. When the increase in population upsets the ecological balance, the people cultivate the area for longer periods, reduce the fallow period, encroach upon unusable land, search for new jobs, reduce consumption pattern or migrate to other areas.

The cultivation pattern is not uniform at all places. The Noctes and Nissis of Arunachal Pradesh Pollard Macaranga denticulata trees at the time of clearing the forests. When they vacate the area they sow seeds of these trees in blank areas so that they will be available to provide house-building material and firewood when the people return. The Wanchos leave Schima wallichii trees standing in the area. In Nagaland, alder (Alnus nepalensis) trees are pollarded and left in the area. In Madbya Pradesh, the Abujhmarhs leave mohwa (Bassia latifolia). In Andhra Pradesh, toddy palm (Borassus flabellifer), tamarind ( Tamarindus indica) and mango (Mangifera indica), all of which provide food, are left by the hill people while clearing the land for shifting cultivation.

The cropping pattern also varies from place to place. In high rainfall areas, rice is grown as the principal crop, with mixed cropping of maize, millet, cotton, etc., as a secondary crop. In medium rainfall areas, oil seeds and maize are grown as the first crop, followed by millets and rice. In low rainfall areas, millets are sown along with vegetables and pulses.

This traditional system of cultivation was well adapted to the environment, and the people's knowledge of growing cereals and tree crops enabled them to maintain an ecological balance. However when the population increased they were unable to find ways of raising the longterm carrying capacity of forest lands. In addition, the population increase in the lowlands and the effects of industrialization have caused increased demand for saleable produce, and the lure of money has caused the hill peoples to increase the area under shifting cultivation. Thus the problem has become one of unprecedented dimensions, demanding an immediate solution.

The pattern of land ownership is important in the success of programmes for the control of shifting cultivation. In the north-eastern states, where no permanent land settlement has taken place, shifting cultivation is practiced in the three following categories of land ownership: (a) lands owned by villagers collectively; (b) lands owned by the chiefs who distribute lands among the individual households for shifting cultivation; (c) lands owned by individual families. In this region decisions for development can be taken quickly and this has, to a large measure, been responsible for the success obtained.

In the other states shifting cultivation is practiced either on unsurveyed areas, or as encroachments on land belonging to the government. This uncertain legal status of the land has been an impediment to the speedy and timely organization of development programmes.

Some data are available on shifting cultivation and are given below, but are far from complete.

Experiments conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Shillong (Borthakur 1976) have shown that in hilly areas, the bottom third of the slope can be used for agricultural crops on terraces, irrigated from low dams; the middle third can be used for fruit trees and cash crops such as coffee, black pepper, big cardamom,' etc., planted along the contours; while the upper third should be used for forestry and fodder crops. This could form a basis for the planning of the land-use pattern in programmes for shifting cultivation control.

A study of 920 sq km in Arunachal Pradesh showed that the value of forest produce burnt annually in the area under shifting cultivation would be about U.S.$600,000.

Soil analysis studies in shifting cultivation areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura made by Jha et al. (1976) indicated that shifting cultivation caused an appreciable change in organic matter content resulting in nutrient imbalances, and reduction in water-holding capacity, sesquioxides, iron, aluminium, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, cation exchange capacity and C: N ratio. The pH value increased, i.e. the soil became more acid.

Much more information is needed on areas under shifting cultivation, changes in forest composition and soil characteristics during the fallow period, and the cropping pattern.


Agro-forestry has been defined as a "sustainable and management system which increases the overall yield of the land, combines the production of crops (including tree crops) and forest plants and/or animals simultaneously or sequentially, on the same unit of land, and applies management practices that are compatible with the cultural practices of the local population" (King and Chandler 1978). Though agro-forestry is not new, during recent years its importance has increased dramatically especially as regards its potential for optimizing land use in the tropics. Its primary aims are the production of food and wood, and conservation and rehabilitation of soil resources needed for future production, at the same time maintaining and improving the quality of the producing environment. In the coming years growing population combined with increasing pressures on finite areas of agricultural land will make the food supply situation even more precarious. There will not only be more people on the land to feed but there will also be an increasing demand for food and wood for the growing urban populations.

