Shifting agriculture, plantations, and conservation in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram: a return to place 19 years later

@ATREE auditorium at 3.45 pm on 1st December, 2014

I revisit and re-examine the effects of shifting agriculture (or jhum cultivation) on forest and wildlife conservation in northeast India. With new data, I also 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. 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. The resurvey of several sites in 2014 reveals that the expected trajectory of recovery is only partly supported and suggests a significant and persistent influence of bamboos in succession. Over the same period, Government land-use policies and horticulture schemes aimed at eradicating jhum have supported an increase in monoculture plantations such as teak and oil palm in the landscape around Dampa Tiger Reserve. The present study indicates that oil palm plantations, in particular, 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.

An essay presentation
The fire-dance of the bamboos
A journey with words and photos into Mizoram: the land of jhum and the bamboo dance.

Note: After the research talk of about 25 minutes + discussion, speaker will follow on with an essay reading accompanied by visuals for approx. 20 minutes.

Brief Bio
T. R. Shankar Raman is a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, with interests in tropical conservation. He writes creative non-fiction, essays, and other articles on nature and conservation for newspapers, magazines, and blogs. His blog 'View from Elephant Hills' is on the Coyotes Network: