Environmental, social and health implications of shifting cultivation

SPWD with support of Siemenpuu Foundation, Finland undertook a study to understand the impacts of shifting cultivation in the central Indian states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Sample villages from three districts (Kandhmahal, Kabirdham and Visakhapatnam) were selected to cover different tribal communities engaged in shifting cultivation. Household survey of select households was conducted to understand implications of shifting cultivation. The study documents the techniques of shifting cultivation and its impacts on the environment apart from detailing the social, institutional and cultural aspects of the communities depending for their subsistence on this form of cultivation. The inquiry looks at state’s attempts to eradicate or phase out the practice through pressure and incentives, peoples resistance and why shifting cultivation continues even today. The study maps the changing trend in shifting cultivation in study areas and also examined the impact of attempts to replace shifting cultivation with sedentary agriculture.

The concerns related to shifting cultivation are more because of shortening of the fallow cycle and associated unsustainable practices in the management of shifting cultivation lands, rather than the shifting cultivation practice itself, which differs widely in different states, across ethnic groups, as well as within the same ethnic group. The crisis has been deepening as additional areas for shifting cultivation are not available anymore. This has reduced the cycle.
While clearing the fallows for cropping, many farmers keep the base for regeneration of the preferred species to not only allow wide dispersal of seeds and rapid build-up of forest fallow after the cropping phase is over, but also to conserve the soil on the slopes. There are changes in physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil after burning. Immediately after burning, the soil properties undergo a complete change. The pH rises initially, favouring the release of soil nutrients for the benefit of the succeeding crop. There is substantial increase in organic carbon and, available P and K. However, this increase depends on the amount of vegetation burnt. Therefore, sufficient time has to be given between two cropping phases to help rejuvenation of sufficient vegetation for the success of the practice.

The study indicates that the process of biomass burning is a controlled one, and location of the field is generally at a higher elevation than their houses so none of the respondents reported significant health impacts. As regards the role of shifting cultivation on black carbon and particulate matter, sampling of the standing biomass was done in the shifting cultivation blocks. Plots of size 20 m × 20 m were laid out. The total volume of biomass burnt stood at 4.738 tonne per hectare, which is far less than that suggested by other studies where the above ground biomass for forest densities has been pegged to have a mean value of 72.3 tonne per hectare. Although carbon emissions from burning biomass are partly from shifting cultivation, a focus on emissions alone is misleading, as it ignores another important parameter—carbon absorption (or sequestration) by vegetation. Both output and absorption must be understood together.

Tribal communities have a number of constraints, problems or obstacles to continue shifting cultivation such as uncertain land tenure, lack of adequate capital for investment, lack of irrigation facilities. Changes over the years have only exposed the tribal to problems in their life and livelihood, also impacting their social-cultural practices. Over the period, with forest department exercising its right over forest and with increasing population of the practicing communities the challenge to maintain the carrying capacity has forced these communities to look for other options. Secure tenurial rights are essential for the tribals. Moreover, for the primitive tribal groups access to their habitat is very critical to life and food security. Recognizing claims over their habitat can support local people in their efforts of food sovereignty to have better access to food, control over their own diets and improve the nutritional quality of their food intake.
The study results highlight the current declining trend of area under the practice and its implications for local communities. The current programmes and policies are not very favorable for the practice and generally, undermine the importance for local communities. The study results reveal that the assumptions about adverse impacts of the practice are far from reality.

Mashi river basin, Rajasthan – GIS & RS based land use study

The study on Mashi river basin done by SPWD’s GIS unit involved three tasks – secondary data collection, procurement of satellite datasets of the study area and processing & thematic output generation in GIS environment. The study indicates that much of the catchment area (6476 sqkm) is under cultivation (45%); the second land use category having larger area is fallow land (both current and permanent) which covers about one third of the total geographical area. Other categories coverless than 5% area. The five categories (barren/outcropped, built-up, crop land, dry river bed and water bodies) show a trend of increase in area over the last 8 years. On the other hand, three categories (fallow, land with scrub & land without scrub) show a declining trend. The two categories related to forest shows static pattern with some fluctuations. The highest increase is recorded in cropped area and that remained consistent. The area under built-up category also increased significantly. Major decline is reported in fallow land, land with scrub and land without scrub.

Evaluation of Siemenpuu supported National Adivasi Network

The Siemenpuu NAA programme is implemented in cooperation with the National Adivasi Alliance (NAA) network, which aims at strengthening the autonomy and cultural heritage of Adivasi communities and preventing displacement and environmental threats faced by the communities. The projects carried out by the NAA network and its member organisations advocate the implementation of legal forest rights of the adivasi communities and strive to invigorate sustainable, self-sufficient models of village community life, for example community forestry and traditional healing.

National Adivasi Alliance network works in nine states of India for the rights, livelihoods and culture of adivasi forest communities. Siemenpuu Foundation provides funding support for the local work of NAA member groups and their regional and national cooperation – including thematic cooperation on 5 themes of Community Forest Governance, Bamboo work, Shifting cultivation communities, Traditional healing/knowledge and Community rights on minor forest produce.

NAA network was formalised in 2006 and the activities related to forest rights, including campaigning for the passing and implementation of the specific legislation, have been in the centre of its work as a network. SPWD conducted evaluation of the Siemenpuu NAA programme with a specific focus on the project activities related to Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 implementation. The evaluation covers primarily the programme phase, which started in 2013.