According to estimates made by the United Nations Environment Programme, up to 5,000 kmē of land are lost to productive use every month in the world because of erosion, flood damage, salinization and alkalization, advancing deserts and other causes. In developing countries, potential arable land is not adequate to meet the growing needs of the increasing population. In India, nearly half of the land area is subjected to water and wind erosion. Since irrigation facilities are limited, the choice for the future is limited with relatively small opportunities to bring new arable land under the plough. This calls for a new approach and in this respect agro-forestry could help to produce food and wood while conserving the ecosystem.

Sometimes it is said that agro-forestry is suitable only for marginal and brittle ecosystems. In reality it can be practiced on all types of agricultural lands, as it enables better utilization of the nutrients and water available in the soil as well as of solar energy.

Agro-forestry can be effectively practiced on lands subjected to shifting cultivation, on mountain ecosystems denuded of vegetation from biotic causes and in arid and semi-arid tracts. In agro-forestry two essential and related aims are (a) the conservation and improvement of the site, and (b) the simultaneous optimization of the combined production of a forest crop and an agricultural crop.

Through proper selection of tree species it should be possible to minimize soil erosion, to tap nutrients from deeper levels than those reached by the roots of agricultural crops, and to replace through leaf fall and fixation of atmospheric nitrogen the nutrients removed in the crop. According to E.F. Schumacher (1974) "a most marvellous 3-dimensional incredibly efficient contrivance already exists, more wonderful than anything man can make, the tree. Agriculture collects solar energy twodimensionally; silviculture collects it 3-dimensionally. "

Much research remains to be done on the choice of species, the relationship between trees and other crop plants, and the development of multiple-use trees (trees which can be used for fodder, or fruit, or other produce in addition to wood production); this includes research into genetics and breeding.

Sometimes it is said that for successful implementation of agro-forestry programmes, land hunger and unemployment should exist among the people with a low standard of living. However, success of this system depends on the incentives given, social amenities and services provided and marketing facilities arranged. So, like any other rural development scheme, an agro-forestry programme has to be considered with relevance to the social and economic development of the people. For successful implementation of agro-forestry, the institutional requirements are also important. The curricula and syllabus in training and educational institutions need to be properly oriented by making changes. What is essential is that scientists and institutions should be "people oriented" and they should develop systems that are appropriate to the physical, biological and socio-economic conditions that prevail in the country.

Agro-forestry in Shifting Cultivation Control Programmes

Past Work

Since shifting cultivation forms part and parcel of the day-today life of tribal people in India, the policies adopted by government towards tribal people have also affected shifting cultivation practices. In the pre-independence era, two distinct approaches were adopted towards the tribal people. These were total isolation by segregation of tribal areas and de-tribalization, leading to assimilation by others. The first approach created pockets of tribal society leading their lives in their own style and manner while the second made them third-rate citizens on the lowest rung of society. After independence, the policy adopted was given in the following words of Jawaharlal Nehru: "We do not mean to interfere with their way of life, but want to help them to live it according to their own genius and tradition" (Verrier 1959).

The Jhum land Regulation 1948 of Assam was not helpful as it covered only limited areas of north-east India and was difficult to enforce. The National Forest Policy, 1952, which laid stress on weaning people away from shifting cultivation by persuasion was unable to achieve any notable success.

Efforts to regulate, control and contain shifting cultivation have been made in several states from time to time with varying results.

