ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Changing Livelihood Dependence on Forest in North East India

In North East India, forestland in general and shifting cultivation in particular remain the primary resources and means of livelihood for many Scheduled Tribe people. However, the practice of shifting cultivation is not so prominent and is declining owing to the steady shift, transformation,and withdrawal from the labour-intensive shifting cultivation to non-agricultural livelihoods, resulting in an improvement of forest conservation and cover.

The North Eastern Region (NER)1 covers about 8% of India’s geographical areas. Close to one-fourth of the forest cover of India is in this region. The forest cover has slightly improved owing to re-vegetation and afforestation (Marchang 2017a), conservation, regrowth of shifting cultivation area, regeneration of bamboo and other plantations (FSI 2017), and is expected to accelerate further with effective implementation of the National Forest Policy (NFP), 2018. The forest cover was much greater in the region than in India. Land including forestland is utilised for agriculture (Directorate of Economics and Statistics 2017). For the Scheduled Tribes (STs),2 land and forest are integral parts of the livelihood (Nongbri 1999); however, the land is largely owned by the community (Sachchidananda 1989; Shimray 2008; Marchang 2017b).

The STs living in the forest, hill, and the rough terrain of North East depend on land and forest resources for their livelihood through agriculture, food gathering, and hunting (Roy 1989; Nongbri 1999; Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2013). They are underdeveloped and marginalised (Roy 1989; Sundaram and Tendulkar 2003; Srivastava 2008; Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2013; Bhagat 2013) despite the intro­duction of various development strategies (Goswami 1984; Sengupta 1988; Bezbaruah 2007). They primarily practise shifting cultivation for livelihood (Christoph 1982; Kumar and Ramakrishnan 1990; Saikia 1991; Nongbri 1999; Sundaram and Tendulkar 2003; Shimray 2004; Sengupta 2013; Marchang 2016, 2017a, 2017b); however, not all the STs practise it (Corbridge 1988; Marchang 2017b), and its income is self-subsistence (Das 2006; Mar­ch­ang 2017a and 2017b). Rapid population growth and land scarcity have reduced the shifting cultivation cycle (Ninan 1992; Jarosz 1993; Debbarma 2008; Marchang 2017a and 2017b), affecting productivity and income. The practice of shifting cultivation continues despite government-introduced programmes to control it (Kumar 1987; Maithani 1991). The livelihood system of the STs has changed (Singh 1988; Nongbri 1999; Sengupta 2013; Marchang 2016 and 2019), relinquishing agriculture and dependence on forest resources.

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Updated On : 4th Feb, 2022
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