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Department of Soil and Water Conservation, Government of Nagaland


Sustainable Land and Ecosystem Management in Shifting Cultivation Areas of Nagaland for Ecological and Livelihood Security.

GEF Agency : United Nations Development Programme
Executing Agency : Department of Soil and Water Conservation, Govt. of Nagaland

Nagaland has a total land area of 16,579 sq. km. The altitude ranges from 100 m to 3,840 m and climatic conditions vary from sub-temperate to sub-tropical. The isolated geographical location and varied climatic conditions have contributed to the State's unique ecosystems that are home to numerous endemic and endangered species of flora and fauna. The agrobiodiversity (both wild and domesticated varieties of plants and fruits) is among the most diverse in the region. Nagaland mainly falls under the Mizoram-Manipur Kachin rainforest region.

The biodiversity and ecosystems of Nagaland, in addition to being valuable for their intrinsic value, also provide various ecosystem services such as, provisioning services (food, fresh water, fuel wood, fibre, and other non-timber forest products), cultural services (the social, religious and cultural life of the tribal communities residing in Nagaland are closely linked to the forest), and supporting services (soil formation, nutrient cycling and primary production). The watersheds are critical catchments that regulate hydrological flows to some of the world's most densely populated agricultural lands and cities.

Project Objective
To develop, demonstrate and upscale sustainable land management practices for the conservation of jhum (shifting cultivation) lands in Nagaland through an ecosystem approach, which will contribute to the overall objective of the SLEM Programme to promote sustainable land management and use of biodiversity as well as maintain the capacity of ecosystems to deliver goods and services while taking account of climate change.

Project Areas
70 villages spread over the 3 districts of Mon, Mokokchung and Wokha.

The Project
The ecosystems and watersheds of Nagaland are, experiencing an extensive process of degradation and deforestation, and a significant contributory factor is a shortening of the fallow cycle in the traditional system of jhum (shifting) agriculture practiced in the State, that is allowing less time for cultivated areas to return to secondary forest.

The basic principle of jhum cultivation is the alternation of short cropping phases (usually one or two years) with phases of natural (or slightly modified) vegetational fallow. Yield is thus managed on a long-term basis, rather than by maximization in the short-term. Shifting agricultural systems traditionally maintain diversity in the cropping phase through mixed cropping, the perennial shrubs and trees being separated in time and confined to the fallow regenerative phase of the forest, in a temporally separated agro-forestry system. Here, regulating ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and pest population dynamics are controlled both through the complex cropping and the fallow phases. The key for the stability of the system thus lies in retaining a minimum agricultural cycle length. In the NER, where shifting agriculture is the major land use, a minimum 10 year cycle was found to be necessary for the system's economic and ecological sustainability.

However, an increased area of land is now being brought under jhum and a shortened jhum cycle is being observed. An estimated area of about 1,000 square kilometers has been brought under jhum cultivation within the last decade. The cycle that was once 14 years or more has been reduced to 6 years or less in many places. The shortening of the jhum cycle and extension of the area under jhum cultivation has resulted in accelerated soil erosion and disruption of the hydrology of the area. It is estimated that 70% of the top soil loss, land degradation and water source deterioration is attributed to the practice of shifting cultivation. The system of cultivation coupled with high rainfall causes heavy erosion to the extent of removing up to 40 tonnes of top soil per hectare in a year. The shortened jhum cycle is insufficient to allow for the restoration of soil fertility before the land is again cultivated, with the result that yields have successively declined over time.

The main indirect driver of this adverse change in the jhum system is rapid population growth. The population of the north eastern region has quadrupled over the past 50 years, leading to a highly adverse land-man ratio. In addition, economic factors such as lack of income opportunities and lack of access to markets restrict the ability to realize greater value from production and sale. Thus, a major challenge continuing to face Nagaland is how to adapt this land use and production system to the increased population and changing lifestyles, while also maintaining its ecological sustainability.

Barriers to jhum as an integral part of SLEM
There are several barriers to realizing jhum cultivation as being an integral part of a sustainable land and ecosystem management strategy for Nagaland. These range from weaknesses in the policy, planning and institutional environment that influence jhum, to weak capacities at the local level among village institutions and jhumias to promote sustainable jhum-based livelihoods. The institutional barriers include, the need to better integrate local knowledge and technologies to improve jhum cultivation into institutional mandates of concerned departments (Agriculture, Land Resources, Soil and Water Conservation), to ensure that an enabling environment for jhum cultivation is created. Other barriers include land tenure insecurity and capacity barriers at the community level.

Project Strategy
Based on consultations with project partners, the project will focus on removing the above outlined barriers to promoting improved jhum practices as part of a SLEM strategy at the community level. The strategy is to introduce participatory planning processes and to finance priority activities that are identified through the involvement of the entire community in the development of community resource management plans which reflect more productive and sustainable use of available resources. The overall goal will be to maintain ecosystem services while also meeting livelihood needs. By removing barriers the project will demonstrate this approach in selected districts/ villages.

The project will involve all relevant government departments (Soil and Water Conservation; Land Resource Development; Agriculture; Horticulture; and Forests, Ecology, Environment and Wildlife). It will work at all administrative levels - State, district-level staff, and through Village Councils and Village Development Boards - to ensure that the tested approach can be effectively internalized in development planning for the State. The project will also involve research institutions and NGOs working on sustainable development issues facing the NER (North Eastern Hill University, The Missing Link, ICIMOD, Nagaland University, ICAR Barapani and its Regional Centers, Assam Agriculture University (Jorhat), Regional Research Laboratory (Jorhat), North Eastern Regional Institute of Water & Land Management (NERIWALM) in Tezpur, Agriculture and Organic Farming Group (AOFG-India), North Eastern Council).


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