The taungya system, though it succeeded in West Bengal and Karala and resulted in the creation of forest villages which provided labour for forestry operations, was not successful in other states as it was unable to mobilize all the shifting cultivators and was confined to certain groups, particularly landless and lowland migrants. The introduction of intensive methods of permanent cultivation was also unsuccessful as it failed to cater to the needs of all the shifting cultivators and was not suited to the socioeconomic life of the tribal people. Since 1970, with the emphasis on micro-level planning, the tribal sub-plan area programmes were introduced in selected places. These catered for the special needs of the tribal people with an integrated area development approach and had special funds. These programmes, by and large, were successful. Other programmes were also taken up by the state governments and the central government, like the "Pilot Project on Control of Shifting Cultivation" in eleven states in 1976-1977 and the Small Marginal Farmers Development Agency during 1975-1980.

The North-Eastern Council, Shillong, took up programmes in the north-eastern states for control of shifting cultivation. These were mainly aimed at soil and water conservation by building terraces for development of agriculture and the production of horticultural crops including tree crops. They covered an area of 11,360 hectares at a cost of U.S.$6 million.

The most remarkable feature of shifting cultivation is that almost all the varieties of cereals and vegetables, together with tree crops, are grown in the hills in a single field. This is impossible on wet plain lands. This "cafeteria system of cultivation" yields the cultivator better returns in kilogrammes of grain per man-hour of labour input than does settled agriculture. In efforts to replace this system by a better method, agro-forestry is useful as it is linked to the existing system.

Himachal Pradesh, one of the Himalayan hill states, in about six years from 1970, was able to achieve remarkable success in hill area development by growing apples as a cash crop. It evolved a three dimensional forestry combining silviculture and horticulture with animal husbandry.

In the north-east region, certain tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland consider the possession of mithuns as a symbol of prestige and status. Most families in Mizoram and Nagaland rear pigs. The number of cattle, pigs and poultry per hundred humans is larger in the northeast region than the average of the country, as a whole, which indicates the importance of animals in the economy of this region.

The experience gained indicates that wherever an integrated area development approach involving agriculture and forestry was made, success was achieved. Animal husbandry could supplement the income of the people. Thus agro-forestry has come to be the mainstay of the shifting cultivation control programmes. The experience gained in the various states is described in the following paragraphs.

Andhra Pradesh. 116,000 people, Konda Reddi, Samantha, and others, practice shifting cultivation on 8,392 kmē in the agency area, in the north-east corner of the state, mostly on unsurveyed forest, but also to some extent on areas encroached from government forest. They generally leave useful trees such as Caryota palm, mango, tamarind, toddy palm (Borassus flabellifed and jack fruit ((Artocarpus mtegrifolia) in their cultivation area, to provide them with edible products. To take advantage of this, seedlings of these species have been supplied to them. Also, in suitable areas, besides rice and millet, cash crops such as coffee under the shade of silver oak (Grevillea robustal and jack fruit, tobacco, oil-seeds, and turmeric are grown, the produce being marketed through Girijian Cooperative Society. The centrally sponsored scheme "Pilot Project on Control of Shifting Cultivation," was taken up in 1977 and has been partially successful.

Assam. Shifting cultivation is practiced on 4,980 kmē of unsurveyed land in two hill districts; the people are autonomous in character. Among the 403,000 tribal people the Karbis, besides cultivating maize, vegetables, potatoes, cotton, ginger, chillies, etc., also grow castor, tapioca, and mulberry (Mows laevigata) on which to rear silkworms. In the shifting cultivation control programme the main emphasis was in providing areas for cultivation of wet rice, and settling the people there. Shortage of flat land prevented much progress being achieved. The "Pilot Project on Control of Shifting Cultivation" was taken up in 1977 and has been partially successful.

Bihar. 61,000 tribal people, Paharias, practice shifting cultivation on private land, and to a limited extent, on land encroached from government forest, in Santhal Parganas district. They grow rice, millets, pulses and maize, and often rear tassar silkworms on sam (Terminalia tomentosa). The programme aimed at settling them on flat lands, for wet rice cultivation, has been successful where such land was available.