ITC Impact Assessment Studies

ITC was keen to study the impact of its soil and moisture conservation programme in Mysore (Karnataka) and Sivagangai (Tamil Nadu). SPWD undertook an assessment of the impact of the tank revival programmes in Mysore and Sivagangai against the original aims and objectives of the project. The evaluation used a range of tools including desk review, collection of data and focus group discussion with key informants, stakeholders and direct observation during field visit. As a part of the study, household questionnaire were administered and focus group discussions (FGDs) held in the 12 select villages at each location for understanding the interventions, its impact on the Tank Management Committee members and experiences emerging out of it. Primary data was collected from the tank users regarding their socio-economic status, a range of aspects of agriculture like size of land holding, asset position, cropping pattern, input usage, crop yields, costs and returns and details related to their livelihoods like migration etc.

Workshop on ‘Making smallholder farming sustainably viable’

A workshop on ‘Making smallholder farming sustainably viable’ was held jointly by Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD) and National Bank for Research and Development (NABARD) from 24th – 25th February, 2016 at India International Centre, New Delhi. The workshop was dedicated to the memory of Late Lovraj Kumar, Former Chairman of SPWD, and brought together scientists, academics and development professionals from across different parts of India to dialogue and present their experiences on the subject. Presentations and in-depth discussions were held on different thematic aspects related with climate change impacts on small and marginal farmers and what needs to be done to mitigate risks associated with it.

Study on ‘Status of traditional farming systems of Jharkhand and Odisha and its bearing on climate change adaptation’

SPWD undertook a study for Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) titled ‘Status of traditional farming systems of Jharkhand and Odisha and its bearing on climate change adaptation’. The study involved understanding the existing farm production system vis-à-vis natural resource base and trends in climate variability. The study was conducted in one district each in Jharkhand and Odisha – Lohardaga and Rayagada. In each district, six villages were selected for field visit. The desk review cum field study dealt with how farmers cope with climate change, adopt drought-tolerant or flood resistant varieties to reduce crop failure and ensure their food and nutritional security. The study was based on village level checklist based focus group discussion and visit to farms where the practices are still being followed.

The study recommended that there is a possibility of taking up improved agricultural practices in the uplands. Right now in both Rayagada and Lohardaga the practice of taking upland crops is limited to single crop. This practice can be modified under the IGSSS project and farmers can be persuaded to go for mixed cropping in the uplands. As a part of this, farmers can plant two to three crops in the same patch where one crop was planted earlier. For upland and medium highlands, farmers can sow seeds of crops that grow fast like gram, niger till July end. Medium and short-duration crops like maize, pulses and oil seeds can also be encouraged in these areas. The principles of mixing crop can be followed to ensure higher crop yields and improvements in the soil condition. Further, the practice of direct seeded crops can be used for upland and medium land areas on a vast scale but stagnant water is required for this, which can be solved through small diversion based irrigation systems in the area. The project strategy can also aim at intensification of agriculture in the medium lands in the area through provision of small water harvesting structure that can provide critical supplemental irrigation to paddy, resulting in yield enhancement and stabilization of paddy crop in kharif season. For this, it can introduce five percent model as a component to mainly ensure that all small landholdings should have their own water body for harvesting rain.

Tribal livelihoods and renewable energy: Need and scope

SPWD conducted a scoping study for Oxfam India on ‘Tribal livelihoods and renewable energy’. The study looked at the three central-eastern states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha having large percentage of tribal population. In view of the Government’s impetus to production and use of renewable energy, the study explored the scope for systematic intervention in the field of renewable energy at national level as well as in these three states for supporting tribal livelihoods in a manner that would not compromise natural resources quality and its access by the communities.
The broad points discussed in the study are –

  • Impact of fossil fuels extraction, displacement on natural resources management and tribal livelihoods and its impact on forest rights work
  • Energy poverty in India and specific issue of energy poverty among forest dependant population
  • Alternative/renewable energy as a sustainable solution at national and state level.
  • Applications of alternative energy in rural forest dependant lives and looking at specifically tribal livelihoods and issues on capacity, information, affordability and issues both at the demand and supply side.
  • Bottlenecks in renewable energy becoming mainstream in India, and need to influence the various actors
  • Broad contours of work of Oxfam India on Renewable energy at national and at state level

While these points have been dealt with briefly, the focus of the scoping paper was on looking at the impact of energy poverty on specific marginalized communities (e.g. tribals) and how an integrated energy policy can benefit the local community given that this is Oxfam India’s focus area.

The study suggested the need to influence public policy to look at financing options for renewable energy, and that its broader focus should be on a just transition to renewable energy that benefits people across caste, gender, class and ethnic boundaries. It also suggested the need to engage with the respective State Renewable Energy Development Agencies for the three States of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to see how they reach out to private energy service companies and what the financing options are. The opposition and critique that the government policies and projects face need to be understood from them.

Understanding value chains of some forest and agricultural-based commodities in Jharkhand

SPWD commissioned a study to a Consultant for studying value chain of five products namely arhar, lac, vegetables, van tulsi and millets with a view to upgrade these value chains. The study was done as a part of ‘Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojna (MKSP)’ in Jharkhand. The program strives to meet the twin objectives of augmenting income levels and food security of poor farmers in the state. The study covered the four districts of the state of Jharkhand — Palamu, Latehar, Ranchi and Simdega. In order to capture the present position regarding primary production, processing and sale of the selected products, interviews with primary producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers were undertaken in the project region. Besides, Focus Group Discussions were also conducted mainly covering “Mahila Kisans”, who are members of SHG groups under MKSP project.