Winds of change are blowing across some parts of North Eastern Region as evidenced by the new thinking on the part of Mizoram administrators to tackle the age old problem of jhum cultivation considered unscientific and environmentally unacceptable. That it took more than 6 decades of independence to even think of modernizing what is obviously a tribal practice speaks volume about the social and other problems that confront any efforts in changing the habit of people. But the new determination to change the past for a new future bodes well for the state of Mizoram and people there. The ambitious project with a time frame of 5 years is hopeful of covering more than 50% of the 2 lakh and odd families who indulge in jhum cultivation through economic incentives. It is good to realize that visible and tangible development only can eradicate citizens' dissatisfaction and no effort is too high to keep them happy and contended.
"The tribals in the hilly terrains of Mizoram have for generations been carrying out the traditional slash-and-burn method of cultivation, locally called 'jhum,' which has resulted in degradation of forest land and deterioration of the soil condition. About 80 percent of farmers in Mizoram still depend on jhum cultivation that involves clearing forests and burning trees, weeds and bamboos. Every year many people die in jhum fires. Last year, at least nine people died. Of the Rs.2,873 crore earmarked for the project, Rs.2,527 crore will come from centrally sponsored schemes".
Shifting cultivation probably helps the farmers to reduce cost of inputs like fertilizers but is fraught with many other problems like fire hazards, nomadic style of living, logistical problem of education, environmental degradation etc. Though the financial outgo may look astronomical, the returns can be invaluable if the lives of people there are stabilized and economic conditions improve significantly. Jhum rice is valued very much for its eating quality, liked by the local population and whether changing the cultivation style can affect this adversely needs to be checked. Here comes the role of agricultural scientists who will have to provide technical assistance to the farming families in generating adequate confidence.