Madbya Pradesh. 14,000 tribal people, who are Hill Maria, practice shifting cultivation on about 3,900 kmē on unsurveyed forest land in the interior of Bastar district, though this is not officially encouraged. They generally grow rice, millets, beans, pulses, maize, sweet potatoes, chillies, oil seeds and vegetables. They protect, and often plant, the following trees: mohwa (Bassia latifolia), pales (Butea monosperma) samul (Bombax ceiba), kirni (Mimusops indica), ber (Zizyphus jujube), munga (Moringa oleifera), palms (Caryota urens, Phoenix sylvestris, P. farinifera), and siari (Baubinia vahlii). Attempts to resettle them in the valleys have only been partially successful.

Manipur. About 300,000 people practice shifting cultivation on about 1,000 km; of unsurveyed land in the hilly areas. They grow rice, maize, potatoes, yams, chillies, vegetables, millets, mustard, sugar-cane, sesame, ginger, turmeric, cotton, etc., and take care to preserve trees of commercial value in their cultivation areas. Attempts to establish permanent cultivation in the valleys have only been partially successful, due to lack of suitable land.

Meghalaya. About 350,000 people practice shifting cultivation on about 4,160 kmē of unsurveyed land. Their crops include, depending on altitude, potatoes, rice, maize, millet, yams, sweet potatoes, tapioca, oil seeds, cotton, etc. They also cultivate areca nut (Areca catechu), betel leaves (Piper belle), bay leaves, black pepper, pineapples, citrus fruits, bananas, etc., and in some places rear eri silkworms on mulberry, tapioca, and castor. Permanent cultivation on terraces in the valleys has been developed, but its extension under the shifting cultivation control programme has been limited by lack of land. Coffee, under the shade of jack fruit and silver oak, has also been raised in places.

Mizoram. About 260,000 people practice shifting cultivation on about 6,040 kmē in the hilly areas. They grow rice, maize, millet, sugar cane, beans, chillies, ginger, turmeric, yams, tobacco, etc. They also rear tassar silkworms on a large scale on oak (Quercus lamellosa and Q. serrate). Lack of land has limited the development of permanent terraced cultivation in the valleys, and the introduction of plantation crops such as coffee and tea has been to a limited extent only.

Nagaland. 400,000 people practice shifting cultivation over an area of about 6,080 kmē. Rice is the dominant crop, but millets, potatoes, yams, chillies, cotton and maize are also cultivated. They allow alder (Alnus nepalensis) to come up in their fields; besides providing small timber, charcoal, firewood, etc., it also helps to increase the nitrogen content of the soil as it has nodules containing symbiotic bacteria. They also grow the leguminous tree Parkia roxburghii for its edible beans, and raise tassar silkworms on oak in places. Development of terraced agriculture in valley bottoms has been done only to a limited extent. There is a proposal to grow coffee over extensive areas under the shade of silver oak and jack fruit.

Orissa. 706,000 people practice shifting cultivation on about 37,000 kmē in hilly areas in the northern, central and southern parts of the state, partly on unsurveyed land, and partly on land encroached from government forest. Besides rice, millets, pulses, vegetables, turmeric, tobacco, maize and oil seeds are grown, with jack fruit, bananas and pineapples among them. There has been only partial success in establishing permanent cultivation in the valleys and on the lower slopes. The planting of coffee under silver oak has been taken up over extensive areas, and it is proposed to extend this programme.

Tripura. 100,000 people practice shifting cultivation on 2,208 kmē, in the southern and eastern parts of the state. These areas are unsurveyed, though records have been kept of them at the village level. Besides rice, both early and late maturing, they grow millets, beans, pulses, cotton, oil seed, sugar cane and jute, with among these crops bananas, jack fruit, citrus and pineapple.

