Monsoons in India

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It involves clearing a patch of forest land, but retaining useful trees and plant varieties, cultivating it for two to three years and then abandoning it for 10-20 years to allow the natural forest to grow back and the soil to regain its fertility. The cycle of cultivation, leaving it fallow and coming back to it for cultivation, is called the Jhum cycle. Traditionally, a village community owns/controls the forest land and decides on such rotational cultivation pattern. Thus the community cultivates land for its livelihood while practising conservation and taking care of the ecological balance. However, with the population pressure, communities wanting to grow more food have cleared greater chunks of forest lands and returned to the fallow plots much sooner than 10-20 years. The length of the fallow phase between two successive cropping phases has come down to even two to three years in some places. This has resulted in soil degradation, fall in yield, lower returns, and reduction in green cover. It is this change in traditional practice, arising out of changing conditions, that has given jhum agriculture a bad name. Separately, forests are being exploited for timber and hills are being flattened for soil and stones. Often, this denuding of the forest too is blamed upon jhum cultivation. The state government has come out with various schemes to provide the jhumais with alternate means of livelihood and wean them away from jhuming. However the needs of the jhum cultivators have not been assessed rightly and these schemes have met with limited success or have completely failed. It is important to state here that shifting cultivation should not be confused with slash-and-burn. Slash-and-burn is a mere land clearing method used by many people around the globe to open up forest land and use it for permanent agriculture. On the contrary, shifting cultivation is an integrated farming system involving forestry, agriculture and strong social organisation on the part of the communities. Ecologically, the practice of jhum has a deleterious effect on the local environment, while others have often thwarted those arguments and proved that jhum in fact is a sustainable form of agricultural production best suited for the specific ecology of the hill regions. The arguments against jhum have included projecting it as an unsustainable practice that depletes the soil of nutrients, reducing the forest cover, causing landslides, etc. Arguments against jhum have come from state forestry departments, development ministries like DONER (Development Of North East Region) or trade promoting entities like the World Bank who lean towards utilisation of the region's forest resources for the benefit of national and private capital. In addition, private entities wishing to utilise the land for specific profit-making ventures, like extraction industries, utilise these arguments to push the state to wean away local villagers from practicing jhum in order to lease the land. This has happened in the hill regions of Meghalaya and Assam where corrupt or otherwise, village councils leased out land to private and national corporations for extraction industries including coal, limestone, and uranium in the future. In addition, the paper industry has pushed for the growth of bamboo by villagers as a cash crop replacing an egalitarian cultivation system with one that has created a small mercantilist class controlling all bamboo production. However, these arguments have been rebutted by many scientists, including studies by organisations like the Indian Institute of Science, Tata Energy Research Institute and UNESCO who have proved in different ways that jhum is indeed a sustainable form of agriculture best suited to the rainy hill regions of Northeast India, over other forms of agriculture such as valley or terrace cultivation. Studies have further proved that, contrary to arguments of soil infertility, the practice of jhum ensures that fallowness in the soil is...
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