Shifting cultivation in steeply sloped regions: a review of management options and research priorities for Mizoram state, Northeast India

Abstract

Shifting cultivation is a common agricultural practice that is the basis of subsistence for many rural populations throughout the Tropics. The recent strong trend towards shorter fallow periods has led to widespread concern about declines in soil fertility, crop yields, and food security. Unlike most research on this problem, we focus here on steeply sloped regions such as Mizoram state in northeast India where most land is at an incline of >33°, and the potential for relatively large soil erosional losses may necessitate distinctive solutions. Our goal is to review the relevant literature so as to optimize the direction and quality of future science research on shifting cultivation in Mizoram. Our analysis suggests that the most promising options for improving shifting cultivation are nutrient and water supplementation, optimising crop choice, extending the site use period, enhancing the fallow recovery rate, and controlling the burns and their environmental impacts. Promising alternatives for replacing shifting cultivation include inter-row cropping between contour hedgerows of nitrogen-fixing shrubs, slope terracing, agroforestry with anti-erosional plants, and bamboo forest harvesting. In addition, we identify the principal research questions that should be addressed before each of these options can be evaluated and recommended as part of land use planning initiatives. Overall, we conclude that intelligent and careful use of commercial fertilizer in combination with organic matter additions is likely to be an important feature of many of the solutions to the problem of shortening fallow periods in shifting cultivation on steep slopes.

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Acknowledgments

We are very grateful to Prof. H. Lalramnghinglova, Drs. Lalnundanga, Lalnilawma, R. C. Laha, and Tawnenga, as well as S. Kumar and B. Lalrinthara for many useful discussions on the topic of shifting cultivation. We appreciate Linda Cameron’s and Erin Jaggard’s comments on an earlier version of this manuscript, and the materials provided by Dr. Karan Singh. Finally, many thanks to Mr. H. Lalhmingmawia for the on-site tour of his SALT trial farm near Lunglei, and for his hospitality. This research was supported by NSERC and Queen’s University.

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Grogan, P., Lalnunmawia, F. & Tripathi, S.K. Shifting cultivation in steeply sloped regions: a review of management options and research priorities for Mizoram state, Northeast India. Agroforest Syst 84, 163–177 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-011-9469-1

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Keywords

  • Agriculture
  • Fire
  • Hill
  • Jhum
  • Land-use policy
  • Slash and burn
  • Swidden