Permanent terraced cultivation has enabled people to settle in the river valleys. A shifting cultivation control programme in the hills, based on an integrated multi-disciplinary approach, has had fruitful results. Selected families have been allowed to develop orchards, reclaim land for raising field crops, and improve lakes and water areas for fisheries. They have been given housing assistance, advice on animal husbandry, primary education, and medical and other facilities over five years. In addition each family has, for seven years, been allowed to raise 1 hectare of rubber plantation under the technical guidance of the Forest Department; they have also been paid wages. This agroforestry programme has been quite successful, and there is a proposal to take it up over extensive areas (Ghosh 1982).

Arunacha/ Pradesh. 270,000 local people practice shifting cultivation over 2,486 kmē, on hill slopes throughout the state. Besides rice, both early and late maturing, they grow millets, maize, cotton, pulses, yams, chillies, tobacco, mustard and sugar cane, with pineapples, bananas, orange and jack fruit among them. Permanent cultivation on terraces in the valleys and on the lower slopes has been successful wherever irrigation has been provided.

Shifting cultivation control programmes have been undertaken successfully in two fields, one by devc. ,ping areas already under shifting cultivation, and the second in a programme of retaining forests as an area for future expansion of cultivation (Thangam 1979).

In the areas under shifting cultivation an integrated area development programme was used. In general this consisted of terracing the lower third of the slopes for agricultural crops, with or without irrigation; growing horticultural and other cash crops on the middle third; and using the upper third for forestry and fodder crops and grasses. The crops to be grown were selected after a proper land-use survey. designed to get the maximum return from the land. The people were encouraged to raise pigs, and to rear fish in ponds formed by impounding water in small water courses. Wherever possible, Iow-level earth bunds were constructed and small diversion channels built to irrigate terraced areas for permanent cultivation.

Big cardamom (Amomum subulatum) was found to grow well in the area, beginning to yield from the fourth year onwards. During the first four years this cultivation provided employment for at least one person per family; from the fifth year onwards the crop yielded about U.S.$300 per hectare, rising to $600 from the tenth year onwards. Each family could plant two or three acres of this crop, and so could obtain an annual income of about $1,000, including income from other crops.

Various other development work was undertaken, in soil conservation, road construction and afforestation, among others. This was done after consultation with local village leaders, who fixed the priorities for the work. Other facilities such as health, education, etc., were provided, with the help of the local government.

The work began in the Mintong village in Tirap district in 1978, and its success has induced three neighbouring villages to offer their land for similar development programmes.

The other programme was to keep forest areas as a reserve for future expansion. In 1977, with the help of local village councils, such areas were formed into village reserved forests, and managed on a scientific basis to obtain the maximum benefit from the forests. The net profit obtained was shared equally between the Forestry Department and the village council, who utilized their share to create durable community assets. At Tafragaon, Lohit District, the management of 98 kmē of such forests made it possible to start a residential school for fifty Mishmi girls, at a cost of U.S.$50,000.

The adoption of agro-forestry principles has contributed to the success of both programmes.

Future Programmes

It has been seen that the integrated area development approach, in which agro-forestry played a leading rote, has contributed to the success of programmes for shifting cultivation control. Tribal people practicing shifting cultivation raise agricultural crops and trees simultaneously, as they need the former for food, and the latter to provide timber and bamboos for house construction, agricultural implements, fencing, etc., and also to provide a good burn when the land is opened for agriculture. They see no dichotomy between agriculture and forestry, and only wish to obtain an economically beneficial way of life from their land. The study of their methods will help to evolve better ways for the development of multiple cropping and inter-cropping, and of agroforestry.

Methods to be used in programmes for shifting cultivation control will not be uniform for all states. or for all tribal people within any state. Tribal customs differ, as do the varieties of crops which will grow in different localities. The somewhat backward Wanchoo people in Arunachal Pradesh willingly devoted their land for cultivation of big cardamoms, while in Tripura the rubber plantation programme succeeded. The object should be to produce the best return from the land, with the help of the people living there, as far as this is consistent with environmental factors.

