Meghalaya Food Society Condemns Shillong MP’s Move Indicating Negative Impacts Of ‘Jhum Cultivation’

Posted in Featured, Meghalaya, Northeast


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The North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) recently expressed its strong concern on the statement of Shillong MP Vincent H Pala where he had appealed to raise the impact of traditional farming practice ‘jhum cultivation’ on the platform of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be held in Glasgow next month.

According to the press release issued by NESFAS, a research journal entitled ‘Indigenous Peoples’ food systems : Insights on sustainability and resilience from the front line of climate change’ published just a month ago clearly depicted that Jhum-based food system is highly resilient to climate change.

The study jointly conducted between FAO and the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) along with several Universities, Research centres and local Indigenous Peoples organizations (which includes NESFAS) have also received the ‘World Sustainability Report Award 2021’.

The case study highlighted the food systems  of Nongtraw, East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya, which is specifically based on jhum/shifting cultivation.

Besides, the results indicated that food system in Nongtraw is highly resilient, and therefore it proudly achieved 10 out of the 13 indicators.

The release further reads 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% while the corresponding number for South Asia was 43%. This highlighted the confirmed the resilience of the jhum-based food system this time against the shocks created by Covid-19 pandemic. Jhum-based food system is resilient to both natural and human stress making it crucial for food security and sustainability.”

NESFAS further mentioned that over 90% of studies concluded that the indigenous traditional farming practice of ‘jhum cultivation’ is a sustainable process, which never compromises with soil quality.

Adapted to the ecological conditions of tropical forests, jhum cultivation is a age-old farming system, practiced by indigenous residents of North East India.

In an attempt to address the misconception been forwarded by authorities, the NESFAS Chairperson Bah Phrang Rao will speak in the COP26 sessions where he will be talking on the issue of supporting Indigenous Food Systems (IFS) which includes shifting cultivation for combating climate change.

The organization have also incorporated certain points of  jhum cultivation, and how IFS – a nature positive system stresses on combating the emerging issues of climate change.

According to the notification, some of these points forwarded in consideration with the Shillong MP’s recent move are mentioned below :

* FAO in 1957 had projected shifting cultivation as one of the most destructive landuse. This laid the ground for adverse policies against shifting cultivation, arguing that the practice was responsible for deforestation and environmental degradation. The recent FAO, Global Alliance and Bioversity publication ‘Indigenous Peoples’ food systems: Insights on sustainability and resilience from the front line of climate change’ for the UNFSS 2021 (United Nations Food Systems Summit) lists eight indigenous food systems as ‘gamechangers’ and of these, 5 are shifting cultivation systems of which one chapter is one from Nongtraw, East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya.

* IFS (Indigenous Food Systems) such as shifting cultivation are also nature positive systems as they sustainable nurture (and manage) not just food resources, but also fallows, forests and other ecosystem ensuring the sustenance of peoples’ livelihoods as well as the ecosystem services that support them and their livelihood systems.

* IFS are repositories of rich agro-biodiversity and support a wide range of agro-germplasm (crop landraces and varieties) which are the building blocks of tomorrow’s stress tolerant crops. Maintaining and managing the IFS and the agro-biodiversity within them is crucial to global food and nutritional security.

* IFS such as shifting cultivation, in addition to being critical for food and nutritional security, are fundamental to cultural identity. Replacement of such IFS with settled agriculture imported from elsewhere will compromise food sovereignty and cultural identity of indigenous people, and hence, has to be handled judiciously and in an informed manner based on the latest scientific evidence.

* 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. This, therefore, needs to be proceeded with caution.

* Replacement of shifting cultivation with settled agriculture also leads to insecurity of tenure and consequently, landlessness. This often becomes the underlying cause for social unrest and insurgencies (as seen in many parts of South and Southeast Asia, including Meghalaya).

* UNFSS, through its critical action points, calls for protection, promotion and strengthening of nature positive food systems such as IFS including shifting cultivation. To call for a replacement of shifting cultivation contradicts the UNFSS recommendations. In addition, such moves also contradict/contravene the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007.

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