In programmes for shifting cultivation control, unless the yield from the land was maximized through the adoption of agro-forestry methods suitable for the area, and unless the willing co-operation of the local people was obtained, unqualified success was not achieved. Programmes where plantation crops such as coffee, large cardamoms, and medicinal plants such as Dioscorea, combined with agro-forestry, brought in quick returns, were more acceptable to the people, and in addition helped to conserve environmental factors and maximize production.

In selection of areas for integrated area development programmes it is often said that such areas should be compact and easily manageable. It has been recommended that entire watersheds or catchments should be brought under treatment. This may be technically sound, but in practice catchment areas often cover several villages, not all of which may agree to the proposed programme. So it has been necessary to set up programmes for single villages, developing the microcatchments within the village area. and ensuring development of this area as a whole. Such small and compact areas will not only be easy to handle, but will also enable results to be achieved and shown in the field in a short time.

In these programmes emphasis has been on the development of locally available resources in manpower and natural resources with the minimum investment. No import of technology is required. The use of such intermediate technology in agro-forestry programmes has been successful in the past. The low level of productivity has been improved through maximizing work opportunities to enable the people to live a better life. This will not only eliminate underemployment and unemployment, but will also help to stem the migration to urban areas. This form of development requires a capital investment of only about U.S.$1,200 per hectare, and this amount can be obtained from financial institutions on loan. In Arunachal Pradesh, a ten-year project on the above lines, in which 100,000 families will each create a plantation of a least 1 hectare of cash crops such as coffee, large cardamoms, or medicinal plants such as Dioscorea, will shortly be begun after the necessary finance has been provided by the Agricultural Refinance and Development Corporation of India, who have agreed to the proposal. Under this scheme the annual income per family will rise by U.S.$300 after the fifth year, and this income will double by the tenth year. The income of these families will be raised above the poverty line, and so Arunachal Pradesh will be the first state in India to raise the living standards of nearly 90 per cent of its inhabitants above the poverty line in such a short period.

Shifting cultivation practices are linked with the ecological, socio-economic, and cultural life of the people and are closely connected to their rituals and festivals. The theme of food production, that is shifting cultivation, is interwoven through the whole gamut of life of primitive society, whose whole philosophy of life is a product of the system of economy of people who possess only crude technology and very little capital. This is the reason why many new methods of cultivation recently introduced into tribal societies have failed to win cultural acceptance.

The rituals and festivals of the people are organized to take place at various stages of the shifting cultivation year. Unless the people are convinced of the advantages of new agricultural methods, they will not voluntarily abandon shifting cultivation. But once they are convinced, they will change their practices, and will then also be able to adjust their ways of living, their rituals and their customs in a suitable way.

In Arunachal Pradesh the Apatanis (Furer-Haimendorf 1946) and the Monpas have more or less settled down to permanent agriculture in permanent fields, as a result of various circumstances. However this has proved no impediment to the continuation of their rituals and festivals, while their economic status has considerably improved. Our aim should be to achieve such a happy combination, through a proper psychological approach. Thus the voluntary involvement of the people in a programme, and its acceptance by them, are a sine qua non for success.

The absorption of technology is not merely a matter of calculating costs and benefits, prices of technology, costs of labour displaced, or revenue received for the product. Technology has an impact on society, the mode of living and the relationship between people and institutions. Technological change cannot be abruptly imposed. It has to be a process of evolution. However modern, however beneficial a technology, it has to fit in with indigenous culture and capabilities and harmoniously transform tradition into modernity. Erik P. Eckholm (1976) has said:

It is generally easy to recommend technological answers to ecological problems. Political and cultural factors are invariably the real bottlenecks holding up progress. Changing the relationship of man to land in the mountains, as any where else, invariably involves sensitive changes in the relationship of man to man.


In programmes for shifting cultivation control, agro-forestry, which aims at the production of the best return from the land through integrated area development programmes, has been successful. With the help of institutional finance, it is possible to adopt agro-forestry programmes over a span of time and with the willing participation of shifting cultivators, help them to improve their socio-economic status, and thus enable them to join the mainstream of the more advanced people of the country.


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Borthakur, D.N. 1976. Indian Council of Agricultural Research Journal. Shillong, India.

Chaturvedi, M.D. and B.N Uppal. 1953. "A Study in Shifting Cultivation in Assam." ICAR, India.

Childe V. Gordon. 1956. Man Makes Himself Watts & Co., London.

Eckholm, Erik P. 1976, "Last shangrila." The Statesman, Calcutta, 12 December 1976.

Fürer-Haimendorf, C. von. 1946. "Agriculture and Land Tenure among the Apatanis." A Man in India, XXVI.

Ghosh, A.K 1982. "Shifting Cultivation Scheme in Tripura." (Unpublished.)

Jha, M.N., P. Pande, and T.C. Pathan. 1976. "Studies on the Changes in the Physico-chemical Properties of Tripura Soils as a Result of Jhuming." Indian Forester, 105(6): 436 443.

King, K.F.S. and M.T. Chandler. 1978. The Masted Land. International Council for Research in Agro-forestoy, Kenya.

Schumacher, E.F. 1974. Sma/l is Beautiful. Sphere Books Ltd., London.

Thangam, E.S. 1979. "Shifting Cultivation in Arunachal Pradesh" Proceedings of Agro-forestry seminar at Imphal, India.

Verrier, Elwin. 1959. A Philosophy for NEFA. Shillong, India.

Appendix. Estimated Area under Shifting Cultivation, and Communities and Population Dependent on It (Primary or Partially) (1971-1975 Data)

State Districts
Name of Tribes Practising Shifting Cultivation Estimated
Area Under
Each Year
(in Thousands)
East Godavari,
Srikakuiam and Vizag
Bagata, Jatapus, Konda Dhoras, Konda Kapus,
Konda Reddi, Mukha Dhora, Samantha, Savaras
and Valmiki
173 116
Kameng, Lohit, Siang,
Subansiri and Tirap
Adi (including the subgroups of Gallong,
Miniyeng, Padam, Pasi, Ashing, Ramo, Simong
and Tangam), Aka, Dafla or Nissi, Hill Miri,
Khowa, Mishmi, Miji, Nocte, Tangsa and Wancho
920 270
Assam Karbi Anglong and
North Cachar Hills
Dimasa (Kachari), Garo, Kachari, Karbi, or Mikir,
Khasi, Kuki, Lalung and Naga
700 403
Bihar Santalparganas Mal Paharia and Sauria Paharia 162 61
Madhya Bastar Hill Maria 81 14
Manipur East District, North
District, Tengnoupal
and West District
Anal, Chothe, Hmar, Kabui, Kacha, Naga,
Lamgang, Mao Maring, Paito Simte, Tangkhul,
Thadou, Valphui and Zou
600 300
Maghalaya West Garo Hills, East
Garo Hills, East Khasi
Hills, Jaintia Hills and
West Khasi Hills
Hmar, Jaintia, Khasi, and Mikir 760 350
Mizoram Aizawl, Chbimtuipul
and Lunglai
Chakma, Hmar, Lakher, Mizo, Pawi and Riang 616 260
Nagaland Khome, Phok,
Mokokchung, Hon.
Tuensang, Wokha and
Naga, Kuki and Mikir 735 400
Orissa Daudh-Khondmals.
Dhenkanal, Ganjam;
Kalahandi. Keonjhar.
Koraput, Sambalpur
and Sundergarh
Shuiya, Bondo Poraja, Didayi, Gadaba, Juang,
Khond (Kuttia Khond), (Dongaria Khond), Koya,
(Lanjia) Saora and Paroja
5,298 706
Tripura North District, South
District and West
Chakma, Halam, Jamatia, Lushai, Mag, Naotia,
Riang and Tripuri
223 100

Sources: North-Eastern Council, Shillong, India, state governments


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